What You Need to Know about the Raspberry Pi

While the term Raspberry Pi might not be something that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongues right now, things could very well change before long. The device is starting to become more popular, especially with those who are young, want to learn more about programming and who want to have a small and cheap computer that’s going to work easily. Pi has a fun and clever name that’s easy to remember. Despite the “cute” name though, you will find that it is going to be something that has a bit more power and more use than you might imagine!

What is the Raspberry Pi?

The Pi is a tiny computer that is no larger than the size of a credit card. It will plug into televisions and keyboards, and it is actually quite handy. It is able to run a number of different programs and applications, such as work processors and games. We’ll learn a bit more about the applications that one will be able to expect from the Raspberry Pi later in the article. You will find that the Pi can even play high def video.

The small computer doesn’t take much to run, and it’s an affordable solution for many who need to have a computer.

The History of Raspberry Pi

The Pi has been an evolving project, first envisioned in 2006 by Eben Upton and others working at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory. Others involved in the project were Jack Lang, Rob Mullins, and Alan Mycroft. They were worried there was a disparity in the level of skill many prospective computer science students were showing. People who were coming into the computer science program around that time typically had very little experience, which was different from all of the hobbyists that came to the school in years past. People just didn’t have the programming skills that they once did at the college level.

As the price of components came down, the team discovered that it would be feasible to create small computers that would be a simple and cost effective way for more kids to get into computer programming before they head off to school. It is also a cheaper way for those who are in developing countries to learn.

They are not in development and production, and the first units came into the market only a short time ago in 2012. Thus far, the reception to the Raspberry Pi has been quite good. They are now at the point where they are trying to develop about 30,000 of the units per month. Developers are finally starting to realize their dreams of providing affordable, useable, and programmable computers for everyone who wants one.

Who Produces the Raspberry Pi?

Developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in the UK. Even though this is a UK based company, you will find that these devices are getting more and more popular around the world, and you should be able to order them from just about anywhere.

Where Can I Buy a Raspberry Pi?

You will be able to order the Pi over the web through distributors Premier Farnell/Element 14 and RS Components. These distributors are able to sell all over the world. You will find that you could buy just one of the Raspberry Pi devices, or you could buy them in bulk if you want to become a reseller.

How Much do They Cost?

One of the best things about this device, something that one cannot tout enough, is the cost. They are very affordable for the vast majority of families all around the world. In fact, they only cost $25 for the Model A and just $35 for the Model B!

When you buy the device, you will receive the Raspberry Pi Board, but you will need to buy a few other accessories as well. For example, you are going to need to have an SD card that you will be able to use for the OS. You could buy your own compatible SD Card and then download the OS and information that you need or you could buy one that comes preloaded with everything that you need. The board doesn’t include a power supply, keyboard, or any other device.

The Hardware Specifications of the Raspberry Pi Models

One of the things that you are going to need to know if you plan to order one of these items is the difference between the Model A and the Model B unit. The differences are quite important. For the $25 Model A, you will have 256MB of RAM, a single USB port, and no Ethernet, which means that you will not have a network connection. The Model B Unit comes with 512MB RAM, and it includes 2 USB Ports, as well as an Ethernet power so you can have a connection.

The computer use SoC, or System on a Chip. The Raspberry Pi features Broadcom BCM2835. It contains ARM1176JZFS with a floating point running at 700 Mhz. It also has a Videocore 4 GPU, which is actually powerful enough that it could run BluRay Quality video using H.264 at 40 MBits per second. The Pi has a quick 3D core accessed using the supplied OpenGL ES2.0 and OpenVG libraries. ARM offers both savings and stunning performance, making it the perfect choice.

The computer has a standard in/out audio jack for the audio. You will be able to add headphones, and you could add a microphone for audio in if you need. When it comes to a display, you will be able to use the HDMI out on the board, so you could hook it up to a television or a DVI monitor. There do not have any analog connections. Users will be able to run the Raspberry Pi from a wall socket, or from batteries,

What Operating System Does the Raspberry Pi Use?

The maker recommends that users choose to use Debian, and it is what they use in their default distribution. If you find that you want to use something else, you should be able to replace the root partition on the SD card with a different ARM Linux distro if you want to use another option. You will find several choices right on the maker’s website. Remember that you are going to be storing the OS on the SD card.

