You’ve probably seen mention of the Raspberry Pi in your travels across the internet, but what exactly is this compact piece of circuitry? What can you do with it and why would you want to? If you’re new to the life of Pi then we’re here to explain everything you need to know and then some.
What is the Raspberry Pi?
The Raspberry Pi is a mini-computer, like the one inside the your laptop but with a lot less power (which is why it costs just $35). What it lacks in oomph it makes up for in its “tinker-ability”—with just a little know-how you can use the Pi as the basis for all kinds of computing and electronics projects. It essentially gives you the raw basics of a computer.
Those basics include a processor, a graphics chip, some RAM, a few USB ports, an HDMI output, an Ethernet port, and (in the latest version) integrated wifi and Bluetooth. As you would expect for the Pi’s paltry price, you can’t run very advanced software on it, though you can install Linux and a stripped-down Internet-of-Things version of Windows 10.
The Pi was invented in the UK as a device for promoting the teaching of computer science and coding, and its development is overseen by The Raspberry Pi Foundation charity. The first-generation Raspberry Pi appeared in 2012 and the latest Raspberry Pi 3.0 arrived in February this year. Eight million devices have been sold worldwide, the Pi Foundation says.
The Pi’s low cost and versatility has helped to make it a hit for amateur computer and electronics enthusiasts who want to build their own devices without the time and effort of starting from scratch. More recently, the Pi has been promoted as a way for small companies to get hardware projects (such as Kickstarter campaigns) up and running.
It’s not your only option for DIY electronics either: check out the Arduinoboard, which is similar, or the Odroid-C2, which gives you a touch more processing power. For something with an even more user-friendly slant, check out the LittleBits series of components, which focus more on creating your own smart devices than the basics of computing and coding.
What can I do with one?
You can use the Raspberry Pi to do pretty much anything a low-powered computer can: watch a movie, write a document, play basic games, and so on—it’s really up to you. It can also function as a device without standard inputs and outputs, so you can use a Pi as the basis of a wildlife cam for your garden or to start up your car with a spare Amazon Echo.