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Raspberry Pi: The little computer that could!

Raspberry Pi has been making the rounds since its announcement in February 29, 2012. Such was the reaction of geeks around the world that the makers’ website as well as those of the two official online stores selling them buckled under the sheer number of visitors. For a time, it even became more popular than Lady Gaga. Yet few people in the Philippines know about this US$35 computer making the rounds.

So what is this Raspberry Pi you speak of?

Want to know how small that is? Hold up a USB drive next to the USB port on the right. Zoom in on the picture until its just the size of your USB drive. Yup. That's how tiny it is.

Raspberry Pi was originally conceived as a tiny, cheap computer for kids. The computer is about the size of a credit card. It measures 85.60mm x 53.98mm x 17mm, with a little overlap for the SD card and connectors which project over the edges. The thing weighs a mere 45 grams.

For such a small footprint, the guys behind the project did an amazing job putting the following specs in it:

System-on-a-chip (SoC)Broadcom BCM2835 (CPU, GPU, DSP, and SDRAM)
CPU700 MHz ARM1176JZF-S core (ARM11 family)
GPUBroadcom VideoCore IV,[46] OpenGL ES 2.0, 1080p30 h.264/MPEG-4 AVC high-profile decoder
Memory256 Megabytes (shared with GPU)
Video outputsComposite RCA (PAL & NTSC), HDMI (rev 1.3 & 1.4) [47], raw LCD Panels via DSI
14 HDMI resolutions from 640 x 350 to 1920×1200 plus various PAL and NTSC standards
Audio outputs3.5 mm jack, HDMI
Onboard storageSD / MMC / SDIO card slot
Power source5 volt via MicroUSB or GPIO header

Oh right! There are two models available. What’s out right now is Model B (which of course means that there’s a Model A). The differences between the two models are minimal though:

Model AModel B
USB 2.0 ports12
Onboard networknone10/100 Ethernet (RJ45)
Power ratings500 mA (2.5 W)700 mA (3.5 W)

Can you run Windows on it? Unless Windows can run on an ARM processor, the answer is no. (Well, Windows 8 will run on ARM… Iiinteresting… -Art)

So what can you run on it? Linux. There are Fedora, Debian and ArchLinux builds already available for download from the Raspberry Pi website.

Okay, yes. It’s tiny. It’s cheap. It… doesn’t seem to be a lot you can do with it.

On the contrary, there’s a lot that you can do with a Raspberry Pi! Check out the ideas people already have implemented with this baby:

  • Mobile media center – This is a no-brainer. Instead of hooking up a laptop to your 100-inch monitor, just hook up this tiny little thing. Your choice if you want to hook up your terabyte drive to it or stream video from the comfort of your bed. Yes. It can handle your full-HD videos. Heck, you can forget about getting Popcorn Hour! Or use Vic’s dandy tip for getting on Pandora: hook up the Raspberry Pi to a speaker or two and you have internet radio!
  • Simple network storage/printer – Again, a no-brainer.
  • Home-brew voicemail system – Then again, we have mobile phones.
  • Budget “smart TV” – Ooh! Now we’re getting somewhere! Include a wireless keyboard and mouse and you can turn any TV in the house into a Smart TV!
  • A car-puter! – Anyone have a car I can test this with?
  • Self-made security system

I’m sold! Where do I buy it?

If you’re in the Philippines, you can get it from RS Components (expression of interest) or Element 14/Premier Farnell (pre-order. Call up the Philippine number for some help on placing your order online.). Otherwise, check out this list for the buying links per country. I already placed my order with Element 14. If you’re interested (it’s just less than 2,400 pesos including shipping) better pre-order right now. Already this is backlogged all the way to June 2012. That’s worldwide folks!

What do I plan to do with my unit? I’m thinking of  going the media center / Network Attached Storage route. I’ve got a lot of videos stored in my terabyte drive and it would be nice to finally find the time to watch them all. All I need to do is use my Android phone to control the Pi and I’m game!

Are you interested in getting your own Raspberry Pi? What do you plan to do with it?



Charo is a well-known consultant and trainer in Java and Android technologies. She is also a founder of Mobile Monday Manila, and the Philippine Android Community. Her favorite noodles: Pad thai.

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