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Howto get going with your Pi…the hardware [part 1]

So you were curious and thought you’d join the crowd, you thought to yourself “I’ll get me one of those Raspberry Pi things”! Then boom! Weeks later of after many emails telling warning you of delays, and checking the Raspberry Pi website it then arrives.

So now you have it… that credit card sized bit of circuit board, but now what do you do with it?

Powering Your Pi

Firstly if you were half a sleep when you ordered your Raspberry Pi you may have forgotten to order any of the accessories including power adaptor – as I did! I’ve been doing my research and the Pi uses about 500mAh/700mAh depending on the model you got (A or B), this power rating is a minimum, so ideally we’re looking at using quite a bit more somewhere about the 1,200mAh mark. This means your PC or USB Hub isn’t going to provide quite enough power (unless you’ve researched thoroughly your hardware and know otherwise), so the best way to get this thing powered is to use a mobile phone charger. I’ve actually got a Blackberry Bold 9900, and the charger works fine in this occasion. I’ve also got a Google Nexus 7, which I’ve looked into and it provides 2A (2amps thats 2,000mAh) which is ample. I’ve also been a bit cheeky and managed to run my Pi from the USB Media Play port on my 32″ Samsung TV, however I wouldn’t recommend this as a permanent power source. I’ve also been looking around and if your stuck for a power adaptor the Nokia AC-10X is perfect and its cheap – Amazon sell them for around £2-£3.50 so really can’t go wrong!

Storage Devices

Again I was asleep and knew I had a spare SD card lying around somewhere that I wasn’t using. Generally when it comes to SD cards on the Raspberry Pi theres only a few things to consider, a) how much space do you need, b) is speed important, and c) do you care about reliability. When it comes to the first point, you need to consider what you might use the Pi for. If you plan on getting it setup as a media centre or using it as a form of back up you might wanna splash out on a 32GB card, but as a bare minimum you should be looking at is 4GB. When we’ve installed Raspbian and got a few tools, you’ll have a little leftover from 4GB which will be enough to begin programming on (as intended). The second consideration is speed, SD Cards come with a rating known as a “class”, this class is usually a good indication of how many megabytes a second can be read from the card. As a minimum I’d recommend a class 6 rated card, this means you’ll get a healthy 6MB/s read speed (on average). If you plan on programming or running some really heavy applications or web services you may want to consider a class 10 card. The final consideration really is do you value the data thats going to be on the SD card. If your coding something mission critical I’d recommend backing up your code to a desktop PC as a best practice, but ultimately this is a judgement call on which brand of SD Card you want. I’ve got a Veho card thats years old, I know people who swear by SanDisk and others by Transcend – its your call.

Interacting

On your very first boot, you’ll want to configure a few things and you’ll want to see the pretty coloured BIOS screen. Obviously we need to plug it into a monitor or TV. The Raspberry Pi supports HDMI and RCA (as stated on the err …box), I have a Playstation 3 so I ‘borrowed’ the HDMI cable which worked fine on my Samsung TV. I later found an old RCA (Yellow/Red/White) cable from an ancient DVD player which also does the trick (for those that have forgotten the RCA/Scart age of TVs you’re only really concerned about the Yellow one for video.) I have to say on my TV I didn’t really notice too much difference between the HDMI or the RCA cable, probably because the Pi outputs as the same resolution on both outputs, however it may differ between TV’s (RCA might be prone to scanlines or wrong refresh rates/flickering). The other bits we need to get going are a mouse and keyboard. If you’re used to a desktop and don’t have a desire to embrace the command line, then you’ll want the mouse – if not brilliant you can use a keyboard only. A problem I’ve read about and encountered myself is repeating keypresses and what appears as unresponsiveness. I have a wireless Microsoft keyboard and mouse, that runs off of a small USB adaptor, this adaptor does BOTH mouse and keyboard on the single USB port. What I found is that is draws quite a bit of power from the USB port on the Raspberry Pi, this results (when I was using my Samsung TV to power it) in repeating and unresponsiveness. I’d press a button once on the keyboard and I’d get a whole row of that letter appear on screen. To solve this I dug out an old wired USB keyboard and wired USB mouse, and it worked fine with that.

Connectivity

Finally the last bit in the jigsaw, network connectivity. It’s not a mandatory thing to have setup on your Pi, however it’s damned useful! The model B Raspberry Pi comes equipped with a 100MBit/s Ethernet port, this is perfect for plugging straight into your router or PC (via ICS – Internet Connection Sharing). If you network your Raspberry Pi it means you can share files between your desktop PC and the Pi, as well as do other cool things like setup a web-server, or remote access the Pi over the internet using SSH, with a network connection the possibilities really open up to all the cool stuff you can do. Whats more you want to be able to share what you’ve done with your friends right?

If you’re close to your router I’d suggest you take advantage of the router’s speed for the ethernet connectivity, if your some distance from the router then ICS might be the way to go. I’m not going to cover ICS but it’s pretty simple, you need to setup a static IP on your desktop PC for your Raspberry Pi to connect to, and then tick the little box which tells Windows to share your Wireless connection.

Another option which might not be apparent is using a Power Ethernet adaptor. This allows you to route an ethernet connection from your router to a wall socket in your house and then pick it up again else where and connect to the ethernet port on the Pi. This maybe more convenient if say you plan on using your Pi to play video streams in your living room and your router is elsewhere in the house.

The other option is to buy a supported USB Wireless Dongle. You may have to hunt around on the internet and do your research before had, as Linux and wireless drivers can be a real pain to setup. One adaptor I’ve seen around that seems reasonable is an Edimax Wireless-N150 Nano adaptor, as of writing Ebuyer are selling these at a good price of £9.99.

Summary

This is it for the first part of this guide, I just wanted to cover some of the basic hardware pitfalls and recommendations for the Raspberry Pi. In the next part I’ll give a quick look at how to get going with Raspbian and get it up and running installed with desktop.

In the mean time here’s some useful part numbers to some reasonably priced accessories:

  • The “Xenta USB to Micro USB Cable” to power your Raspberry Pi from. Ebuyer have these down as 98p (yes pence) a go. Quickfind code: 24226
  • The “Transcend 16GB Secure Digital High Capacity Card” for storage on your Raspberry Pi. It’s a class 10 so its pretty nippy and its priced at £8 on Ebuyer. Quickfind code: 350691
  • The “Edimax Wireless-N150 Nano USB Adapter” is well supported and recommended, again Ebuyer have them for £9.99. Quickfind code: 220220

Thanks for reading

Adam.

 

 

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