Raspberry Pi. No, not the kind you eat and I didn’t forget the ‘e’ in Pi. Raspberry Pi is the moniker given to a tiny, very tiny, ARM based computer. The computer designed, primarily, for the UK educational market. Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK non-profit seeking to make computing as cheap as can so they can excite young (and old) people and spur interest in computing, a noble and worthy cause.
The Lilliputian computers, which measure 85.60mm x 56mm x 21mm, start at a cost of $25(US). For $25, one gets a complete computer with an ARM11 processor, 256mb of RAM, a graphical processor capable of decoding high definition, 1080p, video. The board has composite video via an RCA style composite video jack as well as an HDMI port so you plug the board into your hi-def, ultra-tech flat panel or a decidedly low tech, standard def, CRT for old school computing. For ten bucks more, you get twice the memory and an on-board ethernet port. No WiFi on either, but you can add a WiFi dongle using the included USB port.
I ordered the Model B, the $35 board. I also ordered a clear case and purchased a 16gb SD card for storage. I downloaded the “official” Raspi Linux distro and ‘burned’ the image to the SD card using a tool they recommended (Win32DiskImager) There is a great guide for preparing your SD card here. However, downloading the image file (here), formatting your SD card (FAT32) and then using Win32DiskImage to burn the image to the SD card is pretty much all you need to do. The guide I mentioned above includes instructions for Mac users as well.
Since I already had a dozen USB chargers, I did not purchase one, however, they are under ten bucks and it never hurts to have one more, right?
Upon plugging in a composite monitor (a battery powered digital portable TV with composite input) and the power, I was ready to check out the computer. For keyboard and mouse, I used a Logitech wireless keyboard with integrated touch pad that I purchased for my Asus tablet.
To my amazement and pleasure, the computer booted up in just a few seconds. After completing a short setup sequence, the Raspberry Pi booted into a nice windowed gui. This particular distribution of Linux comes preloaded with several web browsers, two IDE’s and two Python interpreters as well as a few other assorted utilities and applications. (No games, save for a few that were used to demonstrate Python.)
Since the little TV I was using was just horrid as a monitor, I dug up an old Playstation One monitor (you know, the ones that you could get that screwed onto the PSOne white console.) This monitor is much nicer than the TV-which was not designed to be used as a computing display device. I also tried out the HDMI connection on our 32inch Westinghouse (remember, that’s the one that has to be ‘activated’…grrr!!) set. Needless to say, this is the way to go.
What you need:
|4gb (minimum) SD Card
||$10 (you might get it cheaper)
|USB Charger (750~1.0 amp)
||$10 (I had one, so I did not buy one.)
|Linux Distro (RasPi)
||$0 (add $12 if you buy one with the OS installed.
|SD card image writer for your OS
Total for Model B
The Pi, while not a speed demon, renders web pages with surprising ease and speed. It is not as fast as my Asus tablet or even my company issued iPhone 5, but it is usable and I would not get upset if it were my only means of getting on Facebook or posting to this blog.
I am quite pleased with my under $50 computer. It is a great and cheap way to introduce someone to computing or to tinker with or whatever. It is well documented and there are a ton of ideas already out in the ether. Things like cool little arcade cabinets running Mame or Nintendo emulators, dog food dispenser and Pandora radios. I’m going to use mine to expand my programming horizons and to go old school with Tiny Basic. Learning to appreciate Linux might be in the works as well.
EDIT: reposted photo of Facebook with names removed.