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Education Hardware

Raspberry Pi Reviewed, With an Initial Setup Guide 188

jjslash writes "It has been six years in the making, with the original goal of the project intending to reignite computer programming in schools across the country. Despite those honorable intentions, the $35 ARM-based credit-card sized computer has captured the imagination of programmers, consumers and tinkerers alike, resulting in unprecedented demand for the product. Last month the first 10,000 credit-card sized computers were set to make their way to those who pre-ordered them back in February. TechSpot takes a look at the Pi Model B, covering the basic steps for setting up the computer, as well as basic post-installation tasks those first using it might encounter."
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Raspberry Pi Reviewed, With an Initial Setup Guide

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  • I'm looking forward to a chance to play with one of these. Put my name on the list months ago, but haven't peculated up to the top yet. Soon I hope.
    • by Adriax ( 746043 )

      I just got an update email, week of june 29th. It may be nearly half a year after I ordered, but damn it'll be cool to play with finally.

    • I was too (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @12:49AM (#39899197) Homepage

      Then by accident I found the rtl-sdr software radio project. Long story short is that a $20 USB dongle designed for receiving digital TV can also be used as a wideband receiver from 64Mhz to over 1.6GHz. Yes it works on Linux too.

      • I opened up a nearly-free Pinnacle USB/1394 video capture device and found an FPGA, but I can't find anything more useful to do with it than throw it away...

    • TFA is wrong in saying "When the first 10,000 devices shipped in mid-April", Only around 1500 devices were shipped in April I believe, with another 8000 going out during May. This is because the ethernet jack had to be replaced by hand on all 10,000 initial boards which takes a lot of man-hours (more likely woman-hours) to do, and so was done in 2 stages.

      • I should be getting mine next week, as are alot of other people, and I pre-ordered mine on the morning of day one (after much wrestling with Farnell's ordering system breaking under the massive load :D).

  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04, 2012 @10:43PM (#39898673)

    Now you can buy an entire computer for less than a license for the Windows operating system.

    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

      by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Friday May 04, 2012 @11:55PM (#39899001)

      Now you can buy an entire computer for less than a license for the Windows operating system.

      You've been able to do that since the turn of the century. Here's the sad part: Long after every computer that can run any of the windows operating systems to date have been put in landfills or as non-working museum exhibits, and everyone who reads this today is dead -- it'll still be illegal to give it to a friend.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05, 2012 @02:57AM (#39899715)

        And well it should be. Friends don't do things like that to friends.

      • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

        by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:46AM (#39899905) Journal

        You've been able to do that since the turn of the century. Here's the sad part: Long after every computer that can run any of the windows operating systems to date have been put in landfills or as non-working museum exhibits, and everyone who reads this today is dead -- it'll still be illegal to give it to a friend if you live in the USA .

        In Finland, and most other countries in Europe (all countries in Europe?) when you buy software, you own it. You can resell it or give it away as a gift, and Microsoft can do fuck-all about it.

        • by xded ( 1046894 )

          In Finland, and most other countries in Europe (all countries in Europe?)...

          In Italy any modification and reverse engineering of the software to improve its functionality is explicitly allowed by law, as long as you own a license for it.

      • ...it'll still be illegal to give it to a friend

        Also, I should think, impossible... unless there is some other definition for friend of which I am unaware.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      now? I gave away a 800mhz P3 with 512 megs of ram 3 years ago, sure its not a credit card, but it was a pizza box

      just cause you make it small does not mean its the only thing available

      (ps waiting on my pi)

    • Its been a few years since I left the embedded space (take a hint, recruiter-droids!) but per-device Windows license pricing broke down along the following lines:

      Windows CE: $5
      Windows XP Embedded: $40
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04, 2012 @10:44PM (#39898683)
    I want my 2 dollars.
  • There's really nothing in this writeup that hasen't already been covered in most of the articles that have been posted here on /.

    Well nothing except some elitism from techspot:

    from TFA "We assume you're on Windows or you probably wouldn't need this guide"

    • by sjwt ( 161428 )

      Indeed, they forgot about Apple users!

