Because I’ve had my Raspberry Pi for about six months now, I feel it is time that I told you a bit about what I think of it. However, on some levels, I still don’t feel ready to review it. I haven’t used it that much yet, and I feel that I don’t fully grasp it’s power or purpose yet.
When I first heard about the Raspberry Pi (or RasPi for short), I was really excited, and thought it sounded so cool. The idea that these people had designed and created a tiny, cheap computer specifically for students, to give them the chance to better learn how exactly computers work, seemed to fit my situation, so I was immediately enticed. I hadn’t yet had any real exposure to Linux, so using the RasPi would force me down that path. On top of that, there is a lot of geeky cred in owning one. I concluded that I had no choice but to get one.
In case you don’t understand what’s so amazing about the Raspberry Pi, let me try and explain it for you. It basically comes down to three things: its size, its power, and its price.
For starters, it’s small. Like, I mean, it’s tiny. Small enough to fit in your shoe. A bit smaller than the size of the average packed wallet. In a case, it’s roughly 9.5 cm long by 6.5cm wide by 3.5cm tall. Until I had it in my hands, I really couldn’t believe that it was as small as they said, but it really is.
And it doesn’t stop there. This mini-computer comes in two versions: Model A and B. The one I bought was the Model B which has two USB 2 ports, an Ethernet port, a HDMI port, a composite video port, a 3.5mm audio jack, an SD card slot which it boots from, and a 26-pin GPIO (general purpose input/output) header. It also has 256 MB (512 MB now) of RAM, an ARM11 CPU which runs at 700MHz, and a GPU (graphical processing unit) capable of BluRay quality playback. The Model A is exactly the same, except without the Ethernet port, and with one less USB port.
With all that, you’d be expecting it to be $100-150. But no! It’s only $US 35 for the Model B, or $US 25 for the Model A. They’re coming from the UK, so after currency conversion and shipping costs, a Model B sets you back about $50, which is actually really cheap still. Although, getting one isn’t as simple as it sounds. These things are very popular and there is a backlog on orders, meaning a delay of numerous weeks.
When my RasPi turned up, I got super excited about it and all the possible ways I could use it. I didn’t know what half of them were, but I wanted to try them all. However, when I went to use it, I realised I was missing a few things. The RasPi isn’t exactly like a standard computer. You can’t (yet, at least) run Windows on it, and you can’t boot up whatever you want from a USB or CD drive. You have to install specifically modified Linux distros onto a SD card to run them. I had a few spares between my camera and MP3 player, so that wasn’t an issue. I also have a wireless mouse and keyboard that I could use with it. However, I didn’t have a screen or a power supply. It’s pretty hard to use a computer without a screen, and especially if it isn’t even getting any power.
Because I couldn’t use it, I put the RasPi away, and sort of forgot about it for a while. Eventually I remembered again, and after discovering that my phone charger would work to power the RasPi, I gave the whole thing a haphazard go using the TV in the Family Room as a screen. My brother was there with me, sharing in my awe and amazement at the whole thing, however he was mainly concerned with reaching “Omega Squirrel” state in the squirrel-eat-squirrel Python game. Having finally had a go at using the RasPi, I was drawn in, and determined to get the things I needed to use it properly. I’ve now got a screen and all the cables, so I’ve been trying to use it whenever I can think of it.
The Raspberry Pi really is a pretty amazing little computer. It’s fantastic in so many ways; It’s just that I’m not sure what to do with it now. It has so much potential, not least of the reasons being because of its tiny size. Being a fully fledged computer, you can use it for so many things. There’s already software available to use it as a web server, a media centre (using XBMC), an arcade machine, a home automation system, or even just as a regular desktop computer. And because of its openness and hardware mod-ability, you can use it in any way that you can think to engineer.
Despite all that praise, it does have shortcomings. It’s not the most powerful computer ever, and I often find it to be sluggish. I’m not sure if it’s the RasPi that’s slow, or if it’s the SD card I’m using, or the Ethernet, or the USB stick, or if I just expect too much from it. Regardless, it stops me from using it as much as I’d like to. Also, since I bought mine, the Model B has been upgraded to have 512 MB of RAM, rather than 256 MB, which should make it perform better, but it doesn’t help me. However, the biggest shortcoming seems to lie with me, rather than with it, in my lack of ideas and ingenuity for how to best utilise the RasPi.
The Raspberry Pi is a great way to learn about Linux, Python, and computers in general, which is what it was intended to do. In the end, that’s probably how I will mainly use it. I’ve been reading online about some cool mods and implementations of the RasPi that others have done, and I’m thinking I might give a few of them a try. If you have a strong interest in computers and/ or electrical engineering, I would suggest you buy one , but only if you have A) some sort of idea of how you can use it, or B) the time to experiment and you want something to learn with. It’s a great little computer, just as long as you know how to use it.
So, that’s all I’ve got to say, what about you? Do you have a Raspberry Pi? How do you use it? As always, if you have something to say, like a reply or a suggested blog topic, feel free to tell me in the comments below, or on my Facebook page.
To Infinity and Beyond,
P.S. I’m thinking of moving to a Bi-Weekly cycle, so don’t be surprised if I don’t post next week, or something…
- Tech Product of the Week: Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2.0 (512MB) Single-Board Computer (whatsonmypc.wordpress.com)
- Raspberry Pi Foundation Announces Official Camera Board (techweekeurope.co.uk)