Here's What It's Like Using A $35 Computer

Raspberry Pi circuit board sizeThe Raspberry Pi is only slightly larger than a business card.

Photo: Flickr / Rain Rabbit

The Raspberry Pi is a fully-functional computer that only costs $35. You can buy it with two $20 bills and still get change back!

It’s a tiny and extremely basic device that ships without a case. But its simplicity and affordability, make it perfect for tinkerers, educators, and the adventurous.

Under the hood
The internals are nothing to write home about, but that’s by design. The idea is to keep the Raspberry Pi simultaneously useful and affordable, and they’ve succeeded wonderfully in that regard.

There are two models available – a base model for $25 and a slightly improved one for $35. They both offer largely the same hardware with the $35 model offering an Ethernet port and an additional USB 2.0 port.

On a circuit board a little larger than a business card, both models include 256 MB of RAM, a 700 MHz processor, a Broadcom video chip, a 3.5mm audio jack, an SD card slot, RCA and HDMI ports, and a micro USB port for power.

This isn’t a boundless power machine. The Raspberry Pi is better thought of as a platform for you to build and tinker upon.

Here’s a very handy diagram of the components by Paul Beech, who runs a company selling Raspberry Pi cases.

raspberry pi

Photo: Paul Beech

The setup
There is a bit of a curve to getting the computer to turn on and become useful.

Because your storage is limited by the size of SD card you use (I was using an 8 GB card), most conventional operating systems are out of the question. Thankfully the Raspberry Pi Foundation provides you with ready-to-download Linux distributions optimised for your device. You’ll need to write the OS to your SD card using Win32 Disk Imager (which is a much different process than simply copying a file over). This is a reasonably straightforward process, but it’s where a majority of users will be stumped.

Thankfully, hardware setup is as painless as it could be. I connected a mouse and keyboard, plugged it into my television via HDMI, connected it to the router, and hooked it up to power. Done.

Taking it for a spin
The Raspberry Pi is not going to replace your home computer. It’s not supposed to. Instead, it’s intended to promote computer science education by being super-affordable and accessible.

In this respect, it shines. My programming skill goes barely beyond getting a computer to display text on a screen, but ambitious or aspiring computer scientists will be able to take it much farther than that.

For conventional uses like browsing the web, playing games, or streaming video, the Raspberry Pi is slow. A 700 MHz processor can’t keep up with those tasks the same way that your top-of-the-line desktop or laptop can. But again, this isn’t what the Raspberry Pi is all about.

Should you buy it?
If you’re looking for an affordable computer to replace your ageing PC, keep looking. This is not a Windows-ready machine that you can boot up and immediately start playing your favourite games. But remember – that’s the point.

If you’re itching to learn to code (or already have gobs of experience), you’ll be able to teach it some new tricks and make it into an indispensable device.

The Raspberry Pi will appeal to that segment of the population that is curious, looking to pick up a new skill, or looking for a very hackable device to work into its next project. If that sounds up your alley, then we suggest you check it out.

You can order your Raspberry Pi from RS Components.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.