Raspberry Pi: Cheat Sheet

Summary:Get to grips with one of the world's cheapest computers...

Get to grips with one of the world's cheapest computers...

Mmm, Raspberry Pie
Mmm indeed. However we're not talking about drool-inducing baked goods here. When it goes on sale, the Raspberry Pi will be one of the cheapest computers ever sold.

How cheap is cheap exactly?
Roughly $25. At least that's the sort of price the Raspberry Pi's makers say they are aiming for when the Linux-based machine is released later this year.

So what is Raspberry Pi?
Raspberry Pi is about as basic as a computer gets. The device is nothing more than a circuit board with ports to connect it to a TV or monitor, a port for a power adapter and a USB 2.0 hub to hook up a keyboard or another peripheral. That's it. All told, the device is small enough to fit into the palm of your hand.

Raspberry Pi computer

A Raspberry Pi prototype attached to a 12-megapixel camera modulePhoto: Raspberry Pi Foundation

It can't be much cop if it's the same price as a taxi ride home
Well it's not a quad-core beast of a machine but it's not necessarily a slouch either. Raspberry Pi's makers estimate it's about as powerful as the average home PC of 2002 - putting it on a par with a Pentium II 266 machine. The machine has already been demoed pulling off some pretty muscular feats of computing, such as streaming high-definition video without a hitch and playing the lightning-fast first-person shooter Quake III at 1080p.

If you want to get technical, the Raspberry Pi is based around the Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-a-chip, which includes a 700MHz ARM11 chip and a graphics processing unit. The Raspberry Pi runs various distributions of the open-source operating system Linux - namely ArchLinux, Debian and Fedora. There will be two models of the Raspberry Pi, model A and model B. Model A will cost about $25 and model B $35. Model A will ship with 128MB of SDRAM, while model B will have 256MB of SDRAM. A USB wi-fi dongle can be added to support wireless networking and model B will include an Ethernet controller. Raspberry Pi connects to TVs and monitors via a composite or HDMI.

So what can I do with Raspberry Pi?
That's up to you. You could hook it up to a TV and use it as an ultra-low-cost PC for browsing the web and word processing - taking advantage of the host of free software available for Linux.

If you were feeling more ambitious, the Raspberry Pi could also make a very affordable media streamer - allowing you to stream video and music from the internet or from your other computers to your TV. Using the Raspberry Pi as a media streamer could be very easy, as developers of the popular open-source media centre software XBMC are already playing with a Raspberry Pi board.

What about something a bit more adventurous?
Controlling robots good enough for you? Robot builders are already discussing online how the device could be used to control robots by adding peripherals such as a servo controller and camera to the device, with the Raspberry Pi expected to be particularly strong at carrying out machine vision tasks. Ham radio and aerospace operators have also expressed an interest in using the Raspberry Pi.

The Raspberry Pi should be suited to a wide range of uses thanks to the hackability of its Linux OS and the board itself, which should allow users to tinker to get Raspberry Pi to work with many different external devices. The device makers, the Cambridge-based Raspberry Pi Foundation, is even planning to release the schematics and board designs for the Raspberry Pi, although the foundation's director Eben Upton has cautioned that the architecture of the device will make it very difficult for people to build the devices themselves.

How did the idea for the Raspberry Pi come about?
The Raspberry Pi is all about...

Topics: Hardware


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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