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If you’ve been online long enough, you may have heard of something called the Raspberry Pi. (No, not the dessert). So what is Raspberry Pi and why do you need one? Let’s dive in and learn about this inexpensive but incredibly capable little computer.

The beginnings of the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi was developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in conjunction with Broadcom. The original goal of Raspberry Pi project was to provide an inexpensive tool for teaching basic computer science in schools and developing countries. When the first model was released in 2012, it quickly gained popularity. In fact, it was a lot more popular than the Raspberry Pi Foundation expected and saw a lot of sales even outside of its target market for uses like robotics and others.

What makes the Raspberry Pi different from regular computers? Generally, a computer is made up of a main system board, called a motherboard or logic board, and various other components connected to it. You don’t see all of these components because they are encased in a case.

Raspberry pi 4
A Raspberry Pi 4 with no add-ons or covers. Raspberry Pi Foundation

The Pi, on the other hand, is a single board computer or SBC. An SBC is a complete computer built on a circuit board. All the necessary components for a fully functional computer, including the processor, memory, video chipset, storage, etc., are integrated into the SBC. This generally allows it to be much more compact and often less expensive. These microcomputers are designed to run any Linux distribution based on ARM for an operating system.

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Since the first iteration, the Raspberry Pi Model B, more than 40 million boards have been sold. Today millions use the Raspberry Pi for anything from learning to program from scratch to functioning as a full desktop PC. Of course, there are many intermediate uses.

The many hats of the Raspberry Pi

The possibilities of a Raspberry Pi are almost endless. Whether you are looking for a low cost multimedia center or your Plex server , a Raspberry Pi can work very well. If retro gaming is your style, almost every retro console that people have built is powered by the Raspberry Pi. The microcomputer supports Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and USB connected devices such as keyboards, mice, storage devices, webcams, and more. The Raspberry Pi even supports Bluetooth, allowing you to pair an Xbox controller, for example, to play your favorite classic games.

Others use Raspberry Pi for their home servers. You can turn a Pi into an ad-blocking firewall for your entire home. While most of the people install some kind of Linux On the Raspberry Pi, it is also possible to turn a Pi into a Chromebox or Android computer.

People who love to create things, called Makers, find many ways to use the Raspberry Pi. The board features a GPIO (general purpose input / output) header, allowing manufacturers to attach different ‘hats’ or electronic components to the computer. With a little programming, you can enter a command to the Raspberry Pi and control everything in your home.

Note: By default, the different pins of a GPIO header are not used and have no predefined purpose. Each pin is completely free for the Creator to assign a purpose through programming. On a Raspberry Pi, you can attach pre-built components such as cameras or the Raspberry Pi Sense Hat to the header, or you can create your own project using sensors and electronics.

Introduction to Raspberry Pi as a desktop

For start your adventures with the Raspberry Pi , you just need a few things. You will need the Raspberry Pi board, of course, as well as a way to power it. You will also need a keyboard and mouse, a microSD card with the operating system, and a monitor. Ideally, you should also buy a case to protect your Raspberry Pi, but even that is optional. You can improvise all of these items and use an imaging tool to update the Raspberry Pi operating system on the microSD card.

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However, the best option for many is to buy one of the Raspberry Pi kits available. The Raspberry Pi 400 kit , sold by the Raspberry Pi Foundation itself, will provide you with everything you need except the monitor. On the other hand, as long as you have a monitor or TV with an HDMI port, it will still work.

Other starter kits are also available. These packages, like the Raspberry Pi 4 Official Complete Computer Kit or the kit of start Canakit Raspberry Pi 4 They provide the basics. You won’t have to worry about updating your operating system on the microSD card, because the kit comes pre-installed on the included card. The Vilros Raspberry Pi 4 Basic Starter Kit is another good option. For both, you will need to bring your own monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

If you are ready to buy your first Pi, we have an excellent buying guide that will help you.

Advanced uses of your Raspberry Pi

Once you’ve learned the basics, you’ll probably want to delve into the capabilities of the Raspberry Pi. You can easily build a classic game console, using the RetroPie operating system and some retro looking game controllers. You can even find cases that add that retro console look, mimicking the shape and style of a SNES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, or more.

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Pimoroni Raspberry Pi
The Pimoroni Picade allows your Raspberry Pi retro gaming computer to look like an old school arcade game. Pimoroni

If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at robotics, the Raspberry Pi can be a great entry point. There are many projects and starter kits available to get you started. Do you want to build a robotic hand to play chess? The programming is already done , so you just have to compile it.

How about a robotic smart car that you program to get around an obstacle course? Too at your fingertips .

With its HDMI connections and available software, a Raspberry Pi can even be a great streaming set-top box for your home entertainment needs. The open source home theater software, Kodi, offers many of the same features and capabilities that you would find on a Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, or Chromecast.

Nearly endless possibilities for the Raspberry Pi

Those are just a few of the ways you could use the Raspberry Pi. With its ability to run many different operating systems, the connectivity of the GPIO header, and its programming capabilities, there are many more possible uses of which can be listed here. The possibilities are almost endless.

Aviation hobbyists might consider building a Raspberry Pi to track ADS-B radio traffic from airplanes passing overhead. Ham radio enthusiasts can use the same hardware for a miniature radio kit. For your smart home chores, the availability of open source Homebridge software for the Raspberry Pi opens up even more possibilities.

What started as a charity project to bring computer science education to developing countries has become the best friend of DIYers. The Raspberry Pi can find a home in almost any geek’s life, with a little thought and research.

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