Raspberry Pi: The TechSpot Review + How-To Setup Guide

By Lee Kaelin on May 4, 2012, 2:19 AM

Six years ago, Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton set out to reignite programming in schools with a cheap, compact computing platform. Despite targeting students, his foundation's $35 computer captured the imaginations of tinkers worldwide, resulting in overwhelming demand. Interest was so high, that distributors Premier Farnell and RS buckled under the strain of preorders in February. The former outfit later said demand was 20 times greater than its supply, with orders hitting 700 a second at one point.

When the first 10,000 devices shipped in mid-April, the organization graciously sent us a sample for coverage. Along with a hands-on review of the Pi, today we'll be covering basic steps for setting up the computer and other elemental post-installation tasks to get you up and running with applications. In other words, this should serve as a starting point no matter what you want to do with your Raspberry Pi.

Read the complete article.




User Comments: 36

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Marnomancer Marnomancer said:

Lee, is this just Debian Command-Line, or also supports other GUI OSes too? I mean, are the OSes easily swappable on-the-go?

Guest said:

I would like to jump a few years into the future to see what this compact tech will get us. I can imagine great things like the smartphone did in the world new leap in human history.

Leeky Leeky said:

Debian is recommended for those just starting out on this computer, and overall is easier to use -- personally, it's one of my top Linux distros, though I also mess a lot with CentOS, Slackware and SUSE these days (and the occasional Ubuntu Server).

For those that want to push things further Arch and Fedora are available as well as QtonPi, which is an embedded platform for developing and using Qt 5 applications. Be warned however, Fedora is a little buggy right now. At some point I'll fire up Fedora and see how it compares to Debian though.

The commands will work on Debian, and most other Debian-based OSes as well (e.g. Ubuntu/Mint etc). Swapping the OS is as simple as either replacing the image on the SD card, or having a spare SD card with say Fedora on it, and rebooting the Raspberry Pi with the new SD attached.

Marnomancer Marnomancer said:

That's nice to hear. I actually needed some help with this thread.

Leeky Leeky said:

Aye, replied, Marnomancer.

slh28 slh28, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Nice review, $35 is just unbelievable value for the functions it has.

I've thought a while now about building a HTPC for playing media on my TV but the ~£300 cost to build one has put me off. Hopefully similar devices like the Raspberry Pi with more power and low prices will come along.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Brilliant review Leeky @slh28 I have been thinking on similar lines, hopefully Intel's NUC may provide a bit more powerful/better option while price wise staying relatively competitive with R-Pi.

Guest said:

That does seem remarkably simple to set up for an end user. Maybe I should think about getting one for my mum and the tv, since she only uses the computer at the moment for browsing the internet and checking her emails. And of course, I'll also consider getting one for my apartment. I'm just not sure what I would use it for though.

Guest said:

Been playing with mine, I was one of the lucky ones to get theirs first. It's really nifty! For the cost, the potential is incredible. And XBMC is really starting to take shape on it!

Guest said:

The only issue I have with it, is that the cables come out of it in every direction. I wish It was setup differently, like a single ribbon cable that came off the board with each connector tied to it . I dunno just a thought.

Guest said:

Thanks for the article.It is a great beginners introduction. The only additional thing I would have liked to have seen is a suggestion as to boxes to put the pi into. A regular plastic electronics box would seen to be likely to create heat dispersion issues.

Like some other, I thought this would make a brilliant HTPC at low cost. Also the built in composite out is a really simple solution on how to get the video onto my TV.

I ordered one the day they were released (Feb 29 I think). I am hoping to receive mine before August:(

I have seen some hints of people working on a port of Android to the Pi which would certainly be interesting.

Guest said:

It's a great little system. Perfect for a cheap HTPC/Smart TV box. Or just to play around with for programming and stuff.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I have seen xbmc installed on this, and it seemed to run very smoothly. I can't wait till I get my hands on one.

Guest said:

"We assume you're on Windows or you probably wouldn't need this guide."

Seriously? It's been a while now since every Linux user was a computer science major living in his Mom's basement. There hasn't exactly been a revolution, but distros like Ubuntu have brought Linux to at least some of the masses. Maybe it's time to drop the elitism?

