Introduction to the Raspberry Pi computer

What is a Raspberry Pi and what can I do with it?

In the 80's and 90's the term Micro-Computer was the term used to cover a series of devices that were driven by a micro-processor (microprocessor). This was usually a Z80, 6502 or similar 8 bit single core CPU that ran at around 1Mhz (not Ghz).

One of the first computers was the Sinclair ZX80, it had a membrane keyboard, much like the one on a microwave oven and a whole 1k of Ram. Later it was upgraded to a huge 16k. But this was the start of something big. Many people like myself had learned some programming at college and wanted to practice at home. We all rushed out and bought Sinclair ZX80, ZX81, Spectrums (16k and 48k), Commodore VIC20's, Commodore 64's and my weapon of choice, the Dragon 32. Also know as the Tandy TRS80 (also known as the trash 80) as there was little software by today's standards and it was largely available on rubbishy audio cassettes to run on them. But for programmers and would be gamers, these where all great machines. I trained as technician repairing the Amstrad CPC464 and CPC128. The latter was one of the first to have a 3 inch disk drive (though not 3.5 inch industry standard!).

Only home gaming really kept these machines alive. Schools taught BBC Basic programming on BBC Model 'B' computers that where derived from Acorn computers. They could have 5.25 inch disk drives added for a heady 720k storage. Sadly these where not reliable enough for businesses and need to occupy the family TV to use as a monitor and were therefore not that appealing. This was a day where the typical family home only had one TV. Sure enough sales of 14" Colour TV's did rocket as gaming became the norm, but this was not useful computing.

Fast forward to 2012 and the Raspberry Pi came alive. Do not confuse the PI with the Arduino. The Arduino is a Micro-Controller not a microcomputer, it has no sound, graphics  or operating system (in the true sense) and cannot connect to storage devices or keyboards directly, only though 'Hats' - add-on PCB's. Having said that, the Arduino is a great introduction to programming and understanding the fundamentals of computing, especially for school children. But so is the Pi and it does a lot more too.

The Raspberry PI 3 rev 2
This side features (from left to right) power microUSB connector,
HDMI output, Line/Headphone Audio out.

I will only discuss the Raspberry PI 3, for two reasons.  Firstly I own one, secondly, even though you can get a Pi Zero for an alleged £5, by the time you have bought one, then added leads, power supply and SD memory as a 'Starter Kit' the price comes closer to that of a PI 3 starter kit that can be had for around £50. I got the £51 Official Starter Kit on Ebay. Within a few months you will wish that you had bought a '3' starter kit. It is very much based around current mobile phone technology and nobody wants a bad or dated mobile phone.

The right hand side features 4 x USB sockets, RJ45 Ethernet socket, WiFi is on-board. Note I have fitted heatsinks to CPU/GPU and Northbridge chips.
The PI 3 has a quad core 1.2Ghz ARM processor. This is relatively powerful and power conservative with 1GB of built in ram memory. When paired with a Micro SD card working as storage the Noobs SD card can install -
    • Raspbian (The Raspberry version of Debian Linux)
    • Windows 10 IOT (Internet of things, think intelligent toasters and lighting control, not gaming)
    • Ubuntu - a light version of the favourite OS (additional download)
    • OSMC - A version of Kodi as a dedicated Linux operating system
    • LibreElec - which is just enough OS to run Kodi
    • PInet - for classroom teaching (additional download)
    • RiscOS - an OS dedicated to the power of the ARM processors
    • Weatherstation pre-build.  (additional download)
    • Retro games from consoles like Nintendo and Amiga (RetroPie)
These are all available in the Noobs SD card or can be downloaded from and Retropie. The PI is a very capable and interesting computer, it can connect to almost anything, it can wear HATS  which allow it to control a zillion other pieces of hardware. It had been cloned by many companies, but for the price, the PI has the biggest and best supported community and has sold as many pieces as the Amstrad PCW word processors did in the 90's!

What is Noobs?

The PI is very much designed to be accessible for novice users, with this in mind Raspberry packaged all of the above OS'es to make you get computing in no time at all. The PI is blank when you get it, but has been tested on at least one of the Operating Systems above. Noobs is a concept that means 'New Out Of the Box installation, it's a getting started kit first of all.

Having said it is suitable for novices, do not be fooled. This is a very customisable and programmable piece of kit. It may not play games like an XBox but you can perform internet browsing, camera chat, multimedia playing and office software editing like any other PC! Just a little slower, think of it as a great mobile phone plugged into a TV, or remotely accessed from your main PC.

Next -Build a Raspberry Pi development system!