Sunday, February 12, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About the Raspberry Pi


The online tech community is wild about the soon-to-be released Raspberry-Pi. The cleverly named device is a $25 Linux computer that is the size of a credit card (right). With impressive specs and even more impressive performance, the Raspberry Pi has been seen running Quake 3(bottom), XBMC, and Air-Play, without lag. The R-Pi is due to start sales to consumers later this February, with the construction of the first 10k finishing on Feb 20th. Only the 'B' version will initially be for sale and will be priced at $35.

The device has an 700 MHZ ARM11 processor, and 128MB of RAM. The upgraded ‘B’ version sports a 10/100Mb Ethernet port and 256MB of ram. For the less-techy people out there, the specs are just short of a modern smart-phone (but can easily outperform the newest iPhone4s). The R-Pi is capable of HD video playback, and outputs through HDMI and RCA (the circular yellow plug on older devices). It has 2 USB 2.0  ports which share the same USB Controller. On the ‘B’ version, the Ethernet port also shares the USB controller. R-Pi will boot off of an SD card (sorry, it will not be able to boot off of USB) and will be powered by micro USB cable. The picture below shows the board’s layout.



On a more technical note, the board also has 16 accessible GPIO (general-purpose I/O). All of the pins are unpopulated and will be digital only. But chances are if you plan on using them, then you probably have a spare A/D converter laying around anyways. Another board referred to as the GertBoard will be released at some-point soon as well. This will allow users to more-easily drive high-power motors and sensors on a shield-like board (the GPIO do not have pull-down resistors or diodes to prevent reverse current attached. It is assumed that users using this will have enough common sense to not fry their board). Because of how easy the GertBoard will be to use, the Raspberry Pi may be able to start a new revolution in the hacking community; the same way Arduino has. The most popular Arduino board, the Uno, currently sells for ~$30 and doesn’t have nearly the speed of the R-Pi.
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The Raspberry Pi is being developed with the purpose of bringing computer programming back to schools, and not languages like HTML, that most schools currently consider adequate. With a low cost, the R-Pi may be treated as a form of textbook in some tech classes, and will finally allow students to bring home a computer to learn with (without worrying about bricking their parent’s). More high-end languages will be able to be taught like C, or Java and students will also be able to learn more about the structure of operating systems - because the Pi will be completely Open Source and un-brickable. Hopefully, schools will be able find space for Raspberry Pis in their curriculum and buy a few. A $25 computer is a lot cheaper than a $100 textbook...and a lot cooler.

One of the most recent pictures of a Raspberry Pi. The
final version will most likely look similar.
The hacking community is expected to be the main buyers of the first batch of R-Pis. With projects seen on the forums like a a cheap media station, a car PC, an Android Emulator, a robotics micro-controller, and home automation. I plan on buying one to make a multi-media station for my [parents] HDTV (network media streaming, Netflix, YouTube, Interwebs, picture sharing, music, etc). The reason that the first batch is not going to schools is because the R-Pi foundation is hoping that the hacking community will help develop the learning materials, software and tutorials for the less-advanced users. Within the first month I can guarantee that you will see thousands of easy open-source projects using the Pi...Maybe even here on RoboTechEd!


If you plan on getting a R-Pi then I recommend you follow the organization on Twitter and forwarding their tweets to your phone. They don’t expect their inventory to last very long (I give it 10 minutes), even though they are limiting initial sales to 1 per person. The store will open at some point after Feb 20th and before the end of the month. The foundation also plans to ship world-wide from day one. If you want to get a few of these for your school, then you will have to wait for a little later in the year, the foundation will be selling bulk to schools at some point after they get a feel for their sales. Either way you should hop onto the R-Pi forums and check out some cool project ideas, and contribute to the development!


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