Tech Talk

Raspberry Pi

Wednesday, 17 April 2013
2:00 AM GMT

Last year a rather fantastic thing happened in the world of computing. The fruits of six years hard work by a team from Cambridge University led by a computer scientist named Eben Upton were released to the world. His basic idea was to provide a small and cheap computer to help kids learn about technology.

When I learned about computing at college in the 1980s, we had the wonderful BBC Micro Computer to work with. It was pretty basic (it actually ran a computer language called BASIC). You had to load programs with a cassette tape but it was great fun and very easy to attach devices to it for project work. It forced us to learn, as you had to interact with it to get it to do anything.

There is no contemporary equivalent to the BBC Micro today and modern PCs have become very expensive and rather arcane, with ever increasing processing power and unwieldy operating systems.

Eben and his team have solved this with their cheap, affordable modern-day equivalent of the BBC Micro called a 'Raspberry Pi' - The first production Raspberry Pi computers went on sale last year. It’s a credit card sized mini computer that will plug into your TV and will happily browse the Internet, manage documents and spreadsheets, even play high definition video and costs approx. €30!


You have to work for it!

Surely that can’t be right, I hear you say! Yes, it is, but, like it’s predecessor, you have to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of work to get it going.

The Raspberry Pi comes without a case (although you can buy a case for €5) and without an Operating System. It won’t run Microsoft Windows but rather runs a Raspberry Pi version of the free Linux OS called 'Raspbian'. This is free to download and you simply install it onto a Secure Digital card and then plug this into the Pi and boot it up!

The Raspberry Pi has all the interfaces you could require, two USB, one Ethernet port for network access, HDMI to connect to your TV or monitor, RCA video out and an audio out. It also has a neat GPIO connector for project work so it’s ideal for schools. There is no hard drive, but the additional space on the SD card (the OS is 2GB) can be used to store documents or you can plug in a USB portable drive.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation formed by the Cambridge team and it has sold over one million Pis since they went on sale. This has generated quite a stir in the technology world, with some amazing projects being developed (just check out the Raspberry Pi website to get a flavour) and a whole generation of young people learning more about technology. Long may it last!

Eamon is a Senior IT Professional with PaqIT, an IT Service Provider with offices in Limerick and Galway. See

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