First Steps with the Raspberry Pi
Introduction / Hardware
Pi received an extraordinary amount of pre-launch coverage. It
truly went viral with major news corporations such as the BBC
giving extensive coverage. Not without reason, it is groundbreaking to
a small capable computer retailing at less than the price of a new
console game. There have been a number of ventures that have
tried to produce a cheap computer such as a laptop and a
tablet but which never materialised at these price points. Nothing
comes close to the Raspberry Pi in terms of affordability, which is
even more important in the current economic climate. Producing a PC
capable of running Linux, Quake III-quality games, and 1080p video is
worthy of praise.
There are two editions of the Raspberry Pi, the Model B which
we have, and the Model A which is identical except that it loses the
ethernet port and one of the USB slots. The labels Model A and Model B
are in deference to the BBC Micros of the early 1980s, computers also
with an emphasis on education. Both models pack everything a system
needs into a single-board.
The first thing to surprise you about the Raspberry Pi is the
size. It is slightly larger than a credit card, but with ports
and sockets jutting out of each side. Even after using the machine for
some time, the size still stays imprinted on one's mind. The
next thing to strike you is the rawness of the machine. Without a case,
users are exposed to the bare printed circuit board. A few words of
caution. Users should avoid handling the Raspberry Pi while it is
powered up, and only handle the edges to minimise the risk of
electrostatic discharge damage.
Raspberry Pi's creators, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, want to spark
children's interest in computer programming
and encourage students to apply for computing degrees. While the BBC
Micros had particularly durable cases which were able to cope with
heavy handling from school children, no such protection is available
from the developer board. Consequently, the Foundation's lofty
goal will have to wait until cases are released.
The Raspberry Pi has more in common with smartphones and set
top boxes than it does with desktop machines. At the heart of the Pi is
the BCM2835 System on a Chip which powers some smartphones and
streaming players such as the Roku 2 HD player. With the large volume
of chips in production costs can be kept to a minimum.
We ordered the The Raspberry Pi from Farnell UK
back on 4 March 2012 but given the unprecedented demand, the last
minute hold ups including compliance testing, the ethernet jack issue
caused by the manufacturing house using plain jacks, it took a couple
of months before we had our hands on a Model B unit. For the princely
sum of £29.46 (inclusive of postage), we were supplied with a
jiffy bag containing:
- Raspberry Pi developer board
- T-Shirt - XL size (editor: too many pork pies being the likely reason)
- Compliance and safety sheet
- Despatch note
The Hanes 100% cotton T-shirt was included as a nice gesture
from Farnell for people who placed an early order.
Obviously, the Raspberry Pi board, in itself, is not
sufficient to get you up and running. It is, after all, just a bare
board. After a quick rekkie around the office, we gathered up spare SD
and SDHC cards, HDMI cable, ethernet
cable, USB keyboard, USB mouse, 5V phone charger, and a monitor.
After plugging in the leads and having loaded the Raspbian
distribution to a 16GB SDHC card, we were set to rumble.
(Model B) at a glance
BCM2835 SoC (700MHz)
(shared with GPU)
/ MMC/ SDIO card slot to boot and for storage. No
built-in hard disk or solid state drive.
VideoCore IV GPU
Composite video out
||HDMI, 3.5mm audio port
USB2 slots (which share a single USB 2 connection), SD card slot,
||86 x 54 x 17 (width, depth, height)
||2W (idle), 3W (peak)
The SoC provides OpenGL ES 2.0, hardware-accelerated OpenVG and
1080p HD video. As you can see from the above specification, the
Pi does not have onboard wireless capabilities, but it is possible to
use a USB-connected wifi dongle, although only some devices are
supported. Neither does the Raspberry Pi have a real time
clock. Given that the machine will typically be connected to
the internet, this is not an inconvenience and provides a cost saving.
Further, if a real time clock is really needed, a third-party battery
backed up real time clock module for the Raspberry Pi should be
available very soon.
It is easy to overclock both the CPU, RAM, and GPU of the
Raspberry Pi by editing a single text file (/boot/config.txt), although
this activity voids the warranty. Some users have reported speed
increases of about 20%, without apparently affecting the stability of
Let's now take a look at the various distributions available to use.
Next Page: Distributions
to Do with the Raspberry Pi
Last Updated Sunday, June 03 2012 @ 07:39 PM EDT