3 Awesome Things to do with a Raspberry Pi

Posted on December 1st, 2013

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi Model B . From raspberrypi.org


A Raspberry Pi (pictured above) is a small computer designed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to be a small and inexpensive computer used in an education setting. It runs Linux operating systems from an SD card. There are two models, the Raspberry Pi A and B. The Raspberry Pi Model A, at $25, has one USB port, HDMI/audio/RCA out, and 256 MB RAM. The Model A does not have an Ethernet port. The $35 Model B adds a second USB port, a total of 512 MB RAM, and an Ethernet port. At such a cheap price, the Raspberry Pi can be used to make inexpensive projects that would normally cost hundreds of dollars.


As you can imagine, a device this awesome didn't go long before being noticed. The Raspberry Pi Foundation sold nearly a million of these devices already, and they are sold out at most retailers. To find out how to order one, visit raspberrypi.org.


3 Awesome Things to do with a Raspberry Pi

1. Media Streaming Device

Default XBMC skin. From http://wiki.xbmc.org/



Many devices now come with video streaming services. You can watch YouTube directly on your TV and Blu Ray players often have Hulu streaming built in. However, if you don't have one of these devices or your device doesn't offer all of your favorite streaming services, you can build a great cost effective media streamer with Raspberry Pi using the free software XBMC. With XBMC installed (and a cheap wifi adapter such as this or a Model B Ethernet port) you can watch video sources such as Hulu and YouTube with easy to install add-ons - all in 1080p. If you are on the same network as a computer, you can store your videos on another computer running XBMC, or put videos on an SD card or USB memory device to watch on your TV.


More incredible features include the iOS and Android remote apps that (with wifi/Ethernet) allows you to control the Raspberry Pi directly on your phone. It should also be possible to buy a USB external DVD drive to play DVDs directly, but I would suggest backing up your DVD collection on your computer. These backups should be playable on XBMC.


Pros:

  • Cheap ($25/35 Raspberry Pi, optional ~$10 wifi dongle)
  • Hulu, YouTube, TwitchTV and more streaming directly to TV
  • Wireless syncing of video content with other computers
  • Remote apps for Android and iOS
  • Customizable skins

Cons:

  • No official Netflix support
  • Menu display in 720p
  • Raspberry Pi version of XBMC is a development version


Approximate Cost: $40-60

2. Networked File Server

Raspberry Pi File Server, from http://youtu.be/jr2Jz8km2BU

Using a Raspberry Pi, you can easily and quickly set up a file server to share files with other people on your home network or as a backup for important files. All you need is a Raspberry Pi and an external hard drive (price dependent on size - I suggest newegg). Load Raspbian and follow this guide (or find your own) to get a server up and running in about 10 minutes.


Having a file server running at all times is helpful if you find yourself transferring files from computer to computer often, or want a backup of important files such as pictures or work documents. It can be used to host all your music so every computer in the house has access, or you can just share funny cat pictures with friends and family.


Approximate cost:


500GB: $110

1TB: $150

2TB: $175

3. Make a Full-Size Arcade Machine

Or a mini arcade machine. From http://spritesmods.com/?art=rpi_arcade


YouTuber Darren Jones used a Raspberry Pi to make full-size arcade machine that can play retro arcade games and has arcade-style controls - and you can make one too, using a Raspberry Pi.


Hardware: The Raspberry Pi is connected to a simple USB hub and speaker system and is put in a stripped out arcade machine. The screen has been replaced with a modern monitor and can be set up to require coins to play. This build also required an I-PAC 2 and arcade-style buttons and joysticks.


As for the cabinet, you have two options: finding an old arcade machine and stripping it, or building your own. You may be able to find cabinets cheaply on Craigslist or eBay, but for our purposes lets assume you want to make your own. There are several places you can buy a kit or find a plan, or you can design one on your own if you have the knowledge.


Software: The example machine runs Raspbian (free Debian-based OS optimized for Raspberry Pi), AdvancedMAME (free arcade software) and AdvancedMENU (software to show sound and video previews of AdvancedMAME games).


How Raspberry Pi makes this possible: MAME, the standard arcade software, requires a computer. Building a cheap computer, the other option when creating an arcade machine, would likely cost $200-$300. The Raspberry Pi nearly halves the approximate cost of this build.


Approximate cost:

Monitor: $100

I-PAC 2: $40

Joysticks and Buttons: $40

USB Hub: $5

Speaker: $25

Coin Slot: $15

Wood (for self-made cabinet): $50

Raspberry Pi: $25


Total approximate cost: $300


Already have a Raspberry Pi? Let us know what you think in the comments below.


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Andrew Backes

A Software Engineer living in Milwaukee, WI. Passionate about web/software development, tech, open source, and gaming.