Updated: March 21, 2014
Raspberry Pi needs no introduction, but since I can't start an article without its mandatory paragraph or two of small talk, I will introduce it. Yes, indeed. Raspberry Pi is basically a micro-computer, a single board the size of an enlarged credit card with a whole bunch of peripherals, allowing you to customize and create your own little computer. Selling points, ability to play HD video, you get my drift. Plug it in to a monitor, add a keyboard, and Bob's your uncle. Since Raspberry Pi is British, the phrase is doubly worth its place here.
Now take someone like me, a person who likes things big and sturdy, and I never custom build my own machines, but now, there's a precedent. Cheap, affordable, made for games and education, Raspberry Pi seems like an ideal opportunity to step away from the desktop and fiddle with the unknown. To wit, Dedoimedo tests the Pi. Yippie.
A media center for USD35, NOT!
That was my mission statement, and that is officially the cost of a single board. Only, in reality, the cost for having a full media center is much higher. As you will soon learn. In fact, getting a Rasp was far from trivial.
I tried the official vendor first. In fact, I tried them way back when Raspberry Pi was released, and then I was put on an eight-month waiting list, after which my desire to test this thing spiraled to zero. It was only after I purchased a smart TV recently that I decided to start playing with all sorts of media centers - hint: a whole bunch of reviews coming your way. Anyhow, I tried my luck again with the official manufacturer, without success.
Next, I tried eBay and found a lot of vendors selling Raspberry Pi. And then I started thinking. Having just the board is not enough. I would need peripherals. I would need a micro-USB power socket, I would need an HDMI cable, an SD card with some content that can be installed, a keyboard and mouse to control the system, preferably Wireless due to scarcity of ports on the board, and of course, network. And a cases to contain it all. One case to rule them all.
All of this let me to consider all kinds of so-called starter kits, which bundle most if not all or more of the items discussed above, with a huge range of prices, SD card sizes, cases in different colors, and still more. Eventually, I found a few worthy candidates. First, I purchased a kit from the UK, only to be notified by the seller that they won't ship to my country, after I've made my payment, of course. Silly buggers. No matter. I tried a few more sellers, but no one offered the ultimate pack that I needed.
Eventually, I went to Amazon and purchased the ultimate smarter kit that contained a Pi Model B with 512 MB RAM, a black case, an HDMI cable, a Ralink RT5730 Wireless N-band dongle, an 8GB micro-SD card preloaded with the New Out of The Box (NOOBS) software, a collection of some six Linux distributions including media centers, a power supply, some LEDs and transistors, and such. This cost me USD79.99 before shipping.
Then, I bought a compact and sexy Wireless keyboard+mouse from Wishtrac for GBP22.91 before shipping. And since my US package from Amazon was coming with the US socket, I purchased a separate Euro socket for GBP4.99 before shipping.
All in total, the cost of Raspberry Pi for human use was about USD125.50 before shipping, so all in all, something like USD150, which is already a very respectable sum by all means and hardly an entry level game. But it sounds sexy writing USD35 in the title. Just imagine if I actually had to pay for everything rather than have people send me their stuff. Only this time, this was my own hard-earned dough. Well, sort of hard-earned.
Anyhow, here's a part that was really trivial to complete. I placed the board into its case, closed the case, tightened four screws, connected the Wireless dongle, the HDMI cable, the power supply, the SD card, and the keyboard thingie, and that was it. The NOOBS system booted to its menu, I selected one, and the rest is history. Or rather the future, which is what you will be reading in the follow up article to this piece. It's mostly about how I tried to make my USD35-media-center-NOT really work and what happened.
Now, here's a total artistic hack, but since Raspberry Pi is extremely light, you can use a double-sided adhesive tape to attach it to pretty much any surface, including vertically, which is what I did, on the back of the smart TV. Saves space, reduces clutter, looks posh.
Raspberry Pi is a very interesting concept. It's not as cheap as some might like to believe, especially if you intend to use it for more than just writing software and code and other boring stuff. Four times as much, in fact. But that's only part of the equation.
Functionality wise, this thing does what it should. The setup is quick and easy, and it cooperated well with the associated peripherals, including the Wireless dongle. The NOOBS package is also a decent addition to the starter kit, should you choose that path, although you can grab software on your own. Anyhow, I like the idea, and I'm glad I've started dabbling. It should definitely be rather intriguing. Yup. Jolly good.
Oh, I've just received a notice from the post office that my Rikomagic MK802 IV quad-core mini PC is waiting to be claimed. At USD79.95, before shipping, it could be a nice little contestant to Raspberry Pi. Yes, and we will still have more items coming up. Shall I disclose some clues? Sure. Roku, CuBox-i, let's see what gives. Maybe. See ya.
P.S. If you want your hardware tested, send it over. I accept everything.