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.