This post is an introduction of sorts for the Raspberry Pi 3, the latest in the range of Raspberry Pi single board computers from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The goal of the Raspberry Pi Foundation like the BBC Micro:bit, was to provide school children with a low cost easy to use computer, to promote the teaching of basic computer programming in the class room. Though the appeal of a low cost highly flexible computer stretches a lot further than just the school room, with makers the world over utilising the Raspberry Pi in a huge number of projects.
The first Raspberry Pi launched on the 29th February 2012 with an ARM v6 Broadcom CPU, clocked at 700 MHz, 256 MB of on-board RAM, a 3.5 audio jack and only one USB port. Though this didn’t stop the original Raspberry Pi A selling out in the first few hours and over 100,000 pre orders being taking on the very first day.
Since this original launch the Raspberry Pi foundation has been very busy coming up with new revisions of this much loved platform, along the way we have seen four different boards, the A, B, B+ and Raspberry Pi Zero, which in itself made history by being the first personal computer which was included on the cover of MagPi, a magazine produced by the Raspberry Pi foundation to help share news and project ideas among the Raspberry Pi’s large user base.
Personally it took me quite a while to get myself a Raspberry Pi, although having known about them for some time. I finally took the plunge and brought myself a Raspberry Pi 3 single board computer, the latest in the range. Although this board shares a similar size board to the original Raspberry Pi, the board itself is 50% faster with the quad core 1.2 GHz ARM v8-A Broadcom chip its heart. Along with this beefier CPU the Raspberry Pi 3 also sports a total of 1GB of SDRAM, Ethernet port, four USB ports, HDMI out and built in 802.11n WIFI along with 4.0 Bluetooth.
Though what makes the Raspberry Pi platform so flexible is the 40 GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins allowing a wide range of peripherals to be easily slotted on top of the Raspberry Pi transforming this mighty little single board computer into anything you need it to be, from a scrolling message to a retro games arcade using RetroPi or a scientific platform for running experiments on the International Space Station as with AstroPi.
Though you don’t have to be an intrepid maker to enjoy the Raspberry Pi, due to its price, they also make a great option for your child’s first personal computer, as it runs on Linux it is a secure environment for them to experiment with what the Raspberry Pi can do.
If you have previous experience with single board computers like the Beagle Bone, or the Pine 64, you’ll find that to begin your adventure with a Raspberry Pi 3, could cost you as little as £32 plus postage, this amount will get you a board, and allow you to begin having fun with a Raspberry Pi. Though if the Raspberry Pi is your first ever single board computer, you’ll need a few more things to get you started, such as an SD card with a copy of NOOBS (New out of the box software), micro USB power supply, which has an output of +5.1V 2.5A, finally most people will have at least a keyboard, mouse and monitor in the house, though if you don’t have these or don’t want to share you main computers keyboard and mouse, then you will have to buy these also. As an optional extra you could get a case for the pi to protect it from static and sticky little fingers. A lot of online stores like Pi Hut, Pi Supply and Pimoroni all have Raspberry Pi starter kits which provide everything but the keyboard and mouse.
When you have set up your Raspberry Pi, for those not used to a Linux desktop you will be greeted with a layout which looks quite familiar for those who are used to windows or OSx. Clicking on the Raspberry Pi logo in the top left corner, will reveal a list of included softeware, this is where the original mission of the Raspberry Pi Foundation shows itself, the pre-installed software provides access to the Open Office suite, along with a range of programming IDEs (intergrated developement environment), including Sonic Pi for making music using code, Scratch a block programming envrionment, BlueJ for Java and IDLE for Python.
So above are two images of the basic Raspbain desktop, which itself is based on the rock steady Linux distribution Debian, though you don’t have to stick to just this operating system, a quick trip to the Raspberry Foundation’s download page and you will see a collection of the most popular operating systems for your Raspberry Pi, depending on if you want a full blow desktop replacement, Ubuntu Mate will be a good idea, or if your more interested in creating your own arcade machine, then Retro Pi will be the distribution of choice for you.
If you fancy doing something a little more than just running word processing software or emulating your favourite retro video game, then you will want to start looking at all the shields which utilise the GPIO pins on the boards, commonly known as Raspberry Pi Hats, these extra add-ons come with LEDs, sensors, motor controllers, GPS and displays allowing you to turn your single board computer into a powerful internet of things device or homemade tablet.
The Raspberry Pi 3 is the most powerful of the Raspberry range, benefiting from a matured production process and shows that the Raspberry Pi is really starting to mature as a platform, though with the increase in power draw up from the previous incarnation of the Raspberry Pi, I wouldn’t run out and replace your current Raspberry Pi 2 just yet. However if this is your first Raspberry Pi then get one, with most suppliers providing a starter kit for around £20 on top of the price of the board it won’t be difficult to get up and running with either your own IoT project or a portable desktop computer. With the great community of makers who have taken to this great single board computer, you’ll find it easy to answer any questions you might have about your project.
Thanks for reading – Why not share in the comments what you have used your Raspberry Pi for?