What Is the Raspberry Pi?
The Raspberry Pi is a series of single-board computers that have been made by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a charity in the UK which aims to create easier access to computer education to people from all around the world. It was initially aimed at the promotion of teaching basic computer science in developing countries and schools and has quickly expanded itself to a wide range of users and become much more popular than it ever was originally anticipated to be.
About the Raspberry Pi
This amazing device has been selling itself outside of its initially intended marked and is being used for robotics and research projects due to its low cost and portability as it does not have any keyboard or mouse. Some accessories have, however, been included in several bundles. The Raspberry Pi is one of the best-selling computers in the UK and as of December 2019 it has sold more than thirty million boards. These boards are made in Wales while some others are made in China and Japan. It is a cheap credit-card sized computer that has been embraced my many programmers around the world due to its inexpensive price, versatility and magnificent capabilities. It is important to note though, that the Raspberry Pi is not a complete replacement for your laptop or desktop computer as it cannot run Windows. It is, however, able to run Linux with desktop environments, web browsers and other elements in the same a traditional computer or laptop does. It must be said though, that the increased processing power of the most recent model has elevated performance to a point that it could be used as a desktop computer.
The Raspberry Pi Foundations main aim is to empower people from all over the world with the ability to make us of computers that have a low-cost and a high-performance to learn with, have fun with and solve problems. It provides education to people who have limited access to computers and develops free resources to assist people in learning about computing as well as training educators to guide people to learn. The Raspberry Pi supports clubs such as the Code Club and CoderDojo and promotes them in order to help them grow their network worldwide. The Raspberry Pi Foundations quest is to primarily ensure that all children can access and learn about computers.
The Raspberry Pi Board
At the start of the Raspberry Pi era, the machine came in two versions one being the Model A and the other the model B. The Model A had one less USB port, no ethernet port and half the RAM of the Model B.
After manufacturing costs fell the hardware specs were able to be greatly increased while keeping the cost the same. This unification of all model type came with the introduction of the Raspberry Pi 2 and the Raspberry Pi 3. Raspberry Pi 1 Model A’s now have a featured system-on-a-chip set up that has been built around the Broadcom2835 processor which is a very small but quite powerful mobile processor mostly used in mobile devices. It also includes a CPU, GPU, video and audio processing as well as other functionalities with a 700Mhz single core ARM processor. The Raspberry Pi 4 has a new processor, the Broadcom BCM2711 with a four Arm Cortex A72 cores running at 1.5GHz.
What can you do with the Raspberry Pi?
There are so many functions that can now be performed with the Raspberry Pi and it is used by people of all ages across a broad range of specialities.
- Programmers can use the platform for projects such as recreating retro arcade cabinets and controlling robots.
- Setting up home automation
- Can be used in most industrial applications
- Disposable GIF cameras
- Game consoles for gaming
- Personal inflight entertainment
- Used to learn code as well as code electronics for projects
Open source operation
The Raspberry Pi operates in an open source and is supported by various operating systems that run a suite of open source software applications. The Raspberry Pi Foundation are contributors to the Linux kernel as well as many other open source projects and has in turn released much of its software as an open source
The Raspberry Pi 3: Hardware
The Raspberry Pi 3 consists of the following hardware:
1.2 Ghz ARM processor (SoC) with i1GB RAM.
4 USB 2.0 ports to connect input devices and peripheral add-ons.
1 Ethernet LAN port
1 3.5mm jack offering audio and composite video
1 Integrated Wi-Fi/Bluetooth radio antenna
1 microUSB power port
1 microSD card reader
1 HDMI port for digital audio/video output
All Raspberry Pi units support HDMI except for the Pi Zero that has no HDMI slot, but you can purchase an adaptor.
What is a GPIO?
This is an abbreviation for General Purpose Input/output interface and is not linked to any specific functions on the Raspberry Pi board. It instead has GPIO pins that are there for the end user to have access to low-level hardware directly to the board so that they can attach other hardware boards, LCD screens and peripherals.
Raspberry Pi prices
Raspberry Pi has seen the birth of three generations and there has generally always been a Model A and a Model B. Model A is the cheaper variant and tends to have reduced RAM and ports such as USB and Ethernet.
|Pi 1 Model B||2012||$35|
|Pi 1 Model A||2013||$25|
|Pi 1 Model B+||2014||$35|
|Pi 1 Model A+||2014||$20|
|Pi 2 Model B||2015||$35|
|Pi 3 Model B||2016||$35|
|Pi Zero W||2017||$35|
|P 3 Model B+||2018||$35|
|Pi 3 Model A+||2019||$25|
The Pi Zero is a copy of the first (Pi 1) generation but is made to be smaller and cheaper.
