I was born at the very end of the 80s and was fortunate enough to grow up around computers and electronics. My dad’s an electrical engineer, i grew up with electronics around the house, often across the kitchen table.
This spawned a lifelong interest in technology and electronics. However, i was a little late for the computer revolution of the 80s. Things got really interesting for me in the late 90s when i started browsing the web and built my first websites. 12 years later and i now make websites for a living reaching millions of people working for the BBC.
Over the years computers have got very powerful. Having multiple cores, Gigs of RAM and a Terabytes or more of storage is commonplace. You can buy a
basic bare bones kit and build you own PC for less than £100; premade PCs are avaliable for a litte more. While this is great something has been lost. Even at a few hundred pounds PCs are too expensive to do anything too risky with. Easpcially for younger people playing with the family computer.
The Raspberry Pi seeks to change this, a basic computer. For less than £20.
The RPi is a well thought out little credit card sized PC. It’s built around the sort of gubins you find inside a TV setup box. It’s fast enough to do basic computing and media while also being very cheap and extendable. By using SD cards for storing the OS you can easily switch it between multiple configurations and if it all goes wrong you can simply blank the SD card and start again. I got mine a few days ago
and thought it would be good to write about my first impressions and experiences a few days in.
The Pi comes in a small unassuming box mostly filled with foam. The board itself is tiny (weighing 40g or so!). Inside the box is a quick start guide and a bunch of legal disclaimers. The board itsels is wrapped in a protective bag. You will need to beg borrow or steal a screen, keyboard and SD card to get started.
As i explained in the intro the hardware is very simple on purpose. I think the board looks pretty neat in the raw with all the tracing and hardware components visible. In total it has 5 Ports. On the left, 2 USB ports and an Ethernet port. On the front a headphone port and a RCA port and on the right the MicroUSB power port and SD card slot. Finally, at the back is the HDMI port for connecting a display. The board also contains a number of general purpose input and output headers and a ribbon connector.
Exact specs for the GPU are not really known. It’s not that important. We do know it has 14 or so cores each clocked at around 250mhz and
offer roughly double the performance of the iPhone 4S graphics. It’s more than capable of handling 1080p high def video content and low end games.
This is where the real fun started for me. It took me over 3 hours to get from the box to a desktop! It started off pretty well, i followed the quick start guide using a mac app (raspwrite) to produce an SD card containing the Fedora 14 OS. This is the OS which was intended to be the recommended OS for the pi.
However it has come out a little half baked. After booting the device and following the setup instructions i was never able to log in. Apparently this is a known bug but it took me a long time to find this out. I ended up repeating the SD card copying step a number times on something which was a bug. Not a great start… was fun though.
Eventully i downloaded the debian sqeeze image the foundation is now recommending. It booted quickly and has been pretty good. I fired up the graphical desktop (startx after loggin in) and set up the chromuim browser. I have also installed OMXplayer for HD video playback and explored the web from the command line using lynx. I quite enjoyed figuring out how to navigate to the bbc radio product and download the latest “Digital Human” podcast. Playing it back on one terminal while browing the web and writing this review on two others!
So far i have spent about 5 or 6 hours in the company of the Pi, in this little time i have greatly enjoyed getting back to something simpler. Writing this little review in nano has been fun. I have also learnt alot more about using linux from the command line and i understand more about how a computer boots.
I dont know if the Pi will take of, but i hope it does. Right now its not really suitble for the feint hearted. But give it a bit of time (and better support etc) and i dont see why this cannot do for modern computing what the BBC micro did for computing in the 80s.
Now i just need to figure out how to post this to my blog….