Friday, January 4, 2013

Must have: Raspberry Pi

I have noticed lately that the tech world is burning up with the fever of a thingie called Raspberry Pi. I didn't understand why people are going so madly after the Raspberry Pi( e ) instead of the apple pie :) So I asked a friend who owns one to write a guest post about this newest and coolest gadget. By the way, he also owns a train blog, that you can visit here.


One of the hottest gadgets out there today is the Raspberry Pi. Yepp, that's a Raspberry Pi, not a raspberry pie :-) Interesting name for this little, credit card size computer, which was thrown on the market less than a year ago, at he beginning of 2012. So what is this thing really that people are talking about so much lately and that hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts have been desperate to get their hands on in the last few months? Well, as I wrote, it's a really small computer, just the size of a credit card. But hey, it would not be the first small computer that exists, if you think about it, there are small computers everywhere around us today. Your smart phone, your tablet, even you digital camera is nothing but a specialized small computer. So what makes the Raspberry Pi so different? What are the characteristics that make it unique?


First of all, it is a general purpose computer. It can do pretty much anything that a normal computer can do (although on a smaller scale) and is meant to be used for anything and everything that we use normal computers for: playing music and videos, sending and receiving emails, playing games, programming, running server applications, etc.It is way more versatile that any other specialized small computer, it can do basically anything that you can do with your usual desktop or laptop computer (except running CPU and memory hungry applications  of course). If at this point you're thinking what kind of Windows is installed on it, forget that thought. It does not run Windows. It runs Linux, the free operating system which is, as many would agree, at least as useful as the better known operating systems that we usually have on our home computers, but is not as popular, mainly because it was created by programmers, for programmers, to be used especially for creating programs and running server applications. In the last decade, however, Linux has grown into a user-friendly operating system, with nice graphical user interface which can be used just as well for our usual relaxation stuff (music, movies, e-mails, social apps, etc.) as for the hardcore, serious business (programming, servers...). So the Raspberry Pi is basically a very small general-purpose computer, which runs a Linux operating system. The most recommended Linux distribution for it is the Raspbian, which is a special flavor of the well-known Debian Linux, adapted for the Raspberry Pi.

Small size and general purpose usage already make it special, but the Raspberry Pi has a lot more exciting characteristics than that. Its power consumption is so low (up to 1.5W for model A and up to 3.5W for model B, but typically only around 1-2W), that you can have it on 24/7 without noticing any change on your electricity bill. In fact, you can even power it from 4 x AA batteries for a few hours, depending on what you run on it, which makes it quite suitable for being incorporated into small intelligent robots, for example. And that's just scratching the surface of what you can do with it. It has some general purpose input-output pins (GPIO pins) which make it possible to hook it up to any kind of electronic device. You can use it to automate the lights in your home, to control your garage door via your phone or a web browser, for property surveillance, to collect data from meteorological balloons floating at the edge the atmosphere, to drive LED cubes... the possibilities are endless. It just takes imagination, a little bit of skills in electronics and/or programming and, of course, a Raspberry Pi! :)

The Raspberry Pi was developed by The Raspberry Pi foundation and the purpose of it is to offer a very cheap but very versatile computer which can be used by people all around the globe, especially by children, to learn (especially programming) and to turn their creativity into something concrete. In fact, the second word in its name, Pi, comes from Python, the main programming language it was intended to be used with. Model A, which is the cheapest, has a factory price of only 25$. Model B, which is a little fancier (an extra USB port, an Ethernet port and currently twice the RAM compared to model A) has a factory price of only 35$, Well, of course, if you buy it from a local store, it's going to cost a little more than that, because of the cost of transport and so on, but it's still going to be very cheap for what it offers. So what does it offer exactly, from a hardware point of view?
  • An ARM v6 processor running at 700 MHz which can easily be overclocked to run at 1GHz
  • 256/512MB of memory, depending on the exact model (A or B) and revision  (1 or 2 so far)
  • A surprisingly muscular GPU which plays full HD movies without any problems
  • A HDMI port which allows you to connect it to your display device of choice (TV, computer screen, you name it)
  • 1 or 2 USB ports (depending on the model) which you can use to connect it to a keyboard, mouse, WiFi dongle or any other USB device. 1 or 2 USB ports sound too little? Well, get a USB hub and turn them into more USB ports!
  • Standard audio and video connectors for older type sound and video connections.
  • The GPIO header (26 pins + 8 pins, depending on model and revision), which is one of the most exciting features, because it allows you to connect the Pi to very unconventional devices and home-made circuits.
What doesn't it offer?
  • There's no default display (screen)
  • There's no default keyboard
  • There's no default mouse
  • There's no default storage (hard disk)
  • There's no default power cord
Basically, there is nothing in it by default. It boots and runs from an SD card, which you need to acquire separately for it. You can connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor to it, bu you can also log onto it remotely using SSH or VNC and control it from a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a tablet or a smart phone. It doesn't even come with a power cord, which would be a standard micro-USB cable capable of supplying at least 0.7A, preferably 1A or more at 5V. It comes with nothing by default, you only get the computer itself, which is not surprising, considering the price, but you can extend it in every imaginable and unimaginable way and turn it into a very original system :)

The Raspberry Pi was and is a massive success. On the first day when it was launched, they sold the whole stock in a matter of minutes and they've registered pre-orders which covered 6 months of production ahead. The community around it has grown very fast and is best characterized by creativity and willingness to help to learn, so it's very easy to get started.

The Raspberry Pi was designed and is the product of The Raspberry Pi Foundation. It is being manufactured in the UK by Sony and is sold by Element14/Farnell. It is a very exciting gadget, a tool of learning, creativity and fun. So, if you want a slice, just get one, plug it in and enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment