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Power of Pi
What is a Raspberry Pi? Douglas Keywood sets up this tiny £30 computer and looks at what it can do. We used it in conjunction with a Cirrus Logic audio card - see Audio Pi.
The Raspberry Pi is a small, low-powered, credit card sized computer that plugs into any HDMI equipped monitor and uses a regular keyboard and mouse, connected via USB. It was designed with children and coding amateurs in mind, although we are looking at what it does with audio – its entertainment functions if you like.
This aside for a moment, one of the Pi’s main functions and goals is to teach children, teens and programming amateurs the basic and also more complex sides of coding and computer programming with Python, Scratch and Wolfram (which is more advanced). This makes Raspberry Pi ideal for use in schools where its prime function is to run educational software for those who are learning to code and programme, and at a price point of £29.99 the Pi is cheap enough for wide use in primary and secondary schools. It is also suitably durable too.
In essence Raspberry Pi is capable of performing the everyday functions of a standard computer, such as watching HD video, playing music and browsing the web. However, due to the fact that the most recent Pi 2 Model B’s hardware isn’t very powerful (despite being the most powerful Pi to date) I found that there are limitations to how the Pi can be used, such as not being able to run regular OSs’ such as Windows 7 and 8. But it is able to run specially designed OSs’ such as Rasperian, its own OS, a variation of Linux, as well as other Linux variants and even, at a later date, Windows 10, although probably in simplified form.
The Pi sports a 900 MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU with 1GB or DDR2 RAM hard wired on-board. For memory it uses a micro SD card which differs from its earlier counterparts which used regular SD cards; note the absence of hard disc storage. The Raspberry Pi circuit board also possesses a full HDMI port, ethernet port, 3.5 mm audio jack and composite video – note I am not talking about the Cirrus Logic audio board here.
Raspberry Pi is immensely powerful for its size, but also for its price. Having previous experience building computers and a good understanding of computer hardware, I found the Pi incredibly easy to build; it could be built by even the most inept and inexperienced builder as all that is required is the plugging in of a few cables and pins. This sort-of makes the Pi ideal as a first computer for a young child or teen, as well as for larger use in schools. As a 15-year-old moving on to sixth form I could see the potential benefits of Pi in teaching computing and programming to a generation that is largely disinterested in the subject.
Although the Raspberry Pi OS comes with pre-installed software like Python to teach coding and programming, a ‘Pi Store’ offers further learning programmes at both beginner and more advanced levels. The store also offers games, development tools and apps to expand the uses of the Pi. The Pi OS also comes with its own Epiphany web browser and is capable of wi-fi connectivity by using a wi-fi dongle.