Getting Started with Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi has been around for some time, three and half years to date, and it had not caught my interest until recently.  Sure I had heard about it and although it seemed interesting it was also a little intimidating, to be honest.  That's until recently when an individual decided to start a makers and coders meetup group right here in little old Belton Texas.  When the meetup up group was started I was immediately interested since I had already been introduced to making things with the Arduino.  I can't say enough about how pleased I am with joining this group.  I have learned some cool new geeky things since then about the Pi, Linux and Python.

So What Is the Raspberry Pi?

To put it simply in laymen's terms, the Raspberry Pi is small computer that has enough power to be a personal computer.  No it won't necessarily replace your Windows laptop. It does not have the same amount of power and hardware resources. Also, the operating systems available for it are specialized versions made specifically for the Pi. The Operating Systems available also have some issues with some of the newer HTML websites. While it won't necessarily replace your computer, it can easily be a play computer.

One of the big advantages of the Pi is that it also has input/output electronic pins.  This means that you can use it to control other things. You can combine it with other modules to do some interesting things such as combining it with GPS technology, sensors, etc.

Raspberry Pi 2 Specs

The Raspberry Pi 2 comes with several peripheral ports so that you can connect it to your input/output peripherals (i.e. to connect it to a display, keyboard, mouse, ethernet, and sound).  The Pi 2 comes with 4 USB Ports, 1 HDMI port for video display and audio output, a micro USB input for power (a simple phone power adapter will work fine for power).  In addition the Raspberry Pi 2 has a slot for a SD Card and an additional port for plugging the new official Raspberry Pi touch display.  The Pi 2 also comes equipped with a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port for network connectivity.

The Raspberry Pi 2 is equipped with a quad core 900Mhz of processing power, 1GB Ram and as much storage as you can get for a micro SD card.  This is pretty powerful considering Windows 95/98 used to run on Pentium II 233Mhz with about 32Mb Ram.  These days you can get SD cards with storage of around 16 Gb for around $15.00.  You will likely not need much more than 16GB for your prototypes with the Pi.

You can get the full specs at the Raspberry Pi website. As you can see the Raspberry Pi is a full computer in the size to fit in your hand.

Operating System Options

You have several options for operating systems. The Pi does not come loaded with any operating system. This means that you must install the operating system yourself.  For operating systems you have several options. I would start with Raspbian. However, you have several options to include Microsoft Windows IOT Core.  The coolest thing about the Pi is that you load the operating system on a SD card.  This means that you can have different SD cards for different operating systems. Swapping them out is as easy as powering down the Pi, swapping out the SD card and powering the Pi back  up.  In fact, currently I have two different SD cards. I loaded Raspbian on one SD card and Retropie (a video game system emulator) on another card.

Loading the operating system can sound intimidating but it's really easy.  The basic concept is that you must first download the operating system image that you want.  Download WinDisk32 Imager and use it to load the Image on the SD card. After that you place the SD card in the slot and powerup the Pi then simply follow the prompts.  One key thing is to remember to set the appropriate internationlization otherwise your keyboard will be set to Great Britain instead of US. It's really that easy. You can watch the full instructions in this youtube video. The SD card images come in fixed sizes however, after loading them on the Pi the system will re-size them to the size of the card.

Inventory List of Items

So I have your attention and you are ready to get started.  Not so quick.  Before you get started with the Pi you will need several items.  The easiest approach is to simply purchase a Raspberry Pi as a kit. If you do it the way I did it you can get all the components separately.

  • Raspberry Pi  2
  • Raspberry Pi 2 Case with Heat Sinks
  • SD Card 8Gb Mininum
  • USB 2 Keyboard and Mouse
  • Cat 5 Cable if you can wire in for your internet connection
  • USB Wi-Fi Dongle for Wireless Internet
  • Video/Monitor Display
  • HDMI to VGA or HDMI to DVI adapter
  • 2 Amp 5V Micro USB Power Adapter
  • You can potentially use the HDMI to your TV (I have not tried this approach though) so that means you would need a HDMI cable

You can get most of these items minus the keyboard/mouse and monitor for around $80.

Now What?

If you have gotten the Raspberry Pi hooked up and ready to go you can do many things such as practice your Linux skills. If you load Retropie you can enjoy it as a gaming console.  In order to play games you would need a good USB Game Controller though.  You can turn your Pi into a media box to watch your local movies or even Netflix and Hulu.

What will you do with your Raspberry Pi?

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