In today’s trying economic times, affordable computing has been almost an exercise in futility, especially for those who are unemployed, whether short-term or long-term. Employers want all applications online, resumes sent by email, and in some cases links to a Facebook or Linked In page. It can be an impenetrable wall to raising your standard of living. In this and future columns, I am going to discuss ways to overcome these obstacles: free software, free internet, and low-cost hardware.
I want to start with the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi combined with a small monitor and keyboard/mouse can provide a small internet machine with basic computing power to do everyday tasks, such as email, word processing, spreadsheets, video playback, and picture taking/editing. Cost is an incentive to purchase this incredible machine, as is the size. The RPi A through 3 is the size of a credit card and is less than one inch tall.
The Raspberry Pi, and there are several models to choose from, was started in the UK as an organization that would provide affordable computing to educational institutions in order to teach children what computers are in terms of hardware and to teach basic programming skills. When word came out about this new platform that would start at about $35 US, advance orders worldwide were staggering. This was a mere four years ago.
Now there is the Raspberry Pi A, A+, B, B+, 2, 3, Zero, and Zero v1.3 along with hundreds of extremely inexpensive add-ons (from this point forward, I will use the common abbreviation RPi for Raspberry Pi). As an example, there are now three different cameras available for $30 each, dozens of what is called add-on shields that provide additional functions according to the needs of the user ranging in price from $15 to $50. The lowest price of the RPi is the A+ for $20, the newest is the 3 for $35. Recently, an even more basic version was released, known as the Zero and Zero v1.3 for $5, that is even smaller than previous RPi. These are all considered full computers for practical purposes.
There is a caveat to all this goodness. None of the RPi's come with a case, power cord, monitor, keyboard, mouse, or operating system. But, don't worry. As I stated at the beginning, this is about affordable computing/technology and I will address all these issues and how to take care of them for very little money.
Let's start with costs of the different RPi's. The RPi B is $35 and the very first model to be released. RPi A came out next at $25 followed by the A+, which is an upgrade to the A and is $20 (that's right, $5 less). The A and A+ is out of production and can only be had through E-Bay and Amazon, and probably for more money. The RPi B+, 2, and 3 is a massive upgrade and are $35 each. Each have benefits and drawbacks. I have created a chart below to show all the differences between them. Don't worry if you don't understand all the terms. I will explain them as we go along.
Mhz = megahertz and ghz =gigahertz, mb = megabytes and gb = gigabytes. GPIO means is General Purpose Input Output. This is how people can experiment with simple to complex and anything in between on electronics. That's the magic for teaching grammar school and high school kids electronics with computers.
Robert M. Laine has been working in the IT industry for 30+ years. He has a B.S. in computer science. He has worked for the Chicago Tribune IT group and as the in-store technician for Staples. You can email him with questions or comments at BobLaine_sw@mail.com and visit LaineTech.blogspot.com