Guest said:

True, but desktop linux users who aren't computer science majors, as you put it, are very likely used to finding tutorials and howto articles already. The author mentioned that "dd" is the route one will need to image the disk, and any self-respecting linux user shouldn't have much trouble finding information about it. In fact, I'd wager that http://raspberrypi.org has all of the information anyone would need.

Guest said:

True, but desktop linux users who aren't computer science majors, as you put it, are very likely used to finding tutorials and howto articles already. The author mentioned that "dd" is the route one will need to image the disk, and any self-respecting linux user shouldn't have much trouble finding information about it. In fact, I'd wager that http://raspberrypi.org has all of the information anyone would need.

That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

Guest said:

+1

Post #16

Guest said:

"We assume you're on Windows since it's what everybody uses, ourselves included."

There, fixed that for you.

Rather poor review that completely dodges actual use of the item. "...which we might cover eventually." Yeah, right. You totally might. I totally believe that.

Leeky Leeky said:

"We assume you're on Windows or you probably wouldn't need this guide."

Seriously? It's been a while now since every Linux user was a computer science major living in his Mom's basement. There hasn't exactly been a revolution, but distros like Ubuntu have brought Linux to at least some of the masses. Maybe it's time to drop the elitism?

It's not about being elitist at all. It's a perfectly reasonable assumption to make for two reasons.

Firstly, anyone who has used Linux for at least a moderate period of time should be able to use dd without any problems at all. Secondly, most users with at least some experience in Linux would also have the necessary skills required to perform the post-installation steps without having to resort to this guide in the first place.

It's not in the slightest anything to do with "elitism" -- it's about offering those who aren't as familiar with Debian based distros an insight into the first steps in configuring their new Raspberry Pi. While this guide is admittedly limited use to experienced Linux users, it will be of great benefit to those more used to using Windows.

I've been using Linux regularly since around 2005-2006. I've never considered myself part of the elite, and I've no intention of ever joining those ranks. I'm just your average IT enthusiast that enjoys learning new technology and OSes.

On a last note, I do believe Ubuntu has helped give Linux massive coverage in the desktop market, which has definitely helped with the growth of the OS both in home use and general awareness over the course of the last several years.

Guest said:

It should be noted that Debian's NOT typically updated through the command line as implied- unless you know precisely what you're wanting to install, you're going to use Aptitude or Synaptic to do updates/installs of software from the repositories.

Otherwise, a rather refreshing review- most tech sites would've dismissed the little computer because it's not a gaming behemoth. :-D

Guest said:

You will definitely want to try Fedora once it is stable enough:

The Debian flavour that runs on the Pi, armel, is compiled with software floating point, and resultantly, any fp operations will be very slow.

Fedora is (will be?) available for ARMv6 + VFP, which is what the Pi's CPU is. I'm not aware of other precompiled distributions offering the same.

Leeky Leeky said:

Aye, that is a valid point actually. In my experience (using XFCE by default) I've tended to avoid update managers. Also, the Raspberry Pi struggles to use package managers like Synaptic though (or more precisely with updating the available packages), which is why I choose to use terminal as the method of installing/updating packages for this review.

Thank you for the feedback though. I must confess I found my time with the little computer to be very enjoyable, and I'm especially looking forward to more detailed coverage of its capabilities in future reviews. It's certainly no gaming monster, but it's quite remarkable what it's capable of for $35!

I'm looking forward to Fedora becoming more stable as well. It will be very nice to compare the two distros.

madhi19 madhi19 said:

It not elitism even if you're a very casual Linux user using any Debian base Distro like Ubuntu or Mint you either already know all that or you know that you can find a GUI equivalent anyway. Come to think of it I don't know if Debian LXDE got a GUI for setting up new users and groups. I know that every Gnome and KDE Distro I used recently got that. In Ubuntu you just click or search for Users and Groups. In fact showing how to do it using the GUI would have been way better for Windows users. So your elitism claim maybe true but not for the right reason.

