Eee 701 Planetoid

2012/05/26

Raspberry Pi: first impressions

Filed under: Hardware — Tim @ 08:15

So, late last week, just over two months since I “expressed an interest” in buying one (less than ten minutes after the proverbial shutters went up), my Raspberry Pi Model B arrived at home. There has been no shortage of reviews on the Web of the tiny cheap ARM-based computer, so I will content myself with a few points on my initial steps with the machine—I’ll have plenty of opportunity to write more before long 🙂

  • The very first impression I received when opening the box, was just how small the Raspberry Pi is. No amount of photos, video clips and articles referring to a “credit-card-sized” device, quite prepared me for removing the “bare board” from its anti-static bag, and realising that… well, it is credit-card-sized. It’s hard to believe that this tiny circuit board, with its array of various connectors arranged around the edge, can drive a flat-panel TV, accept USB peripherals and the rest, but so it can…
  • I have to wonder, how the various connectors on the board (USB, Ethernet, HDMI, etc.) will stand up to being plugged into and unplugged over time. The micro-USB power-supply socket in particular, is pretty stiff, and requires a moderate amount of force to connect and disconnect. As this latter is quite small, I am mildly concerned that it may break one day, especially as I am unlikely to be able to repair the connector myself. Time will probably tell.
  • Oh yes: power supply. Hold that thought.
  • The Raspberry Pi has a number of operating systems which it can boot and run from SD memory card—mostly ARM-based Linux distributions, but also some more exotic platforms such as RISC OS. I chose Arch Linux ARM, largely due to the experience I’ve gained from running Arch on my Eee.
    Aside from an initial refusal to boot—rectified by simply re-writing the OS to the SD card—I didn’t encounter any problems booting Arch/ARM on the RasPi. It started essential services without a blip, joining our home LAN (via Ethernet) and setting the clock from the Internet via NTP, all without manual intervention. I was even able to carry out a full package update (# pacman -Syu), which the Pi executed without a grumble. Pretty impressive for an ARM-based computer the size of a bank card.
  • Remember I mentioned the power supply earlier? If there’s one “fly on the Pi” to date, it’s a biggie: the machine is incredibly fussy about the power it receives over USB. If the current drops much below 1A, the Pi begins to behave erratically, or at worst will stop functioning altogether.
    Sadly, I’ve experienced one of the most common “low-power” issues: keypresses from the keyboard are repeated or missed out, making it well-nigh impossible to enter commands. I’ve tried both USB wireless and wired keyboards—the former does at least work (after a fashion, albeit exhibiting the repeat-keypresses problem), whilst the latter causes the OS to “kernel-panic”. Finally, I bought a Nokia AC-10X micro-USB power supply (higher output than most), and tried the Logitech K360 USB wireless keyboard we used (infrequently) for our Wii. One or both of these fixed the keypresses issue, so I was able to go onto more fun Pi-pursuits!

Stay tuned for further updates…

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