    • Are you easily hurst, or just celebrating political correctness?

      If one writes a book for alfabetizing kids, he wouldn't recommend it for gratuate students, as he wouldn't recommend a book about the mathematical fundamentals of superstrings for those first kids.

  • by SteveFoerster ( 136027 ) <steve AT stevefoerster DOT com> on Friday May 04, 2012 @11:00PM (#39898755) Homepage

    It's not really credit card sized. If it were it'd look like SELMA from Time Trax. It has two dimensions that correspond with a credit card, but it's a lot thicker. Not that I'm complaining, it's still amazingly small. I just think it's better described as "deck of cards sized" or "pack of cigarettes sized" or whatever.

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Friday May 04, 2012 @11:04PM (#39898781)
    I remember back in the good old days when it was called the $25 ARM-based credit-card sized computer.
  • "Despite"? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Fucking braindead slash editors.
  • Alternatives? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 04, 2012 @11:12PM (#39898819)
    Just out of curiosity, what functional (as opposed to ideological) alternatives to the Raspberry Pi are there in this price bracket?
    • Re:Alternatives? (Score:5, Informative)

      by White Flame ( 1074973 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @12:16AM (#39899067)

      Depending on your definition of "functional", I believe some of the Arduinos, BASIC Stamps, and the similar are in that range. Of course, these will require custom programming and don't just drop into a self-hosting Linux environment, and don't have video out, but they are fully self-contained computing & IO devices.

      While the RPi is pretty weak compared to the current ARM offerings, it does trounce the microcontroller range in computational capability, but its IO would require extra hardware (it's not buffered, etc) to do some real interfacing.

    • Re:Alternatives? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Alwin Henseler ( 640539 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @12:26AM (#39899115)

      Just out of curiosity, what functional (as opposed to ideological) alternatives to the Raspberry Pi are there in this price bracket?

      None, I think. Only less functional (say, 8-bit microcontroller kit / Arduino stuff?), more expensive ones (like Beagleboard), or used / bulky / second hand gear.

      Personally I like the Raspberry Pi a lot for its combination of cheap, small, brand new, and open-friendly. Biggest minus IMHO is that it's not 100% open due to lacking chipset documentation/drivers. Which limits what OS'es you can run or develop on it. Had such documentation been complete, this would be a perfect dev board for alternative OS experiments.

    • Sheeva plug [globalscal...logies.com], guru plug, etc.
      • admittedly it does have a power supply and case and more memory...but no hardware floating point and no display adapter

        • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

          You can get the OpenRD, which is the bigger brother of the sheevaplug, it also lacks hardware floating point but it does have video and audio outputs.
          It also has SATA so you can connect an internal hdd.

          • I don't see any evidence that it's actually possible to purchase an OpenRD ultimate.

            • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

              I have two of them right here, newit.co.uk sells them although i'm not sure if they have any stock currently.

  • I am going to pick up a Raspberry Pi, once the initial hu-bub dies down. I'm waiting for them to appear in a form that already has a case and a physical power switch however. Shouldn't be more than another 3-4 months or so I would expect. I'm already swimming in computers so there isn't a pressing rush. Still, once I get mine, it'll be a badge that "yes you can have cool stuff."
    • Hmmm, why don't you just put it in a case and add a power switch? If you can get it set up, I'm sure you can buy a case for $5, drill a few holes and solder the connections to a power switch :)

  • User friendliness? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Announcer ( 816755 ) on Friday May 04, 2012 @11:22PM (#39898869) Homepage

    My 2c worth:

    How about making it so that when it powers-up, it's ready to go, without having to set up a user account, etc... just create the image on the SD card, then have the Pi come up to a desktop environment with a few helpful links. One of them should be a user-friendly programming environment that's just a mouse-click away, containing a few useful and easily modified example programs. Make the language something better than BASIC, but just as easy-to-use/learn... "Think of the children".

    • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Friday May 04, 2012 @11:35PM (#39898915)

      Screw the children. The raspberry sounds like a near perfect platform for a freedom box. [wikipedia.org] Imagine your own personal "facebook" server that knows how to find the personal servers of all your friends without actually relying on the "man in the middle attack" that is facebook itself.

      • Yeah, and get 20 extra, because the advantage of Facebook is that random family & friends are likely to have an account, while you don't know a single person who has a freedom box. It's like being the only person on the block with a video phone.

        • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @04:11AM (#39900003) Journal
          I believe the Freedom Box is meant to run things like a dynamic DNS client and XMPP / mail server, so you can, for example, already use it to communicate with anyone with a mail client or chat with anyone using XMMP (including Google Talk). That just leaves the more advanced features, but once you're using them there's more incentive for other people that you communicate with to start.
        • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @04:43AM (#39900139)

          the advantage of Facebook is that random family & friends are likely to have an account, while you don't know a single person who has a freedom box.

          Network effect. And for those who don't want an actual freedombox, let them run an instance in the cloud, it is still better than facebook's model of centralization for corporate stalking purposes. Amazon has tiers that are essentially free for personal use as long as you stay under cputime/diskspace/bandwidth limits.

          • Yeah because people are going to give up the ease of setting up a facebook account with having to jump through ridiculous hoops to run a freedombox instance. Oh wait....

      • It's not nearly powerful enough to do all of what they want to do. In order to achieve their goals they basically need to replace every personal service on the web. That would mean relocating a very large fraction of the processing power in the world to people's homes. You're not going to achieve that by putting a Raspberry Pi in every home.

        The Raspberry Pi's biggest merits as an end-user computing device is small size, low power and low cost. It's not inconceivable to think that it might perhaps become the

    • Its designed by linux fundies. Of course its going to be hard to use and non intuitive.

    • The guide adds in another username, but that isn't strictly necessary. I expect they had it come up into commandline mode by default to avoid starting X if it's not needed.

    • There are various flavours of Debian and Fedora that have Python and Scratch already there to use. Not forgetting XBMC and OpenELEC provided as a free standing, auto updated Debian distribution. This little beasty can drive full 1080p video already :-)
    • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Saturday May 05, 2012 @09:37AM (#39901133) Homepage

      Not only that, but provide a foolproof way to roll back to the factory image...

      If education is the goal, the ability to experiment with the system safe in the knowledge that you can't permanently damage it is very important...

      To give an example:

      When i started with computers, i had a Sinclair Spectrum... This machine, and some of the subsequent systems i had provided me a FAR superior introduction to computers than todays windows boxes for a number of reasons.

      1, this computer was mine and mine alone, my parents never used it and couldn't care less about it... i could experiment with it all i liked, by contrast had it been a shared family computer i would be scared of breaking it for fear of angering my parents and siblings.

      2, the computer came with a manual clearly laying out that whatever you do you can't break the machine via software, if you made it crash worse case you just hit reset and your back at the original basic prompt as if nothing had happened. by contrast, a windows system is very easy to break and could be quite complex, time consuming and expensive to fix afterwards. Knowing that you can't permanently break the system and that worst case you can perform a trivial reset procedure is VERY important, as it gives you (especially as a child) confidence to experiment with the system, and experimentation is the best way to learn.

      3, the computer came with a manual that gave programming examples and encouraged you to try things out, again safe in the knowledge that you couldn't break it... by contrast, windows actively discourages users from messing with the system, certain files are hidden by default, certain locations on the filesystem are considered off limits and display a warning (which is quite scary to inexperienced users) when you try to access them...

      4, the computer came with a built in programming language that was readily accessible and oriented at beginners and also came with lots of examples, providing a good way to ease people into it, i don't think windows even includes qbasic anymore and even when it did it was well hidden.. instead you have a few scripting languages that are not beginner friendly, are not located where a novice will find them and are not documented in the supplied paperwork...

