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The Advanced Credit-Card Sized Computer

Did you ever hear of the Raspberry Pi? It’s a fantastic little computer system launched in 2011, and was a powerful but incredibly basic machine. To those not familiar with computers it might look like an intimidating little thing, it’s about the size of a credit card and doesn’t even have a case. Imagine taking apart your computer and taking away the motherboard, processor and ports, then cutting it down to the size of your credit card. Effectively this is what the RPi is.

The hardware is much cheaper than alternatives, which does make sense given that you are basically purchasing the bare bones of the computer, there’s no case, no monitor, no mouse, no keyboard, just the ultimate basic technology required for the platform to operate. So what can you actually do with this? The simple answer here is a lot. This is one computer system that just isn’t limited, if you need more storage you plug it in, if you need more power you plug it in, if you want a case you can put it in a case; in fact with a bit of cardboard or an old cereal box you can make your own case for it perfectly well.

In short this little bit of technology can do everything a computer can, but it is so much cheaper – on average you can currently pick up a type B Raspberry Pi for around £30. The price and the fact that it is quite so capable does indicate a little of the purpose of the hardware; the company Raspberry Pi is actually a registered charity, not your average company. The Raspberry Pi was developed with the intention of helping get affordable technology to children, not only so that it could be used in educational environments such as schools, but also to encourage more children to take an interest in programming, as the RPi provides a range of tools that are ideal for integrating various programming languages.

So how is the Pi used? So far the Raspberry Pi has been used for a whole host of different things, this depends on who is using it and what they tend to use computers for, but in terms of its uses you aren’t really limited. Many people are nervous about allowing their children to try out programming on a real computer, particularly people who don’t understand programming and believe that they could damage the computer in doing so. But with the Raspberry Pi this isn’t so much a concern; not only is it incredibly cheap, but it is also rather hardy, even if it was to be damaged the replacement of some damaged components and removing corrupt data is all very simple (really, the whole thing is run on an SD card, all you have to do is replace that card and it’s like you have a whole new computer).

Programming is where the RPi really comes into its element, the hardware supports a good number of operating systems but the Linux systems are some of the most highly recommended and can all be downloaded onto the SD card and run straight from this very easily. As most programmers know Linux is a renowned operating system for use with programming, supporting a range of languages and being a flexible, open source operating system that can actually be modified and developed according to your own tastes. At default the hardware recommends Debian, but there are alternatives such as Arch Linux ARM and for those with an old-school interest in operating systems you can even download and install RISC OS. By default the device will be supporting Python, which is considered the educational language, but you’re not limited to this; you can use any language that you are able to compile for ARMv6. The only real problem is if you’re an Ubuntu fan, as this does not work well with the processor of the RPi at the moment, though this is something the company are hoping to resolve in the future.

Anyone considering the Raspberry Pi will no doubt be wanting to know how demanding of a system it is, but the fact of the matter is that it may be one of the most efficient systems ever developed. When it comes to energy efficiency it is certainly right up there – the device does not have an on/off switch, if you want to turn it on you plug it in and if you want to turn it off you pull the plug. As you would expect it is developed in a way as to ensure this does not short circuit the way is sometimes can in computers. The RPi also uses very little in the way of power; you could power it with four AA batteries, but you would have to be careful – the Raspberry Pi only needs 5v power, so four AA alkaline batteries would actually create 1v too much and you’d have to use a voltage regulator. How often can you say that about batteries?

There have been a large number of creative ideas which people have successfully implemented using the Pi, whether that means turning it into an emulator and loading ROMs onto it (effectively you could turn it into a SNES, Mega Drive, Classic N64 – pretty much anything you wanted to if you can find the ROMs and programme up a bit of an emulator, and if you do it well enough you could even programme your new games to recognise a USB controller and play with a handset. Real Retro gaming; as many games and consoles as you can fit on your memory card (of course you could have a different memory card for each console) and all for around £45 once you add the cost of controllers and memory cards to the cost of the RPi. A functional SNES alone would cost you £50+ on Ebay.

It doesn’t stop there, these sexy little machines even support HDMI connections and have Ethernet ports. It doesn’t take a genius to start using the hardware to stream directly to your TV. How you do it is up to you, browser, application, it doesn’t matter – you can do it.

Ever get sick of carrying your work around with you on a laptop? Every programmer I know carries around a laptop and hard drive while they’re programming software, scripts and files everywhere they go, often plugging it into a projector or screen to display to clients and associates. Perhaps for this purpose the Raspberry Pi would be more useful? Smaller, does not require a power-source so long as you have some AA batteries at hand and perfectly flexible.

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Monday, August 19th, 2013 by admin About Us No Comments

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