Sunday, 6 May 2012

Raspberry PI first impressions

I received my PI on the Friday although not desperately seeking one I was fortunate to be in the second batch. The packing was simple, consisting of a padded envelope containing in small cardboard box. The PI is smaller than I expected and its actually the same size as credit card which I over laid to prove. The dual USB connectors result in an overall height of around 15mm.

The PI is powered through a micro usb socket and there's no on/off switch which long term makes me dubious of the longevity of the socket. I'm surprised no has produced a usb cable with an in-line switch or may be a case with this feature. If the PI is aimed at the younger generation that I'd expect this to be an very useful feature.

My initial setup consisted of a cheap 1A PSU along with a usb keyboard/mouse and the HDMI output fed to DVI monitor. Deploying the debian build is relatively painless as long as you are PC literature to do so. I found the PI to be slow at booting and Debian although workable slightly basic. If  you are looking to use the PI as cheap 'Browsing' solution then its not for you! The default Midori just about manages to display pages and a little patience is required. This does bring me onto another point, if we expect kids to use these for projects then I suppose you would expect to 'google' while developing. Not sure how practical it is to do both on the PI.

Next I moved onto the Arch Linux image, having being introduced to Arch while working on my O2 Joggler and I had higher hopes of its usability although potentially it require more effort to deploy a usable build. Furthermore the ARM port is not as mature as the x86 builds. Arch Linux definitely runs faster although again the booting is slow. I got LXDE up and running although Midori and NetSurf browser failed to start when launched and I didn't have time to debug the issue.

I also tried to use the PI which a powered laptop usb hub (Targus), I plugged an old PS/2 keyboard and mouse into the hub. These wouldn't work with the PI again something that may need to be addressed if we want to these to be deployed in schools where older PC equipment may be prevalent.

I purchased the PI for 2 reasons, firstly as a 'cheap' development board for my own hobby use and secondly as an introduction for my young children to software development.

On the first point I have a number of uses of the PI  for my hobby projects. Even then I think theres probably a fair  percentage of potential purchasers who may be disappointed as the PI is relatively low spec ARM board.

On the second point the juries out. I'd say there's a fair bit of knowledge required to configure the PI as the kid friendly device, as of now I'd say the software isn't there. However I guess this is where innovation and creativity comes into the picture, so I'll have to find a way to make it kid friendly!