      5, you got a paper manual... sure i would usually advocate electronic manuals because they are more environmentally friendly, searchable and easier to update.. BUT, for a novice having an electronic manual is a stumbling block - with zero computer knowledge, how will they know how to view the electronic manual?

      Hopefully if properly marketed and distributed, the raspberry pi can replicate much of what made the earlier computers so accessible to youngsters, and teach people to experiment with computers rather than to be fearful of them.

      • by makomk ( 752139 )

        I don 't think there is any kind of factory image or onboard flash storage, just whatever image you download and load onto an SD card.

      • Very well said, Bert64. You've perfectly delineated what I was trying to say, but with much better detail. Thank you!

        Hopefully, someone involved with the Pi will read your comments, and "make it so!"

        Ideally, a pre-programmed SD card should also be available, so one need only buy it, connect it, and power it up to see a window on the desktop with:


        (Or some other such prompt!)

        As someone else pointed out, make a default, hard-coded, "ROM"-based OS for the Pi, which cannot be "broken" by inexperienced use

  • by ZeroPly ( 881915 ) on Friday May 04, 2012 @11:25PM (#39898879)
    From the article: "We assume you're on Windows or you probably wouldn't need this guide."

    It's hard to explain to the GUI crowd why this is such a big deal...
  • Congratulation the Raspberry Pi team for getting it made and out the door, but I don't get how it's going to penetrate schools. The unit's only $35, yes, but by the time you buy cables, a mouse & KB, and a monitor you've spent $150-$200 more. That's ~$230 for a seriously underpowered computer-- you may as well spend about a third more and get a very low end PC. These little machines would be great as embedded devices, but general-purpose computing?
    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Spliffster ( 755587 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:04AM (#39899739) Homepage Journal

      Do you know what the purpose of the Pi is? An educational computer for children (like the amiga or the atari back when we were young).

      It has a TV out and an HDMI Port. I live in Europe, I don't know any family without a TV (well very few, but they don't have a TV by choice and not because they can't afford one, however they have a computer and therefore a computer display). RasPi is a UK Company. The European community is regulating cellphone chargers. They must use an USB Micro-B connector (with 800-1000 mA output). Guess what? This is also the sort of power supply the RasPi needs. Since most Europeans get a new cellphone every 1-2 years, these chargers are disposable (every new phone comes with a new charger even though the old one is still working perfectly).

      So display available, check. Power supply available, check.

      Now all we need is an SD card, a Keyboard and a mouse (USB). I live in one of the most expensive places in the world. But a cheap keyboard and a cheap mouse would not cost more than 15 us dollars. And if I were a smart kid, I'd ask family and friends if I could buy used ones (which I probably would get donated). NEarly all families already have a mac or windows pc (but might not want their children to break it while experimenting) mouse and keyboard could be used from the already available computer.

      Well, now we have only one item left that is missing, the SD card. Many digital cameras are replaced here with smart phones. It's not the same but I see those aging cameras laying around in many house holds. Guess what, they often use SD cards. But since the SD card needs to be reformatted and somewhat inserted permanently into the device, it might be reasonable to buy a separate one.

      This leaves us with one extra expense: a new SD card for $20-30, big deal!

      I personally think the RasPi team has a very neat design there, don't you?


      • Do you know what the purpose of the Pi is? An educational computer for children (like the amiga or the atari back when we were young).

        Quite frankly, I don't know what it is. After so many articles on /. I assumed it to be sensationalism akin to the likes of Bitcoin. I have not RTFA, or any "full articles" on this subject to be honest. Is it the next evolution of the "One Laptop Per Child" project?

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        I live in the US and guess what? Everything you said about the EU is also true here.
        Yes the Pi strikes me as a modern C64 but even cheaper. What is needed IMHO is more hardware add ons for it. Motor controls and such.
        A Pi + Wifi Dongle + Webcam + old RC car == Wifi controlled rover or robot. Or you could use Bluetooth + an old nokia phone for control if you really wanted too.
        As a desktop it is going to be limited in performance but still usable.

