Yummy Pi – what to do with a Raspberry Pi


So you’ve got your Raspberry Pi and it’s sitting there, staring at you PCB-ily while you are wondering why you ordered it in the first place.  If you don’t know what to do with your Raspberry Pi, don’t bother plugging it into your TV, booting it up and clicking despondently at a few things before chucking it in the loft.  Use it for something useful and learn a bit about Linux at the same time.  Don’t tie up the TV with your Pi, use it on your home network as your faithful assistant – always on and connected to the internet, ready to do whatever you want at any time.  Use it headless (no monitor, keyboard or mouse) and install a whole load of useful stuff on it: a Bittorrent client, media streamer, network-attached-storage or any of these ideas.  You have a PC that is more powerful than the best computer you could buy 10 years ago and it uses less power than a low power light bulb.  It would be a crime not to use it for something.

A Raspberry Pi in a snazzy Lego case

These series of posts are aimed at someone who knows a bit about computers (above the level of randomly clicking at things in a blind panic, but below reprogramming the BIOS with a 9 volt battery and a hair clip) but not much (or indeed anything at all) about Linux.  You will learn to use your Pi at a fairly intimate level, gently stroking its settings by typing in commands and editing files.  This is not pointing and clicking, as you do with Windows, Macs or Linux distributions like Ubuntu, but typing stuff in is not difficult and it makes you feel like a hardcore hacker.  Embrace your inner geek and learn to love your Pi.

1.  Plugging it in

If you want to, you can plug your Raspberry Pi into your TV, stuff a mouse and keyboard up its USB ports and use its (quite slow by all accounts) GUI, but I don’t do these sorts of shenanigans.  I have a simpler setup where it’s just plugged into the network and accessed remotely, with no keyboard, mouse or anything.  To run it this way, you need three things: a power supply, an SD memory card and a bog standard CAT5 network cable.  Don’t panic if you are running your home network wirelessly – your router will have sockets on it for plugging in network cables.  You won’t need physical access to your Pi after the initial set up, so you can leave it next to your router – in the cupboard, under the sofa, or wherever your router lives.

To power it up, you need a 5V power supply that can provide at least 700mA with a mini-USB connector on the lead.  Have a look in that collection of phone chargers you’ve got rattling around in your crap drawer.  Jen’s Samsung charger worked a treat.  Failing that you can buy one for less than a fiver from Amazon – something like a Nokia AC-10x charger..

2.  Booting it up

You need a SD card of at least 2GB, but 4GB is better if you want to install anything.  There isn’t really an upper limit, so 16, 32 or 64GB cards should work, with faster (class 10) cards giving you a faster system overall.  It used to be the case that some cards worked better than others but later firmware versions fixed the problems that some Pis had with faster cards.  If you find that your Pi is not booting, it is worth trying a different type of card just in case.

There is no software built into the Pi, so it boots and runs off the SD card as if it were a hard drive.  That means you need to install all the software it needs on the card before you plug it into the Pi.  This page shows you how to do it. using a disk image that you copy onto the card using a card reader and software on your PC.  Here is where you download the image fileto copy to the card.  Download Raspbian “wheezy”, which is basically Debian optimised for the Pi.

If you have just finished installing the image, unplug the card from the reader now.  Plug the card back into your card reader and a window with a 59MB partition in it should pop up on your PC.  This contains the files that boot the Pi. If you are using Linux, you will also see a 1.9GB partition in another window – this contains the the rest of the files for the Raspbian system.  Because Windows can’t recognise the type of filesystem (EXT3),  Windows users can’t see this partition, but don’t worry about that.  You might be wondering what has happened to the rest of your SD card – you can only see about 2GB of it.  The file system can be adjusted to use the rest of the card’s memory once the Pi is up and running.

Now safely remove the card, lob it in your Pi, plug it into your router with the CAT5 cable and plug in the power supply.  If it’s all OK, the red LED should come on for a few seconds followed by the other ones, with the green one flashing occasionally.  The LEDs are stupidly bright.  Congratulations!  Your Raspberry Pi is now ready for use.  If only the red light is on then something is wrong.  If you have followed all the instructions and have the correct partitions and files on it, then it is probably the card itself which is the problem.  Try a different card and see if that fixes it.

Continued here…


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4 Responses to “Yummy Pi – what to do with a Raspberry Pi”

  1. goldbach says:

    Great tutorial. I was planning to do something similar and your posting now makes my life easy.

    I used a Windows 7 machine to create the bootable SD card. I am able to use this SD card to power up my Pi and able to log in and do stuff.

    However, when I inserted this SD card back in my windows machine, I see only the 55 MB partition. I do not see the other. Before reading your post, I was not expecting to see the ext partitions as they are not native to Windows world, but your posting implies that it is possible to browse/modify the contents of the ext filesystem from a Windows machine.

    What am I missing?

  2. Naich says:

    You aren’t missing anything. Thanks for drawing that to my attention. I’m Linux only at home, so I don’t always know what Windows machines can and can’t do. I’ve updated the text. Cheers.

  3. pete says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for the great tutorial. I’m downloading my first torrent!

  4. Al says:

    You mean micro-USB. You are right about it being what Samsung chargers use (it is a standard for phone chargers), but mini-USB is a different, slightly thicker connector, used on many other boards e.g. PandaBoard. You can only really tell the difference from end on.