In an earlier post on low power computing, there was a long debate in comments about whether you could actually work on computers like the Raspberry Pi or a phone. Given how many posts that we have written about the pi (Including Megans ever-popular 20 Awesome projects for Raspberry Pi microcomputers ) and having interviewed its inventor, Eben Upton, I thought it was time to check it out myself and see if it could do the job of a regular computer.
I headed down to our local Pi shoppe and purchased a Model B for for C$ 45.45 , a case for $ 10 and a wifi card for 10. This comes with an SD card loaded with NOOB, which installs the operating system. Not having a monitor or TV with HDMI input. I had to spend a ridiculous $29.99 for an HDMI to VGA adapter, (There are much cheaper ones, I have learned)
It really is easy as Pi
Pop the thing into its case; stick in the card; hook up the monitor, keyboard and mouse and then plug in an old Blackberry mini USB power supply and wow, it just fires right up and loads a couple of lines of what look like error messages and then the Raspberry splash screen, but the mouse and keyboard don't work and I can't do anything to check the box and load the Raspian operating system.A check on those error messages tells me that there isn't enough power to fire up the USB ports. Off to the dollar store for a three buck cable that plugs into my iPad power cube and we are off to the races. Configure the wifi card and load up the Midori browser and I have a working computer and the internet.It's not fast. It can keep up with my typing but highlighting text takes a while. I have not figured out how to get my photos into the post yet. The browser is really slow. This is not something I would want to use full time for writing. But for general computing, for many people I could see this being useful, especially if one is looking for low-power computing.
I have basically demonstrated that anything you can do online (that doesn't involve flash) you can do on the Pi, albeit slowly. But that's not what it was designed for; It's for teaching kids the basics of computing and coding. That would be useful in a lot of homes.It is also a lot of fun, went together more easily and quickly than any other electronics project I have done, and I now have a backup computer system. I might build it into one of those niches on my Herman Miller desk, and learn to code in style.
Can you get by on a $50 computer? Sort of.