        • check the Pi wiki. Although not many people own one yet, there are a hand full of hardware extensions in the works or already available. I find it amazing how a small eco system around the Pi is already evolving:

          - Expansion Boards [elinux.org]
          - Peripherals [elinux.org]
          - GPIO Documentation [elinux.org]

          Sparkfun has these BlueSMIRF BT modules [sparkfun.com] which can be connected to one of the uarts of the Pi.

          • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

            "Sparkfun has these BlueSMIRF BT modules [sparkfun.com] which can be connected to one of the uarts of the Pi."
            It is $65!
            A bluetooth USB dongle that works with linux is much cheaper.

      • You've just explained in patient detail why the RPi is a dandy hobbyist machine. Everything you've said is true. But back to schools: If you're going to put them into classrooms, you'll also want to devise some sort of standardized cirriculum around them, and that'll be harder to do if each whole computer is a mishmash of new RPi and old I/O devices that the school may or may not have lying around. Look, I'm not saying it's a bad machine, but schools would be better off getting a larger & more powerful
    • They are adequate for any general-purpose computing you need to do in a school. Granted, they can only do one complex thing at a time, but that's fine. As long as you can read a web page and take notes at the same time then you've pretty much reached the maximum complexity necessary in that environment. I don't know if you remember but once upon a time we had computers with as little as 64kB of RAM running GUI applications with scalable fonts, computers with 256kB of RAM with multiprocessing microkernel and

    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      The idea is that there is a high likelihood you already have keyboards, mice and screens (You can connect it to a tv or monitor)... No point forcing people to buy things they might not need.

      Most new computers come with a complete set of keyboard/mouse/screen/cables and people typically throw away the perfectly good ones they used with their previous computer, which is terribly wasteful.

  • Disappointed... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wet-socks ( 635030 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:04AM (#39899735)

    Well mine arrived yesterday. First impressions:

    Build quality is a bit iffy - the SD / HDMI and power connectors won't last 5 minutes with frequent swapping and some of the solder joints look to have been "reworked".

    Connected keyboard/mouse and HDMI monitor put the Fedora image on an SD card and powered her up.... Kernel panic :( Futzed around for a while and finally found that it didn't like the keyboard I was using (generic cheepie).

    Connected the network and removed the keyboard and mouse. Eventually booted to a login prompt on the display. SSH in and all looked good.

    Decided to try Debian. That had the same problem with the keyboard as Fedora. Found another keyboard (ancient Fujitsu Siemens one) that it didn't object to and got into the GUI. Biggest problem here was the resolution was some strange one (1896x788 or something) which looked awful on a 1920x1080 screen, but at least I was able to fire up the browser and "surf the web".

    Back to Fedora... Tried to get into the GUI again with the working keyboard but startx crashed the first time and just came up with a blank screen the second.

    Reflashed the image and had an awful row with the password settings. By luck I'd set a local timeserver when I'd first logged in by SSH (no, I don't give extarnal access to every device on the network so the default timeservers weren't accessible). This meant the passwords were set with a valid date. Second time around the "firstboot" script ran, setting up users but without the time being set, so the passwords were flagged as expired and had to be changed on every login - very annoying.

    Finally got into the Fedora GUI but it was slooooooow.

    Overall, yes it works. Some effort is needed on the default images if it's to be used by the great unwashed. Need to play with the GPIO as that's where my interest is...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "some of the solder joints look to have been "reworked""

      The ones associated with the ethernet socket, perhaps? Yes, that got "reworked" because the manufacturer substituted the specified sockets with cheaper ones that didn't contain "magnetics". The manufacturer had to take the boards back and fix that.....

      As for the keyboard problem, its entirely possible that your USB PSU isn't as capable of putting out the 1A @ 5v it claims on the plate. If you go to the Pi forum, you will find a couple of threads from

  • Debian notes (Score:5, Informative)

    by laptop006 ( 37721 ) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:28AM (#39899841) Homepage Journal
    I was playing with one last weekend (someone at my office somehow got *two* the lucky guy) and wrote a buch of notes about the default Debian image [livejournal.com].

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire