It’s a fully functioning PC that’s barely bigger than a credit card and costs less than a round of drinks – but what’s Raspberry Pi really good for?
what is it?
The primary function of the Pi is as a low-cost computer for teaching children to program, but its potential is enormous. Plug in a USB drive and it’s NAS storage on a shoestring. Hook it up to the internet and your TV via Ethernet and HDMI, and you can stream stutter-free 1080p.
There’s an easy way to describe storage on the Pi: nonexistent. You’ll need to download a build of Linux and load it onto an SD card to run the Pi. It’s like using DOS boot disks – remember them? From there, the SD card or USB drives provide the bytes.
The Pi’s processor is less impressive than the one in your smartphone. That single-core ARM 11 chip isn’t going to run Windows 7, but there’s a ton of Linux software already optimised for it. Multitasking is out, though, and even word processing is frustratingly slow.
The 700MHz processor sports a mighty 256MB of RAM. If that doesn’t sound like much, it’s because it isn’t. You’ll have to manually adjust how much RAM goes to the graphics processor depending on whether you’re using desktop apps, watching video, or running custom code.
While the Pi is far from powerful, it is brilliantly power-efficient. Working flat out, it draws around 5W, which is less than most DVD players or media streamers do in standby mode. Indeed, if you’re handy with the wirestrippers you can make a battery pack using four AAs.
You'll need an insatiable desire to tinker with technology in order to get the most from the Pi. If so, the Pi's low cost and extensive tweakability make it a no-brainer.