Square Thoughts

an engineering student's blog

Raspberry Pi 101 – Lesson 1 – Getting Started

A credit card sized board with a Broadcom 700MHz ARM11 processor, 512MB of RAM, a dedicated GPU, USB 2.0, Ethernet, HDMI, Composite Out and OTG. Intended to be used as a tool to teach computer programming to school students, the Raspberry Pi has been put to many applications outside the classroom. Being relatively cheap compared to other single board computers, Raspberry Pi makes it possible to afford failure.

After all the buzz surrounding the Pi, I recently bought a board for myself, the Model B, Revision 2.0. It came in a small box which much to my delight was the colour of raspberries. I will be using the term “Raspberry Pi”, “Raspi” and “Pi” interchangeably in this post.

It indeed comes in a box which is the colour of raspberries.

It indeed comes in a box which is the colour of raspberries.

Unfortunately, using the Raspberry Pi isn’t an out-of-the-box affair. There are certain hardware prerequisites which need to be met before the Raspi can be put to use. This post is an introduction to the Raspi and the minimum hardware you will need to get the Pi up and running.

Things you will need,

  1. 5V DC adapter with a microUSB plug – The Pi receives power from a 5V DC adapter which connects to the onboard microUSB plug. The recommended power adapter for the Pi is rated at 5V, 700mA (preferably 1A). You may use your mobile phone charger after confirming its rating and load characteristics. Some cheap chargers although rated appropriately fail to deliver the maximum current at the fixed voltage of 5V. So choose accordingly. The charger I am using for my set up is repurposed from an old Samsung mobile phone and is rated at 5V and 800mA.
  2. USB Keyboard and Mouse – As the Pi runs customised Linux distributions and majority of user interactions either take place using the terminal or the GUI, a keyboard and a mouse is indispensable. These connect to the onboard USB ports on the Pi. I am using a Logitech MK200 USB keyboard and mouse.
  3. SD Card – The operating system image running on the Raspi is stored on an external SD card. The minimum required SD card for stable operation of the Pi is a 4GB Class 4 SD card. Class 6 and Class 10 cards are known to have not performed well with the Pi. You can also use a microSD card with a SD card adapter. I am using a SanDisk 16GB microSD card with a Kingston SD card adapter.
  4. A High Definition TV with HDMI input or a standard TV set with composite video input – The Raspi is capable of generating full HD 1080p graphics using the onboard GPU. To fully achieve the graphical capabilities of the Pi you will need a HDTV/monitor with an HDMI input. However, you may also use the composite video out on the Pi with loss in resolution in conjunction with a standard TV set. I am using a Samsung S22B370H LED monitor with my Pi.

Apart from the above things, you may need,

  1. Ethernet Cable – The Pi supports 10/100 Ethernet (RJ45). So if you want to connect your Pi to the internet use an ethernet cable to attach your Pi to the internet router or a laptop with internet sharing enabled.
  2. USB Hub – Since you have utilized all the available USB ports available on the board by connecting the keyboard and mouse, you require a USB hub if you wish to connect other USB devices to the Pi.
  3. Protective Case – Careless removal of cords and uneven installation of the SD card may spoil board contacts and since it is a six layer board, debugging track failures becomes difficult. So enclosing your Raspberry Pi in a protective casing prevents it from such unforeseen damages.
  4. Multiple SD cards – As the Pi boots the operating system image from an external SD card you may wish to keep several SD cards with different install images handy for easy swapping of operating systems.

That’s it for now. I will write more on how to set up your SD card with an operating system image in the next post.

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