We take a close look at the little PC that has sparked fresh interest in programming
This rather unassuming bit of circuit board is the Raspberry Pi. It is a fully working computer that has captured the hearts of techies across the Internet. It has loftier ambitions though as its makers want it to revolutionise the way that IT is taught in our schools.
It has the potential to be popular at home as well, in no small part due to the low price. This is the more capable B model that costs just £25. Not bad for a computer these days.
You can see that the size of the Pi has almost been determined by the connections on the edges rather than the actual chips. The chip is ARM based and includes 256mb of memory.
There are two USB sockets for connecting a mouse and keyboard, a network socket, HDMI and composite display outputs, audio out and an SD card slot. The SD card takes the place of a hard disk on a normal computer.
Also worthy of note is this header of pins here on the top. These can be used to connect the Pi to external devices.
Power is supplied through a microUSB socket so the Pi can be powered using an existing power supply. We're using an iPad adapter here.
There are several operating systems for the Pi available on the raspberry Pi website as image files. They are simply copied to the SD card using free software just like burning a Linux live CD. Download the Image Writer for Windows software here.
Pop the SD card into the Pi, connect the power and it starts right away.
We've used the recommended Raspbian system and you can see here that we have got a proper desktop that make sense to anyone who has used either Windows or Linux.
If you want to give the Raspbian interface a go and you don't have a Raspberry Pi, you can do so with this emulator for Windows. Simply extract the compressed folder and double-click on run.bat to run Raspbian.
So far so good, but what about this ambition of enthusing youngsters to start programming? Well there are several programming apps on the Pi. The best for beginners being Scratch.
As noted in our Scratch review, the app lets you create programs by dragging and dropping commands rather than typing out endless lines of code. It's brilliant and one of the most exciting things I've seen for fostering budding programmers.
Scratch does struggle ever so slightly from time to time on the Pi due to the low speed processor. It'll be much faster on a desktop computer. But it does work.
What sets the Pi apart from just buying children laptops are these connections here as they let you connect up other electronics to the Pi. I think that getting children to complete projects like this is just as exciting as Scratch. It moves the programming from an abstract process of printing text on screen to something tangible in the real world.
So despite a couple of limitations, you've probably realised that I really like the Raspberry Pi. It's cheap, squeezes a whole system onto a tiny piece of circuit board and has plenty of tools that make programming interesting and exciting.
I'm not worried about the lack of a case either. Making your own should be fun and entirely in keeping with the spirit in which the whole projects based. When our review sample goes back, I'll be buying one and expect to have a lot of fun with it.
Read more reviews
A fun way to learn about programming for both beginners and more experienced users
Very affordable, surprisingly capable, lots of scope for interesting projects
Steep learning curve for some projects, can be a little slow when running a full desktop interface
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