Computers have taught us many things but information technology in schools still falls a bit short. Raspberry Pi, a micro-computer, was designed to get students into more complicated (and useful) areas of computing, such as programming.
The whole computer is squashed onto a circuit board. It has the equivalent power of a Pentium 2 processor running at 300MHz. This means that, for its size, it’s quite a powerful little thing that can serve a number of purposes.
The Model B has the following specification:
• ARM 11 CPU running at 700MHz
• Videocore 4 GPU
• 256MB Ram
• 2x USB
• 1x SD Card slot
• 1x HDMI port
• 1x 3.5mm audio port
• 1x RCA Video
• 1x mini-USB (Power)
• 1x 10/100 Ethernet port
The Model B retails for £29.95 from Premier Farnell Element 14.
To get started you need a few things.
• SD Card
• SD Card reader to attach to your computer
• USB Mouse and Keyboard
• Micro-USB power connector
• HDMI cable
• Ethernet Cable
You then need to download a couple of programs from the Raspberry Pi website.
• Win32DiskImager Zip File
• Debian “wheezy” Image Zip File (this includes Linux, Python and a number of other
The next stage is to place the image of the operating system onto the SD card. Extract the Win32DiskImager to your regular computer and load it up. Select the source image file and the drive where you have the SD card. Click ‘write’.
Pop this into your Raspberry Pi and connect all your wires and peripherals. Turn it on and after the usual boot screens you’ll see a config menu.
After configuration, you will then see a command prompt. It’s from here that you can make your newly set up Raspberry Pi do what you need it to. However, the best place to start is by typing ‘startx’, which will bring up the desktop.
The whole aim of Raspberry Pi was to get students learning to program. The device is relatively simple to set up for those with basic computer skills. All that’s then needed is an ability to read simple instructions that teach the basics of languages such as Python.
There are plenty of programming tutorials out there for those with a Raspberry Pi that want to try their hand at something new or want to hone their current skills. The official Raspberry Pi website is a good place to start as they have a number of tutorials for things such as creating a simple operating system.
If you are just going to program then the slightly cheaper Model A will suffice. However, if you want to try anything else then it’s best to spend that little extra to get the Model B, which gives you an Ethernet port.
There are so many other options for your Raspberry Pi too. It’s a good little device to run XBMC (Xbox Media Centre) on. It might be a little sluggish if you have one of the particularly graphical themes but the cheap price means you can set up a media centre for next to nothing. This is much better value for money than buying a media PC. A number of people have reported that the Raspberry Pi has no trouble playing high definition (1080p video) if it’s set up correctly.
Arcade Game Emulator
A lot of people will probably be using their Raspberry Pi as an old game emulator, too. An emulator is a program that allows you to run old programs on newer hardware. It fools your software into thinking it’s running on an older machine than it really is — most old games aren’t directly compatible with the new hardware out today.
To get started have a look for MAME (Multiple Arcade Made Emulator) as it’ll allow you to run old arcade games.
There are also endless possibilities for home automation. Already users are controlling things such as the lights in their home. A ZigBee module from Farnell is the best place to start. From there you can set up all sorts of home automation tasks.