Raspberry Pi: How I spent almost $150 on a $35 computer

Billed as the $35 computer, the Raspberry Pi, has taken the DIY world by storm. It's a cool project system but it's no $35 computer.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor on

The Raspberry Pi model A was the $25 computer and model B is the $35 computer, however, there's a little surprise waiting for the unsuspecting, wide-eyed DIYer; It costs a lot more than $25 or $35. In fact, it costs between four and ten times that much, depending on what you have to buy to make it work. As Robert Heinlein said, and David Chernicoff confirmed, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch or a $35 computer. I've been around long enough to know better on both but I still sprung almost $150 for a Raspberry Pi and peripherals.

When I first heard of the Raspberry Pi, I was excited because I thought it was more of a computer and less of a gadget thingy than the Arduino. And it is. But it's only a motherboard, not a computer.

Now, I guess it's time to split hairs here. 

When I think of a computer, I think of a complete system, not just a bare motherboard. At the minimum, a computer is a motherboard, storage device, a power cable, and possibly an operating system. The Raspberry Pi is only a motherboard for $35. Well, $35 plus shipping, which usually brings the total up to the $42 mark.

Now, add in the cost of a 4GB (at least) SD card, a mini USB power adapter, an HDMI cable, RCA cable, RCA to S-Video adapter, or whatever mashup cable mess you can come up with to get from either the RCA jack or the HDMI port to a monitor, TV, or some other video device. You'll need a USB keyboard and a USB mouse. You'll also need to plug it into a wired network. That is unless you're clever, like me, and you buy a wireless USB network adapter.

If you have to purchase all those things new, you might spend upwards of $200 or more depending on the quality of your peripherals.

So, your $35 computer now costs you $200+.

Fortunately for me, I have a small digital TV available that I can use as a monitor, so I didn't have an additional cost for that.

Here's a breakdown of what I bought and the cost for each:

 Mind you that some of these peripherals are optional but also note that I did not have to purchase a monitor, so I guess it kind of balances out. Still, for something that's billed as a $35 computer is misleading. It's a $35 motherboard. Nothing more.

It's a cute, little piece of hardware and there are hundreds of projects that you can create with it. So far I haven't but I'm getting there. In my opinion, there are some issues, other than the misleading price, with the Pi but that's fodder for another post (coming soon).

I told a friend that I have a Pi and his response was, "Why didn't you just buy a cheap Android tablet?"

Good question.

Especially since an Android tablet would have a virtual keyboard, no need for a mouse, a built-in monitor, built-in WiFi, and a battery that allows me to be untethered. My opinion is that anything you can do with the Pi, you could do better with something else. I'm not sure that beyond some light geekery that there's much practical benefit from using the Pi for anything besides a learning tool. Perhaps that's its true value.

That's the funniest thing about the Pi. It's very small. Like cell phone size small. But you have to plug in wired Ethernet, a keyboard, a mouse, power, and a huge HDMI cable. Seriously, what the heck is up with that? You have ten pounds of peripherals required for a 1.6 ounce board. 

OK, again, it's cute, clever, and great for DIY projects but if you're looking for a real computer, keep looking. If you're looking for a $35 computer, wake up because you're dreaming.

Have any of you created anything cool with the Pi? Talk back and let me know. Post a link to the project too. I'd love to see it.

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