Raspberry Pi – A Beginners Guide

So you have heard about the Raspberry Pi – maybe your tech head mate is talking about it or your kids have said something about it because they are using it at school.  You could have read about it in a magazine or seen it on TV.  You want to know a bit more about it and what you can actually do with it.  You’re even interested in getting acquainted with it but are a bit unsure how to get started.  Luckily I should be able to answer most of these questions here.

To give this article some structure I’m going to loosely stick to the following questions:

  1. What is a Rasberry Pi?
  2. What can you do with a Raspberry Pi?
  3. What do I need to get started?
  4. How do I load something useful onto my Pi?
  5. Where to now?

Follow me after the break to get some answers.

What is Raspberry Pi?

What is a Raspberry Pi? This is a Pi

Pi2ModB1GB_-comp

In basic terms it’s a small single board-computer developed in the UK or the purpose of teaching the basics of computer science in schools.  A single board-computer is exactly what it sounds like – a single PCB housing all the components required to operate as a computer.  This means they are equipped with a CPU, memory, graphics processor and sound processor along with other features required by a functional computer.

The original PI utilised a single core ARMs processor and come in various models with 256 to 512MB of RAM.  The new Pi 2 comes with a quad -core ARMs processor and 1GB of memory.  You can read more about the Pi’s  specs here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raspberry_Pi

The Rasberry Pi does not ship with a hard drive but instead uses SD and MicroSD cards (depending on what model you have) to hold the relevant Operating System (OS) and saved data for the Pi.

The Raspberry Pi was developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation for the purpose of teaching the basics of computer science in schools.  But the Pi has caught the imagination of backyard DIYers and electronics enthusiast all over the world and has now built a cult following.  One of the aspects of the Pi that makes it stand out  from the other single-board computers is its strong thriving community.

What can I do with a Raspberry Pi?

With its small size, versatility and large community there are a lot of projects people are using the Pi for.  Some of my favorites are:

Most people that buy a Pi, however, just want to use it for what it was intended for – a cheap PC to help them learn more about Linux, programming and just computers in general.

What do I need to get started?

First of you are going to need a Raspberry Pi.  I suggest you get the Pi 2 as this is the newest and is also what I am going to use in the next step.  I still think the best place to get them from its element14 here. I would also suggest that you pick up a case here.

The following items you can grab from any electronic goods stores such as JB HiFi or Dicksmiths.  You can also grab most of these items from element14.  Alternatively grab them off ebay if you are comfortable doing so. This is what I usually do –  just try and make sure they are of decent quality.

  1. MicroSD Card (I would grab a few so you can have more than one image/OS to play with). Check the Pi’s website for recommend brands and useful guidelines here.
  2. Micro USB to USB cable plus USB power adapter.  I actually use power boards with USB adapters inbuilt in them like this one here – it’s just easier with all the USB powered equipment I have these days.
  3. USB  card reader capable of reading MicroSD cards like this one here – unless you PC already has an inbuilt card reader – then you don’t need one.
  4. Lastly a USB WiFi dongle like this one here.

Next you are going to need a display.  You can use a TV if it has a HDMI input.  If you are going to use a computer monitor I suggest you use one with a HDMI input available.  You can get DVI and VGA to HDMI adapters such as these ones here –  but they never work as well.  You will also need a HDMI cable. These can be bought just about anywhere – I get mine from Bunnings……..no lie.

Lastly you are going to need a USB keyboard and mouse.  You can use wired or wireless.  I usually use wired as wireless mice and keyboards just add another complexity you just don’t want to deal with if they don’t work straight off the boot.

Alternatively if you want more of a compact arrangement you could purchase a Lapdock (see my review here) and this will replace the need for a display, keyboard, mouse and USB power cables and adapter.

Lapdock screen

Now I could come up with my own wiz bang diagram on how to connect all these bits together – but they do a great job here so I didn’t have too.

How do I load something useful onto my Pi?

To start off the first thing you really want to do once you get your Pi rig setup is load up an OS with a nice GUI (Graphical User Interface) and start playing around with it.  I have chosen Raspbian to use in this how-to as it is a free operating system based on Debian (Linux) which has been optimised for the Raspberry Pi.  Raspbian is also the most popular OS around for the Pi and has a thriving community.  This means a lot of online support and how-tos to help with any issues that might arise that I haven’t included in this post (probably because I have never encountered them – using electronics is always a different journey for everyone).  The Raspbian home page can be found here.

To make things easier to follow I have written up two different posts outlining how to equip your Pi with the base operating system:

  1. How to install and setup Raspbian using OS X (Apple)
  2. How to install and setup Raspbian using Windows (PC)

Where to now?

After wandering through and completing this guide if you are lost for what to do next there are lots of place to go searching for inspiration.  So of my favourite places are:

Let me know in the comments which projects your working on……….or want your going to start!  Would be great to hear from you.

 

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