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  • John Bell

Tech Sense April 2024: Raspberry Pi


Raspberry Pi

It has been a little over two years since I wrote about the Raspberry Pi Computer.  I missed Pi Day this year because I was still writing about printers.  But there has been a lot of news in the Raspberry Pi World, so I thought I would catch everyone up.

Pi Day is a traditional day to celebrate the number Pi, a very important number in mathematics.  It is also the traditional day for the Raspberry Pi organization to release new computers and devices for the computers.

 

The Raspberry Pi Foundation

The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a charitable group formed by people from the University of Cambridge in England.  The founder felt that making a very inexpensive computer could make them more available for children to learn more about computers.  The foundation then created a computer that to sell for $35.  Adding a few things like a keyboard and mouse and connecting to the home TV made it very inexpensive. 

They also supplied free software to make the computers useful and help people to learn to use and program the computer.  The computers include programming languages like Python, Java, and C++ for example. 

 

The Raspberry Pi Computers

The original Raspberry Pi seems basic compared to the Pi computers available today.  With a few notable exceptions, each generation of the Pi computers tends to be two to four times faster than the previous one.  The chart below lists the primary pi models, their date when introduced, the current production status, and some notes about major features.

 

Model name

1st Introduced

Status

Notes

Raspberry Pi Model B

Feb. 2012

Discontinued

256/512 MB Ram, LAN

Pi Model B+

Spring 2014

Discontinued

512 MB Ram, LAN

Pi 2

Feb. 2015

Discontinued

1 GB RAM, LAN

Pi 3 Model B

Feb. 2016

Discontinued

1 GB RAM, LAN+Wifi

Pi 3 Model B+

Pi Day, Mar. 2018

Refreshed

1 GB RAM, LAN+Wifi

Pi 4 Model B

June 2019

Refreshed

1/2/4/8 GB of RAM, LAN+Wifi

Pi 5

Sept. 2023

New

4/8 GB of RAM, LAN+Wifi

 

All Pi’s from the Pi 3 model B include 64-bit quad core CPUs.  Earlier Pi’s were 32 bits.  The Pi 4 and Pi 5 also include Bluetooth capabilities and two micro-HDMI connectors for connecting two monitors or TVs.

There are also several other specialty models.  The Pi Zero was first released in 2015 sold for $5.  The Pi Zero-W followed by adding Wi-Fi networking. The newest Pi Zero is the Pi Zero 2 W, released in 2021 and enhanced using a similar 64-bit CPU as in the Pi 3 series.  Both Wi-Fi Pi Zeros also have Bluetooth support.

There is also a Pi 400.  This is a complete computer with mouse, keyboard, cable, power supply, and memory card with the software pre-installed for $100.  Just plug it into your TV and you are ready to go and it’s less expensive than your old Commodore 64.

In January 2021, the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Pi Pico series.  The Pico is a microcontroller similar in some aspects to an Arduino microcontroller.  It does not have a full operating system but it has the ability to program and reprogram and is usable as a device controller. The Pico is programmable in two developer languages, C, and MicroPython.  In June of 2022 the Pico W version was released adding Wi-Fi-wireless support. 

Another set of specialty models are the computer modules.  These plug into another board and bring the Raspberry Pi computing capabilities to that system.  They are very popular for embedding into IoT devices and other equipment.

 

New Pi News

The newest Pi model is the Pi 5, released just this past September 2023.  This Pi is about 3 times faster than the original Pi 4, and adds a PCI connector allowing the addition of a SSD Storage card for high-speed storage.  The Pi 5 can boot from the SSD working like some of the more traditional computers. Another addition is a real-time clock to keep time when turned off and a shutdown button.  Yes, that’s right the typical way to turn off older Pi models was to unplug it.  The Pi 5 offers a choice between 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM, but they were not able to keep the standard $35 price, for the first time the list price for the Pi 5 is $60 for the 4 GB model and $80 for the 8 GB model.  The PI 5 needs cooling to prevent overheating.  There is a special case made for the Pi 5 that includes a fan to keep the CPU cool.  The Pi-5 also needs more power so there is an official USB-C power supply to provide the 27 watts needed to power the computer.

 

Pi Accessories

The Raspberry Pi Foundation offers a number of official accessories for the various Raspberry Pi computers.  These include things like cases, keyboards, mice, and power supplies as basics. But there are also devices like audio amplifiers, sensor boards, touch screens, various cameras, and TV Decoders.  They added a cooler for the Pi-4 when they discovered that it a cooler really helped.  For the Pi 5 they added a cooler to the official Pi case and a special active cooler for those that need it and don’t use the case.  Most of the “official” gear is red and white (go Terps!) with the occasional black case. 

Hats are boards that easily attach to the Pi boards to add more features.  For example, I have a Pi that wears a small two” by 3” screen “hat” that I can use to provide output.  Hats exist to provide Power over Ethernet (POE), provide high quality stereo sound, backup power, and other features.  The specifications for build hats are publicly available make it easy for people to make their own.  The Pi Zeros offer a similar specification called a bonnet for the same purpose.  This has made it possible for other companies also make Pi accessories, including portable games machines.

 

Pi Software

The Raspberry Pi Foundation provides a Linux operating they call Raspberry OS (formerly Raspbian).  Raspberry OS is based on Debian Linux.  Debian Linux is the base for Ubuntu.  The foundation provides downloads for 32 bit, 64 bit, and legacy version of the software for every Raspberry Pi that has been released supporting machines going back to 2012.  That is better than Apple and iOS.  Patches appear regularly and install easily from either the command line or the Graphical User Interface.

The full installation of the Pi software includes a complete office suite, the Chromium browser, programming tools, games, email clients, and more.  All of this is free.

If you prefer another operating system many other vendors provide them, including Ubuntu.  Several turnkey solutions also exist to turn your Pi into a dedicated appliance, like a network storage appliance, a media center, a household ad blocker, or even a “magic mirror”. 

 

Wrap Up

This completes this month’s column.  The first Thursday in May is world change your passwords day inspiring my annual change your password column.  After that I plan to continue the peripheral series and write about Human Interface Devices or “Mice and Keyboards”. 

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