Monday, November 4, 2013

Raspberry Pi? You Hungry or what?

There is always some new gadget or device out there that has piqued my interest, or made me want to play with it. I was on the web searching for an interface for my media server and stumbled across a Micro Computer called the Raspberry Pi. If you haven't heard of it you need to read this article. It is a $25 HDMI capable 1080p Mini Computer that runs on Linux. Yes that says $25. Got your interest now?

Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2.0 (512MB)

The Raspberry Pi is a micro computer that is about the size of a smart phone on the scale of the HTC Desire. I stumbled across this and have been Intrigued ever since. So I pulled the trigger and ordered one from Amazon. I upgraded and ordered the $35 Model B board. Which I will explain in a bit. As soon as it arrives I will do a more in depth review of the device.

So What is it?
As I have said a couple of times, the RPi  is a microcomputer, but how micro is it? Well not as much as you think. There have been attempts in the past to make a Mini or micro computer. The problem was the performance mirrored the size. So there wasn't a whole lot you could do with them other than general I/O switching, or rudimentary computing. The Raspberry Pi, while not a Supercomputer is pretty well equipped. With a 700Mhz ARM11 Processor it is no slouch as far as processing goes. (Remember it runs Linux, not Winblows). This can be successfully Overclocked to 1Ghz with the addition of some cooling, but not reliably for all applications. Its also equipped with 512Mb of on Socket Ram and Sports an SD card slot where you install your OS. Can't get much simpler than that can it.

What you get.
When you order a Raspberry Pi you need to determine what your going to do with it. Once you decide then you can determine what model to order. Keep in mind there are also generational differences. The Second Generation added some screw holes to the motherboard for assistance in mounting. The board itself measures 85.60mm x 56mm x 21mm and weighs in at 45 grams bare bones. The Second Generation also has double the Ram of the first Gen.

  • MODEL A The $25 model 'A' is a lower power consuming version with stripped down connections. It sports 256Mb of Ram, 1 USB port and no Ethernet connection. (You can add USB wifi if you like.)
  • MODEL B  The Model B Revision 2 upgrades to 512Mb of Ram, add another USB port for a total of two, and adds a 100Mb Ethernet Rj45 port to the device. Note that the B model does use 2/3 more power than the A model does. I assume to power the Ethernet port. 
Both models use the ARM11 Processor set at 700MHz and have USB 2.0 lying underneath, hence no Gigabit Ethernet as the port is only 2.0. All models boot from an SD card. 4Gb is the minimum but they show support up to 32Gb so far. They can boot to an external HD after the SD card boots but must have an SD in to start. An integral HDMI port is standard on all models. With support for HDMI 1.4 it should do a great job on video. BTW, yes it does support Audio out across the HDMI port. It also includes an RCA Composite Video out port as well. But you have to use the on board 1/8" Stereo Audio out jack if you want sound with this port. 

Power is provided using a micro-USB plug on the end of the board. The same one we all use for our cell phones. So chances are you have already got a power supply for the RPi. No power switch though. To turn on or off you plug and unplug the supply. I have seen Micro-USB plug savers on Amazon though that have an integrated switch and  go between the cord and the Pi.

If all the RPi did was compute and do it well then I would stop there. But it does much more. Included on the board is a GPiO or General Purpose Input Output connector. This allows you to use the Rpi for controller unlimited other things in the world. This is the part I am looking forward to the most.

I will delve deeper into the functionality and performance of the Raspberry Pi in the future. For now I can say it is an absolute blast to play with. In the first week I have setup 5 different OS's on 5 SD cards to allow me to use the Raspberry for a multitude of projects. The least of which is installing RaspBMC so that I have a portable player that interfaces great with my VortexBox server. Next up is connecting with Plex.


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