Guest said:

Agree with the last 2 points - aiming this post at Windows users is right on the money. Let's face it - Windows is still the most widely used OS. It therefore stands to reason that this post should be aimed at the majority - especially seeing this project is aimed at introducing a large number of users to the Linux OS. I started a post about my Raspberry Pi and the stats show that 63% of people viewing it do so from a Windows OS. This project might very well change that, but you need to get the Windows users converted first ;-)

Guest said:

EDIT to the above post. I started a BLOG about my Raspberry Pi, not post. Blogger has some nice stats tools showing you the OS, browser, etc., of the vierwers. Windows has 63%, Mac OS 12% & Linux 11%. Interestingly Chrome has 33%, Firefox 32% & IE 12% out of the browsers. Take from that what you will...

Guest said:

So how about some benchmarks? Given that it I-Os to a SD card I don't expect it'll be breaking any records, but it would be nice to know exactly what sort of expectations a real-life unit can live up to. Program load times, etc. Especially, can it hit the 30fps @ 1080i that the publicity material claims?

It would also be good to know what the real-world power requirements and operating temperature was.

Guest said:

It should also be noted that there will be Arch, Puppy, and at least OE/Angstrom versions available soon.

Guest said:

RE: Benchmarking, power consumption, etc.

1) It consumes less than 2w, so it's not going to be anything other than "warm" at best.

2) The SD only impacts storage I/O performance.

3) The GPU is part of what's empowering some of the impressive things they've been showing the R-Pi to do. I'm eagerly awaiting my first one (going to be making one of the first Brambles (cluster of R-Pi's...) once the one per person restriction is lifted so I can start tinkering with old-school GPGPU coding with ES GLSL.

Guest said:

Cables in all directions is fine if you have a work bench to tinker on, not so good if you want to make a "productized box". Perhaps someone can come up with a case with simple internal cabling that "realigns" the connectors to one side and includes a power supply. Most phone power supplies are dual voltage too, so the solution would be universal.

Guest said:

Don't forget that R-Pi original idea was to bring (cheap) computing to masses - I.e. users that just starting and not those who've been 'using linux since 2006'...

Guest said:

" Working in the same terminal window, enter the command sudo leafpad /etc/sudoers."

This is dangerous. The sudoers file should be edited by visudo, which locks the file to prevent simultaneous edits, as well as checking for certain errors.

Leeky Leeky said:

" Working in the same terminal window, enter the command sudo leafpad /etc/sudoers."

This is dangerous. The sudoers file should be edited by visudo, which locks the file to prevent simultaneous edits, as well as checking for certain errors.

Could you explain a little further on this please?

As far as I understand it, visudo is an option in the same way editing the actual file was. If only one user is logged in, and running as root, there won't be simultaneous edits, although granted, its possible an error could be made whilst changing the details.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

RE: Benchmarking, power consumption, etc.

1) It consumes less than 2w, so it's not going to be anything other than "warm" at best.

2) The SD only impacts storage I/O performance.

3) The GPU is part of what's empowering some of the impressive things they've been showing the R-Pi to do. I'm eagerly awaiting my first one (going to be making one of the first Brambles (cluster of R-Pi's...) once the one per person restriction is lifted so I can start tinkering with old-school GPGPU coding with ES GLSL.

What I'm curious about this is, while one R-Pi may be somewhat of a novelty, when you start grouping them, (@ $35.00 a pop), don't you very quickly run into the cost of an Intel Atom" and miniITX platform?

Guest said:

The availability situation is so sad. I'm one of the August people in the US. They could have sold the heck out of these with bundles and accessories like power supplies, enclosures, mini racks and everything else but with the availability picture being so sketchy I'm sure third party suppliers are reluctant to get involved. eBay Pis are listed out there for $200-$400 USD and are actually selling for that. The US supplier was tacking on $20 charges to US orders as freight from the UK and then refunding it back. The supply side in the US could have been handled better by 1 person working out of their back bedroom at home. A good idea but poorly executed on the supply side. At current rate of progress Intel will have theirs out before the next batch of Pis.

Doctor John Doctor John said:

Much the same sorry story in the UK, I ordered ages ago, had just about forgotten about it!

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