The computer will not run Windows. Some of the distros you will find available right now for the device include ArchLinux and Fedora in addition to the aforementioned Debian. The computer does seem to be able to run Android, but the version that they have available in their forums is just not currently stable, and it might not be for some time.

What Kind of Programming Languages are Supported on the Raspberry Pi?

The “official” language that the makers support for the educational language on the device is Python. It’s a popular language, and that makes plenty of sense. You will also find that any language that is able to compile for ARMv6 will be able to work with Raspberry Pi. This means that you have more choices, and if you are a bit more advanced, you might want to choose a different language that suits your needs better.

What Kind of Applications Exist for Raspberry Pi?

You will find that you will be able to use the Raspberry Pi to run a host of different types of applications. Whether you are looking for a small computer that you can use to run spreadsheets and word processing programs, you want to watch video, stream audio, or even play some games it’s going to work well. You will find that the Raspberry Pi will let you do quite a few of the things that you would do with a desktop PC, albeit on a smaller scale. You can find great software for just about anything, even letting you run high def video.

What Kinds of Accessories Exist for Raspberry Pi?

You will find that the Pi is actually quite a simple device, and as such, there really aren’t too many accessories for it, at least right now. The computer doesn’t come with an official case, but the education release in 2013 will have a case. Of course, you might want to have your own type of case, and you can currently find a few third party options that will be able to give provide you with some protection for your device. You could even build one on your own.

You are also going to need to have your own mouse and keyboard if you want to work with the Pi, naturally! You will be able to use any mouse or keyboard that will connect via USB. Since there are only limited slots for USB devices on the models, you may want to use a USB hub, which will give you more slots that you can use for a mouse, keyboard, flash drive, and more.

One accessory that you are going to need is an SD card, if you remember from earlier! That is where the OS is going to reside. You could use cards up to 32GB. You might want to visit the Pi forums to get information from some of the users on the best options when it comes to the cards.

What are the 10 Most Popular Uses of the Raspberry Pi?

The Pi is quite versatile. Here are a few of the things that you will be able to use it for when you buy one.

Use #1 – Learn to Code

This is one of the best things about the device. You will be able to use it and learn how to code and work on open source programs on the web. It’s a great solution for those who are looking for a nice introduction to coding, and who want to have more experience before going into the field as a career.

Use #2 – Media Player

It might seem hard to imagine, but even though this isn’t really a powerhouse of a machine, it has enough oomph to be able to fund full HD video if you are using the right software.

Use #3 – Game Emulator

The device will work quite well as a game emulator. You will be able to add the emulator software, and then use the device to play some of your favorite old games. It seems quite good at emulating games from the 16-bit era and earlier.

Use #4 – Listen

Here’s an idea that some people are using. Utilize the box almost solely as an Internet radio player. You can connect with Ethernet, as long as you have Model B and hook up to the web and stream Internet radio, even in rooms of the house where you don’t have a regular computer.

Use #5 – Tablets

While this isn’t going to be a project for the newbie, it is something that might be a perfect project for those who are more advanced. In fact, there are quite a few mod experts already connecting touch screens to turn the device into a simple tablet. It might not be the iPad, but it can be fun!

Use #6 – Computer in the Car

Just as modders are making tablets for home use, they are also making touch screen computers that you could use right in your vehicle. They could connect through cigarette lighters for power. However, many vehicles today have USB ports, which will make things even easier!

Use #7 – Security

When you want to have a cheap security camera system, such as you might want in a small child’s room or even outside, the Pi could be a good fit. Creative people are using the computer to connect web cams via a wireless-G USB dongle.

Use #8 – Home Automation

Some other enterprising Raspberry Pi users are already looking at ways that they can use this computer to automate different features around the house, such as the lights and the air conditioning. It will let them control many of the things they need right from one location.

Use #9 – Video Chatting

It takes surprisingly little power to perform video chatting, and the Pi can be perfect for that. You could hook it up to a television and chat away since it accepts microphones for audio input!

Use #10 – Portable PC

Because of the size and the simplicity of the device, you will find that it truly is a portable computer. You will be able to take it with you and hook it up wherever you find a monitor. This could be great for travelers who don’t want to take a laptop.

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