Just Bought A Raspberry Pi? 11 Things You Need To Know

James Bruce 29-05-2014

In this video, we explain everything you might need to know if you’ve just bought a Raspberry Pi, or are thinking of buying one. You might also want to download our Unofficial Guide to the Raspberry Pi Raspberry Pi: The Unofficial Tutorial Whether you're a current Pi owner who wants to learn more or a potential owner of this credit-card size device, this isn't a guide you want to miss. Read More .


1. There Are Two Models

There are technically two variants of Raspberry Pi: model A and B. Model A costs $25 and was the original design with only 256 megabytes of RAM and lacking a network port; model B has 512 megabytes of RAM and costs $35. Model B is more commonly available so most projects and tutorials assume you have a model B.

2. It’s A Computer

The Raspberry Pi is essentially a mini computer – with an ARM processor, memory, and graphical capabilities. It needs an operating system to run.

3. It Runs Linux

Although a capable computer in its own right, the Pi won’t run Windows – instead you’ll find various flavours of Linux, and theres even a version of Risc OS and Amiga OS. The official operating system is a version of Debian Linux called Raspbian, and in nearly all my own Raspberry Pi tutorials you’ll find on MakeUseOf, we assume you’re running the latest version and a clean install of Raspian. For trying things out, it’s suggested you download the NOOBS tool, which is a graphical boot menu to open a couple of different operating systems.

4. Bring Your Own Storage

Storage is one of the few things the Raspberry Pi doesn’t include onboard. Instead, you need to supply an SD card with an operating system image loaded onto it, and you should only use class 10 SD cards or better. Use a tool such as Win32 Disk Imager to burn the downloaded operating system, or copy the NOOBS files to a freshly FAT-formatted card, then when you’re done you can insert it into the Pi and boot.

5. It’s USB-Powered

The Raspberry Pi is powered by micro-USB, the same connector as most Android phones. It’s recommended that you use a wall socket to provide a suitably high current, but depending on your computer, a standard USB port may suffice, or a powered USB hub may also work.


6. You Can Use Ethernet Or WiFi

For connectivity, every Pi (model B) is equipped with a built in Ethernet interface up to 100 Mbps. You can also plug a compatible WiFi interface Setting Up Wireless Networking on Your Raspberry Pi Virtually every Raspberry Pi project will require a network connection, and considerable flexibility can be gained by ignoring the Ethernet port in favour of a wireless USB dongle. Read More , but whether or not your particular operating system supports it out of the box is another matter. Two USB ports are supplied, but it’s highly recommended that you get a powered USB hub as the power supplied through the ports is very low. You’ll be fine if you’re just plugging in a WiFi adapter.

7. You Can Use It Without A Dedicated Monitor

Video output is either through an analogue RCA connection for old TVs, or through the more typical HDMI for HDTVs and monitors. The easiest way to get started is to simply plug in a keyboard and mouse to the USB ports, and boot your choice of graphical environment. For many projects though, it’s recommended you run the Raspberry Pi in a headless mode, which means you connect to it over the network from another computer by using the Terminal command SSH (you can also use Putty on windows). The default username and password when doing this is pi and raspberry respectively. Once logged in, you’ll have remote command line access without the need for a monitor, keyboard and mouse connected to the Pi itself.

8. It Has Non-Standard 3.3V GPIO Pins

Interestingly, there’s also a set of GPIO pins, which stands for General-Purpose Input/Output, equivalent to the digital IO pins of an Arduino. However, you need to be a lot more cautious when working with them because (a) it’s a lot easier to overload the Pi and burn it out, and (b) it operates on a non-standard 3.3V, unlike the Arduino IO pins which are 5V. Since most sensors you come across will want 5V, you’ll need to use transistors, mosfets or other electronics to modify a given circuit. That’s not to say electronics projects are particularly difficult on the Pi, but if you are planning to use circuits designed for an Arduino, it might be better just to plug your Arduino into the USB port and interface with a circuit like that instead.

9. You Need A Case

You should buy a case as soon as possible – there’s a good variety of cases out there The 8 Most Beautiful Raspberry Pi Cases There are a handful of designs which really give the Pi a unique look. And thankfully, these unique enclosures usually don’t much – most are available for $20 or less. Read More and you can even 3D print one – the only thing you really need to know is whether or not you want an opening to access the GPIO ports. I picked up a clear case for about $10.


10. It’s Expandable

Just like the Arduino, there’s a number of accessory boards you can pick up and connect to the Pi, such as the Gertboard or Laika Explorer Board which adds a range of switches, LEDS, sensor connections and motor controllers; there are mini LCD displays; and there’s an official camera add-on, though you can actually use most USB webcams easily enough. There’s not nearly as wide a range as there is Arduino shields, but then if you particularly need a specific shield, you can also hook an Arduino up and use it that way.

11. It’s Versatile

What can you do with a Raspberry Pi? Last week, I built a DIY SafePlug Build Your Own: Safeplug (Tor Proxy Box) Why pay $50 for a Tor proxy box when you can make your own with a Raspberry Pi and USB WiFi dongle? Read More which is an anonymising Tor router that broadcasts a WiFi network, and routes your communications through the many layers of global Tor nodes. Next week, I’ll try adapting this as a public WiFi network but with one minor change: it’ll replace all images with a similarly-sized picture of a kitten. Right now, I’m using my Pi as a controller for these cryptocurrency ASICs Gridseed Mini ASIC Miner Review and Giveaway Will the Gridseed ASIC miner be the Bitcoin-mining, money-making machines we want them to be? Read More which mine a few thousand Dogecoin each day – the cheap cost of the Pi combined with its extremely low power usage makes it ideal for this. Some people turn their Pi into a home theatre PC for the living room, running either native XBMC How To Make Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Theater System Four weeks on and I’ve been playing with my Raspberry Pi in various ways, from using it to browse the web and standard day-to-day computing tasks to playing around with the various configurations that are... Read More  or an optimised OpenElec distro; and there’s even a dedicated ROM emulator distro called PiMame which can run pretty much anything up to about the Dreamcast generation of consoles.

There’s a lot you can do with a Raspberry Pi, and theres a huge community out there to support you. What are you waiting for?

Image Credits: Ian Barbour Via Flickr


Related topics: Buying Tips, Raspberry Pi.

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  1. Master Pi
    May 31, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Just want to clarify the Raspberry Pi provides 5V and 3.3V which is the same as certain Arduino models. Arduino Uno only provides 3.3V I think where as the Mega can do 3.3V and 5V. Currently I own a Pi and Mega.

    • James Bruce
      May 31, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      The Pi operates on ONLY 3.3v for the I/O pins, even if it "provides" a 5v output. The Arduino has both 5v and 3.3v output, and the pins operate at 5v.

  2. DJ
    May 31, 2014 at 3:27 am

    My Pi is situated in an old NES case connected to the TV. Love it!

  3. Jacob
    May 30, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Mine sits next to my router hosting my Web server as well as my personal media server and I have to say it excels at it!
    I have also used it with xbmc but this works much better for me.

  4. Lee
    May 29, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    I use my Pi as a sort-of NAS. I have my external drives plugged into a USB hub and just share them over my network with Samba (so I can map them in Windows).

  5. likefunbutnot
    May 29, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    There's a Raspberry Pi resting on a shelf with a USB hub and four attached 2TB external hard drives in same rack as the colocated servers I manage at my friendly neighborhood datacenter. I have no idea what it's doing there, but at least one person is using one has a fairly serious web server.