A few weeks ago the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced a new version of their eponymous Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi was originally envisaged as a small computer to educate children and teach basic programming but it soon became an unexpected hit. It was still popular with children and in education but it’s low cost, flexibility and tiny size meant it was perfect for makes for everything from a brain for a robot to a media center controller.
The Raspberry Pi 3 keeps the same form factor, the same price and the same set of goals but has updated and upgraded parts – including a 64 bit CPU and built in wifi.
Included in the box: Raspberry Pi 3
Paid Extras required: A microSD card, keyboard and ideally mouse, screen. The chances are you’ll have a spare mouse and keyboard available.
The foundation was envisaged in 2006 as a way to fight the decrease in interest from children in IT – give them something to experiment with. Everyone was using GUIs with little idea about what underpinned it. The Raspberry Pi was born from this in 2012 and although popular in education is hugely popular amongst hobbyists. The computer, manufactured in Wales has sold over 5 million units since and is going from strength to strength.
So what can you do with a Raspberry Pi 3? Well the instant reaction is that there are a number of options. You can make it into a NAS, stream media through it, turn it into a retro gaming console or do something cool and hackery. These are all true.
The difference with the 3 is that it is finally powerful enough to do serious things with. After I got mine I downloaded Rasputin and with a few minutes play was able to get a desktop environment running with a browser, an office program and games – Minecraft. Plugged into a screen, mouse and keyboard and I had a fully functioning office computer. It’s not what I’d call over powerful but heres the key point – it worked. I got enthusiastic and switched to my regular mouse, keyboard and monitor and spent the rest of the day using it. I missed my bookmarks but I got through the day just fine. The Raspberry Pi 3 is a viable PC.
After my enthusiasm I realized I already had a desktop PC and started investigating the other options. What I’ve ended up with is a triple solution – a media center with Kodi, retro gaming using emulator and a NAS system using a external USB drive. I’ve attached the whole thing behind our TV and power it via the TV’s USB port.
Now I’m sure it can be pointed out that I could have gotten a better solution for all of these three things but the Raspberry Pi’s reason for being made comes back in at this point – it’s educational. The Pi I setup means that I’ve a much better appreciation for Linux, networking and what goes on under the surface of my computers.
One word of warning – some of those connectors on the 3 are sharp! I managed to cut myself on one of them without noticing until I released I was dripping blood on the desk.
Environment & People
The Raspberry Pi 3 uses standard circuit boards and chips and is no more or less environmentally friendly than most IT equipment.
The true cost of a Raspberry Pi is not quite as low as it seems. At a minimum you need a microSD card for storage (£5) and a dedicated charger or battery. A mouse, keyboard and screen are also required to set it up but depending on the end use you want to put it to may not be needed long term.
That’s still extremely cheap and while there are cheaper systems on a chip available (Raspberry Pi Zero) these are much less capable.
Processor: 1.2GHz 64 bit Quad core Arm Cortex A53 CPU
GPU Broadcom Videocore IV
RAM 1GB DDR2
Wifi: 802.11n 2.4GHX
Bluetooth: 4.1 and Bluetooth LE
GPIO: 40 Pin header
Ports: HDMI, 3.5mm audio/video, 4 x USB 2.0, Ethernet, Camera Serial Interface, DSI Display Serial Warranty:
The one absolute requirement for the Raspberry Pi is a microSD card to store the operating system and data. Setting up will also require a keyboard, screen and probably mouse. It also requires a power source via microUSB which can be mains or an external battery.
If you want a NAS drive or a media centre for your PC then the Raspberry Pi would at first seem the perfect solution. It’s not. To get a media centre running you’ll need to learn some things about networking, Linux and how a computer works. The Pi is not a plug and play solution and that’s its beauty. It forces you to learn the basics and rewards you with a flexibility and ability to experiment that can be somewhat bewildering. I’ve tinkered with the Pi 3 with my 5 year old daughter and 91 year old Grandad and both have gotten something out of it and I have as well.
If you’ve the time and inclination to tinker and can get a hold of one it’s a great way to spend your time. Highly recomended.
The review is based on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. Click to read more about our eco icons and access icons used in this review.
This article was first published on 22 March 2016.