You can buy the Raspberry Pi from a Pi reseller as well as on Amazon from a third party. It is advisable to buy then most current Raspberry Pi device as many projects will really benefit from the new hardware that is now being offered. With this said, all the older model Pi tutorials are still available on the internet.
The New Raspberry PI 4
The new Raspberry Pi 4 Model B computer is said to be the most powerful model made to date with USB-C power. This model is up to three times faster than the first Raspberry Pi with much more memory capacity and improved connectivity enabling it to extend itself to more capabilities. The Raspberry Pi is a useful tool for those wanting to gain further insight into the world of engineering. The Raspberry Pi 4 can do a surprising amount and is much faster than the original Raspberry Pi Model with a faster storage via USB 3.0, as well as a faster network connection.
Raspberry Pi 4 Specs
64-bit ARM Cortec-A72 CPU
VideoCore VI GPU
Up to 8gm memory
2 x Micro-HDMI / 2 x USB 2 USB Type-C Power Port MicroSD slot
Gigabit/ Ethernet/Dual band/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth
Raspberry Pi accessories
The Raspberry Pi does not come with a case, power source or cables so these all need to be purchased separately.
What do I need?
An efficient power source
The Raspberry Pi device draws in its power from a micro USB port which requires the microUSB-to-Adaptor. A high-quality charger must be used on the Raspberry Pi since it is a micro-computer that requires a continual 5v with 700mA output especially when it come to older models such as the Pi3. If you use a low-quality charger that is underpowered or not harbouring the correct voltage than you are more than likely going to get system instability problems which can be extremely frustrating. It is better to splash out on a quality charger or one designed specifically for the Raspberry Pi. These high quality chargers can supply stable power to all Raspberry Pi models without leaving the user with boot issues and corrupt data files.
The Raspberry Pi does not come with a case in which to enclose it. Cases are relatively easy to find and can normally be bought for roughly $10. Some people even choose to create and craft their own Raspberry Pi cases. Be careful to make sure that you are buying the correct case for your specific model type as there have been many changes to the initial Raspberry Pi board since its development in 2012 which means that older cases will more than likely not fit newer models. There are many to choose from, including some flashy and sparkly cases. The Raspberry Pi 3 case from the Raspberry Pi Foundation only costs $8 and is excellent value for money.
A 4GB + SD card
The newer version Raspberry Pi units use microSD cards. The Raspberry Pi Foundation recommends a minimum of a 4GB Class 4 SD card but say it is better to preferably get a 16GB or Class 10 SD card for the older Pi or the 16GB Class 10 microSD for the newer model Raspberry Pi’s. Not all SD cards will fit the Pi machine so it is better to find out what will fit your specific make of Raspberry Pi before buying a new SD card.
You will require an HDMI cable if you intend on connecting your Raspberry Pi to an HDTV or new computer monitor that supports HDMI. All Raspberry Pi units support HDMI output. If you want to use a standard computer monitor that does not have HDMI support, then you will have to use an HDMI to DVI cable for video signal along with a 3.5 stereo cable in order to access the sound. There are a few Pi models that have analog outputs for older televisions so if you are connecting and older Raspberry Pi to an analog television then you will need an RCA cable and a stereo cable or simply just use a yellow-red-white tri-cable. The newer Raspberry Pi units will require you to buy an RCA adaptor cable or a TRRS AV breakout cable if you would like to connect you Pi to an SD or analog source.
A Wi-Fi adapter or Ethernet cable
Although it is not necessary for a Pi to have network connectivity it does make updating and downloading software much easier and allows access to a big variety of network-dependant applications. All Raspberry Pi versions have an Ethernet port which gives every user the ability to plug in their Ethernet cable and connect to the internet. If you have an older Pi then you are also able to purchase a micro Wi-Fi adaptor that is compatible with the Pi.
A Mouse and Keyboard
You will need a mouse and a keyboard to get your Raspberry Pi up and running and most standard wired USB keyboards and mouse should work on your Raspberry Pi unit. Make sure that your USB mouse and keyboard draws less than 100mAh of power as an extra draw on power could be problematic especially in older Pi units. This is not normally an issue with newer model Pi’s as the USB ports are more improved and offer users bigger power supply units.
Sometimes when your peripherals are out of spec you need to attach more than two devices and will need an external USB hub that has its own power source. Most USB hubs are compatible with the raspberry Pi.
