Zit Seng's Blog

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Learning About The Raspberry Pi

DSC08443One of the fascinating things about the Raspberry Pi is that it’s supposed to be cheap. The Model B, which comes with wired Ethernet built-in, costs S$45. When it was first announced, many people were excited about this low-cost platform for building various projects that required some sort of computer at its heart. The Raspberry Pi for the most part is great. But there are more things that I wished it could be.

The cost is one thing I’m slightly disappointed with the Raspberry Pi. No, it’s not expensive. S$45 is cheap. It’s just that, after some one and a half years, it’s still S$45. The price hasn’t come down one bit. Really odd when you know everything in IT drops in price rather rapidly.

To be fair, the Raspberry Pi could be said to have increased in value, while still retaining the same selling price. The Model B was initially launched with 256MB RAM, but has since been upgraded to include 512MB RAM at the same price.

But I wish there were more. First of all, the S$45 price is actually not the complete picture of the Raspberry Pi’s total cost. There is for example, the S$10 casing you need to house the Raspberry Pi. You need a power supply, which probably cost about S$10 too. Then, you’l need a SD card, which is about S$10. Then, you’d probably want wireless, and a USB wireless dongle costs about S$12. At this point, we’re looking at S$87. I’ve not counted the cost of a display, keyboard and mouse.

Now, don’t get me wrong. S$87 is still about the cheapest PC you can get. It’s just that the cost has almost doubled from the initial S$45.

Then, there’s this inconvenience that the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins run at 3.3V. Coming from using 5V sensors used with Arduino Uno and similar boards, this is a little troublesome. I know this point is debatable. There are others who are already working with 3.3V stuffs and will be completely happy with the 3.3V on the Raspberry Pi.

Then, you’ve got to remember that the Raspberry Pi isn’t quite the same as a PC when you plan for things to connect via the USB ports. The Raspberry Pi doesn’t provide enough power. You almost certainly need a powered USB hub, if you plan to use a USB hub at all. Certain USB wireless adapters would not work because not enough power was provided. You can forget about connecting USB hard disks.

Funnily enough, the very capable HDMI output of the Raspberry Pi wasn’t quite ideal for my application. I needed VGA or DVI. The Raspberry Pi offered HDMI and composite video. One was too high-end, the other was too low-end. I thought VGA was so ubiquitous that it ought to have been included.

Now, overall, the Raspberry Pi is still a great platform with which you can do plenty of things. I’ve been thinking about ways to wirelessly network my Arduino projects. After considering several options, I’m still back to a clumsy solution of connecting a Raspberry Pi, coupled with a USB wireless adapter. It’s the most capable, and still relatively cost effective.

So far, I’ve done little more than exploring and experimenting with the Raspberry Pi. I must admit that there’s been too much distraction from alternative platforms, including those such as Udoo that combine Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Most others continue to be unattractive for one reason or other. (Okay, apart from the Spark Core, which I’m getting one unit to try out.)

Recently, there’s yet another interesting development from Utilite. It sounds like a very capable micro PC. But it remains to be confirmed exactly what configuration the US$99 price would buy.

In the meanwhile, I hope to soon settle down with a project on the Raspberry Pi.

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