The Raspberry Pi was launched earlier this year to a not inconsiderable amount of hype. The delicious sounding device was designed to be a low cost, bare-bones computer that could revitalise computer science education by returning students to the golden age of tinkering and wrestling with clever workarounds for memory limitations.
Powered by a Cambridge designed ARM processor (of the type found nestling in the hearts of smart phones) the Pi is a fully functioning computer on a single board. The operating system that it runs is a custom build of ‘Debian’ Linux.
Hardware boasted by the Pi includes a choice of HDMI and RCA video ouput, an SD card slot for storage and 256MB of RAM. In addition there are a couple of USB ports and a LAN connection. The GPU is said to be roughly at the level of the first XBOX, and is capable of outputting video at 1080p. The whole shebang is powered by MicroUSB, and requires no fans. The most intriguing feature is the price: just $35.
So what is it actually for?
So far the Raspberry Pi has proved to be massively popular, with demands for the bargain basement computers far outstripping supply. The appeal is having something that is affordable enough to be tinkered with – ‘out of the box’ the applications for it are relatively limited.
The first project Raspberry Pi owners will probably want to undertake is building some kind of case for it. Given that the board is not much bigger than a credit card the options for this are virtually limitless. As well as dinky dimensions the low amount of heat generated means that the kind of concerns around ventilation and heat dispersal are not as much of an issue as they would be with a standard PC case-mod.
One popular project for the Pi is to build a small noiseless machine for streaming media. A modern television with a USB port for power and HDMI can be simply hooked up to the Pi. Movies and TV shows can then be played from the SD card without the distracting fan noise and power use of a full blown PC.
Another project that is possible with the Pi is to make your own low cost security camera system by hooking up a webcam to the device. Even writing the code to set the camera recording or streaming when motion is detected would not be beyond the hobbyist.
There are a number of gaming related projects that the Rasberry Pi lends itself to. Fans of classic arcade games are able to run the MAME emulation software in Linux. The the challenge becomes to build and paint a suitable cabinet.
The real reason for the Pi’s existence, and the reason to get involved is not just any hardware use (although its simplicity and cheap as chips price point lends itself to it). The Pi was conceived in order to allow users to get their hands dirty with coding and command-line Linux. 2012 has been designated as the Year of Coding so why not get you hands on a Pi, leave behind the hands-off world of Macs and Windows and learn?
Have you got yourself a Raspberry Pi? Are you planning on getting one? Let us know what projects you are working on with it!
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