Installing an operating system on the Raspberry Pi
Once all your Raspberry Pi hardware is up and running then it is time to start loading an operating system onto your unit. Most operating system installations require the same method, but it should be noted that the Raspberry Pi has an SC card reader and not a traditional BIOS drive so to setup your device so you are not going to use the traditional way of inserting a boot disk and installing your operating system. What happens instead, is that you prepare the SD card on a traditional PC and then load it onto the Raspberry Pi where you can then further unpack and change it as you want to.
- Download Your Operating System
Most users of the Raspberry Pi will want a general-purpose Linux operating system for their Pi, and while there are a wide variety to choose from it is usually best to choose the most stable and supported operation system called the Raspbian. This is a version of Debian Linux and works best with the raspberry Pi device. This step requires a separate computer and SD card reader. There are various versions to choose from:
This is the most recent Operating System for the Raspberry Pi
- Raspbian Jessie with Pixel
This is the newest desktop interface for the Raspberry Pi and was released in 2016.
- Raspbian Jessie LitePixel
This version may not be as attractive, but it does use less pixels and works best with older model Pi devices.
- Write the OS Image to Your SD Card
The next step is to write the image to your SD card using Etcher, which is a free Windows, MacOS and Linux program. This program is generally simple and easy to use and makes the process a lot better to manage.
- Plug your SD card into the computer and start up Etcher
- Click on “Select Image” and point Etcher to the Raspbian IMG zip file that you have downloaded.
- Click on “Select Drive” and pick out your SD card from the list of options that are given to you. From now on only external hard drives that have been plugged in will show as an option.
- Click on “Flash” to conclude the process.
- Put Your SD Card in the Pi and Start It Up
Finally, the time has come to start up your Pi for the first time. Make sure that all the cables and peripherals are attached. Check that your HDMI cable, RCA cable, USB hub and Ethernet cable are all ready and in position. Now inset your SD card and then insert the microUSB power cable. The Raspberry Pi has no power button so it will start to boot up as soon as you plug in the power cable. You will see the boot sequence scroll rapidly and it will then suddenly be replaced by a simple splash screen. This will not last for long because seconds later you will be taken to the Pixel desktop when the process has been completed. You have now managed to successfully booted up your Raspberry Pi device.
Next steps to follow once you are up and running:
- Configure your network
- Connect to Wi-Fi
- Test the network (If using the Ethernet)
- Click on the icon in the upper right corner to configure a wireless connection
- Use the drop-down menu to select the wireless network you want
- Enter your Wi-Fi password and then confirm the network icon changes
- Test the network connection by confirming your connection to the web
- Open your browser
- Update your software
Once this has been done you will not only have network connectivity, but your browser will look just like it does on a normal desktop PC or laptop!
Update the Software
It is a good idea to do a software update before you start using your Raspberry Pi. This can be done once you have setup the network and checked your connection.
- Click on the terminal icon in the upper left corner to launch.
- Once at the terminal, enter the following command: sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade.
- This combination of instructions enables you to search available software repositories for system and software updates as well as upgrades.
- When updates are located you will be prompted to approve or disapprove the changes with the Y and N keys.
- Unless you have a good reason to want to skip the update, then just hit the Y key to confirm all the changes.
- This can take up to 30 minutes as Raspbian looks through all the available and relevant updates that you may need.
Resource links for the Raspberry Pi
Raspbian’s library of documentation is very instrumental in assisting a user to learn how to tweak, change and configure txt or even install media players.
This official blog is kept constantly up to date with new Pi developments, tip, projects, and comments from users and fans of the Raspberry Pi.
The unofficial Raspberry Pi Magazine that is published roughly eight times a year.
Raspberry Pi: Disk Images
This is a complete index of handy Raspberry Pi friendly images of current Linux and Android distributions.
This resource helps to confirm what pieces of hardware will or will not work with your Raspberry Pi unit and is an invaluable resource to have.
The Raspberry PI Advantages and Disadvantages
Small and easy to carry around
Limitations due to hardware
Cannot run X86 operating systems
Low cost server to handle light web traffic
It cannot replace a normal desktop PC or laptop
More cost effective than a normal server
Cannot do any complex multi-tasking
Used for many projects
Not compatible with Windows
Useful to practice code with
You are not going to remember your life before you started using the Raspberry Pi and with the incredible advantages and versatility, we cannot blame you. This device is packed with so much potential and life changing abilities and the best part is that it was initially developed to help young people around the world to learn computing through a more cost-effective way. The Raspberry Pi Foundation can definitely take a bow as the Raspberry Pi has been nothing but the ultimate success story.