MCMC on the Raspberry Pi

I’ve recently taken delivery of a Raspberry Pi mini computer. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a low cost, low power machine, costing around 20 GBP (25 USD) and consuming around 2.5 Watts of power (it is powered by micro-USB). This amazing little device can run linux very adequately, and so naturally I’ve been interested to see if I can get MCMC codes to run on it, and to see how fast they run.

Now, I’m fairly sure that the majority of readers of this blog won’t want to be swamped with lots of Raspberry Pi related posts, so I’ve re-kindled my old personal blog for this purpose. Apart from this post, I’ll try not to write about my experiences with the Pi here on my main blog. Consequently, if you are interested in my ramblings about the Pi, you may wish to consider subscribing to my personal blog in addition to this one. Of course I’m not guaranteeing that the occasional Raspberry-flavoured post won’t find its way onto this blog, but I’ll try only to do so if it has strong relevance to statistical computing or one of the other core topics of this blog.

In order to get started with MCMC on the Pi, I’ve taken the C code gibbs.c for a simple Gibbs sampler described in a previous post (on this blog) and run it on a couple of laptops I have available, in addition to the Pi, and looked at timings. The full details of the experiment are recorded in this post over on my other blog, to which interested parties are referred. Here I will just give the “executive summary”.

The code runs fine on the Pi (running Raspbian), at around half the speed of my Intel Atom based netbook (running Ubuntu). My netbook in turn runs at around one fifth the speed of my Intel i7 based laptop. So the code runs at around one tenth of the speed of the fastest machine I have conveniently available.

As discussed over on my other blog, although the Pi is relatively slow, its low cost and low power consumption mean that is has a bang-for-buck comparable with high-end laptops and desktops. Further, a small cluster of Pis (known as a bramble) seems like a good, low cost way to learn about parallel and distributed statistical computing.

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I am Professor of Stochastic Modelling within the School of Mathematics & Statistics at Newcastle University, UK. I am also a computational systems biologist.

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