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I finally decided to try out a RBP that was given to me years ago. It's a Pi 1 Model B Revision 2.0 (PCB 2011.12). I installed and set up the latest Raspian kernel using NOOBS, no problem.

However, I'm finding that the OS is unusably slow. Chromium literally takes a minute to open and if I type a single letter into the address bar it takes 15 seconds for it to appear. Sites of any complexity take 2 minutes to load.

And it's not just Chromium, I tried opening the LibreOffice Writer and that one takes like 2 minutes to come up, and keystrokes are severely lagged. Same story with pretty much all the pre-installed software. The Terminal is probably the only thing that runs smoothly.

I am currently using a high speed cell phone charger adapter to power it (it's rated at 5V and 3A). Is this a bad idea, and would this be a reason for the slow performance?

Or is it just the fact that the hardware is old at this point and the software has outpaced its ability to keep up? Should I try installing a different distro? Any advice would be appreciated.

  • Those models are probably not very suitable for things like Chromium and LibreOffice; for starts they only have 1/2 GB of RAM, and will have to be swapping all the time. Have you noticed this problem with, e.g., the filebrowser (without Chromium or LO open at the same time)? – goldilocks Jun 27 at 13:38
  • No, the file browser and the Terminal both seem to be pretty responsive. It's only when I open an app that the massive slowdown happens. – devoidzer0 Jun 27 at 19:03
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The raspberry pi was never really intended as a machine that you would use for everyday desktop computing tasks. It's more of a hobbyist machine for people who want to build do-it-yourself projects like a weather station, or a retro gaming console.

For comparison, I tried starting up Chromium on my pi-zero, which is a 5 years newer and has a 40% faster clock speed. It took 54 seconds to start up, i.e., about the same as what you observed. The fact that the faster clock speed has no effect suggests that the bottleneck is I/O, not computation. When I quit and restarted Chromium, it took 30 seconds to load, which supports this interpretation. Some or all of the data was cached in memory, so it didn't need to be read from the SD card again.

Typing the first character into the URL bar resulted in a 3-second delay for me, not 15 seconds. So here probably some other bottleneck is at work for you: maybe CPU or network I/O, depending on how the autocompletion feature is implemented. (Of course 3 seconds is still too long to be usable.)

If you really want to see if you can make your machine into a usable desktop, two possibilities seem to me like reasonable things to try:

  1. Check the speed on your SD card. The speed is described as class 2, 4, 6, or 10. If it's not class 10, upgrading it would probably help with I/O-limited performance. (Mine is class 10.) However, the cost of the faster SD card might be comparable to the cost of a newer pi.

  2. Look for software that is more specifically designed to be used on slow hardware with not very much memory. For example, there is a Wikipedia article Comparison of lightweight web browsers.

I am currently using a high speed cell phone charger adapter to power it (it's rated at 5V and 3A). Is this a bad idea, and would this be a reason for the slow performance?

This seems unlikely to me. The Pi 1B is supposed to require only 0.7 A, so this shouldn't be an issue for you, unless you add power-hungry peripherals powered through the pi. Per a comment from goldilocks, if your power supply couldn't supply enough power, your pi probably wouldn't slow down, it would probably just shut down.

Should I try installing a different distro?

Different distributions would probably not show a major difference in speed when running the same desktop applications. There are linux distros that are tailored for low-end hardware, but most of what they're doing is just changing the default window manager and installing a different set of desktop apps by default. The window manager you're using is already one specialized for this type of hardware, and you can install different applications without having to reinstall the OS.

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    The "too little power" thing boils down to the under-voltage indicator, because trying to draw too many amps actually tends to deliver the amps, just at a lower voltage, and the CPU doesn't throttle itself for that. So I agree with you, this cannot lead to a performance problem. It can lead to an accidental shutdown problem (voltage drops too low). – goldilocks Jun 27 at 14:12
  • Thanks very much for the detailed answer! The card I'm using is a SanDisk Ultra 64GB microSD, and it's class 10. However, it wasn't expensive at all (12 bucks on Amazon). It seems that this boils down to a simple case of the hardware of my Pi being too outdated and underpowered for desktop applications. I'll probably end up buying a new Pi 4 kit so I can at least use it without being frustrated. Thanks again. – devoidzer0 Jun 27 at 18:59
  • @devoidzer0: I doubt that you're going to get a usable desktop machine just by buying a new pi and running the same apps. That's not what my answer suggested. – Ben Crowell Jun 27 at 21:35
  • @BenCrowell Well, a 4 * 1.5 Ghz machine with 4GB of RAM is going to significantly outperform a 0.7 Ghz single core machine with 1/2 GB of RAM. This is the difference between a really crappy smartphone and a halfway decent one. You can buy a new chromebook or low end laptop with those kinds of specs right now for $350+. Chromium should run fine on it. I dunno about LibreOffice, but I would guess RAM is the key to a reasonable experience there, so $20 extra for the 4GB one is probably worth it. While I don't use pis as workstations, there are people that do. – goldilocks Jun 28 at 11:17
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    @BenCromwell sorry, I didn't really make myself clear as to what I'd be using the Pi for. It's not going to be any every day desktop machine, it's going to be something I will be experimenting with. The Linux environment is pretty new to me in general and I might like to try my hand at some of the projects, as well as some programming. I'd like to do it in a GUI environment. I can't even load a web page with the Pi I have now, so I would think upgrading would at least give me a usable GUI. – devoidzer0 Jun 28 at 16:16

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