Raspberry Pi

I’ve been looking for an media center PC for my TV for a while now. My daughter and her family have had a PC setup for quite a while now and I’ve  been meaning to set up a similar system. There are several advantages to doing so: cost, access to information, access to free feeds via the internet, internet access easily shared to show things, and so forth.

When my son-in-law said he was going to get a Raspberry Pi to set up a similar system on the grandkid’s TV and that several people were reporting good results with it, I decided to go for it as well. I’d heard good things about the Raspberry Pi and coupled with what my son-in-law’s research had discovered, it made sense to start setting up the system now.

He ordered the Raspberry Pis on Tuesday afternoon from Newark and they were delivered Thursday afternoon. We had figured that at best we’d be seeing them on Monday so that was a really good turnaround, especially considering it was regular shipping. Newark rocks!

The Raspberry Pi is about the same size as the Arduino, but comes with HDMI, ethernet, SD slot, GPIO, and two USB ports. Power is provided via a micro-USB port, same as cell phones, so if you have any extra recent cell phone chargers you probably have the power supply already.

The OS goes onto a SD card, the recommended minimum SD card size seems to be 8 GB. Raspbmc is a Linux OS built around XBMC being the user interface. Since I wanted to use it as the core to a HDTV setup, I decided to install  Raspbmc on it. I was successful after a comedy of errors.

First I plugged in my mouse and 2 TB hard drive and it wouldn’t finish installing the OS. When I finally figured that out and plugged the keyboard in instead of the hard drive, I still had problems. I could boot off the installer just fine but could not complete the Raspbmc installation. Eventually, I figured out that my optical mouse was drawing too much power and removed that. I continued to have problems. I decided that since I had been having problems with my old cell phone cable that perhaps I should try my new one instead. Still having problems, I tried one last install prior to going over to my son-in-law’s with the idea of swapping units into his system with his SD and seeing if my Raspberry Pi would even work. Just before heading over, I was able to install Raspbmc, though I’m not exactly sure just how I managed that. It just seemed to install all of a sudden. Maybe I wasn’t quite patient enough. He did tell me the next day that our ISP had had problems, but I’m not sure it was that at the time since I was able to download the installer several times.

It was awesome to see the XBMC GUI appear and I was able to navigate most of it using the keyboard. I seemed to have some issues but I think they were all between the keyboard and the chair. I was able to install some plug-ins and do some configuring, and map my remote drive. So far, so good. Most of my problems are defintiely tied to the power supply, my 1W 5V cell charger. 700mW is the minimum and with the RP drawing 500mW, that only leaves 500mW for everything else.

Picture of XBMC GUI on TV

XBMC via Raspberry Pi running Rasbmc

One thing I need is to get it to work via WiFi. I have a wireless USB dongle and one of the Add-Ons provided by raspbmc.org is Network Management. That allowed me to set up to discover my hidden network and it seemed to work in that it showed connection to the WiFi device and that it had a connection. However, I have  been unable to achieve a wireless connection unless I also have a wired connection, which is kind of pointless. I did verify the USB WiFi dongle works on another machine.

Eventually I got the WiFi to sort of work, in that it would see and report a couple networks. I could configure it to use my hidden node, but I could not seem to make it connect. Even if I used a powered, external USB hub, I seemed unable to maintain a connection. I’ll have to keep working on this, since the only other option is to run a wired cable out to the living room. I’m not sure I want to do that.

Seeing several LEGO housings made for the Raspberry Pi, I made myself a box. Using Biz’s box as a guide, I made mine with the bottom open, and there’s just enough lip (1/2 block width) to hold the board in place. I used a clear block to provide visibility to the on-board LEDs. Finally, I added six legs to the box to hold it off the surface and help provide added cooling flow.

Picture of my LEGO Raspberry Pi Box.

My LEGO Raspberry Pi Box

Shows the open bottom of the LEGO box for my Raspberry Pi

View of the open bottom of the Raspberry Pi LEGO box

All in all, I’m happy with the unit and know I’ll be able to get it working, even if I have to run a cable to the living room.

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4 Responses to “Raspberry Pi”

  1. Bosstiger Says:

    Reblogged this on Gigable – Tech Blog.

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  2. Andrew Says:

    Hi BIll! It’s been a long time. Thanks for sharing this info. I’m thinking of ordering one myself. I’ve tinkered with a different version of XBMC called Openelec which is just an embedded XBMC. In fact, Openelec has a raspberry pi version. Is raspbmc an embedded version or does it require Linux or Windows to run? – Andrew Sanders

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  3. Bill Says:

    Hi Andrew! The new Raspberry Pis have double the RAM now, at 512 MB. Anyway, to answer your question, raspbmc is a Linux OS that has XBMC embedded in it. When it boots up, it automatically runs XBMC, you don’t see the Linux OS at all, except for a few lines during booting up. You could consider raspbmc as a Linux distro running XBMC.You can access the underlying Linux OS if you want to, but generally, XBMC is your GUI the same way Gnome is another GUI. Make sense?

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  4. Bill Says:

    Before I forget, consider the way the Raspberry Pi is built. You can install OpenELEC onto an SD card, run it, install raspbmc onto another SD card, swap the cards, run it. That way you can easily compare the two and see which you prefer.
    I checked OpenELEC and just might try that myself, just to see how it works compared to raspbmc. Next weekend, maybe.
    The point is, if you have more than one SD card, it’s trivial to try different OS installs until you find the perfect one for yourself. Just keep the current favorite on one SD card and don’t replace it until you find a better OS then use the other card as the master….you get the idea.

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