Hands-On With the Only Raspberry Pi Left in London

By Sam Gibbs on at

It might have sold out everywhere within seconds, but the guys from Element14 were kind enough to come by and show us the only slice of Raspberry Pi left in London, to sample what everyone else will have to wait another month for.

In the default configuration from boot-up, it’s a Linux kernel like any other. There are many Linux distros either available already or incoming for the Pi, but the GUI of choice for the Element14 guys is LXDE because of its sheer resource lightness. The boot process is pretty quick; in fact from a full shutdown to command line (without errors due to not shutting the thing down properly) took around 15 seconds, with the LXDE GUI up within another 18 seconds – it really was as easy as pie as you can see in the video below.

Once up and running it’s Linux as you may or may not know (and love). From there you can do anything you like, such as use a lightweight browser like Midori to view webpages, although some java heavy sites will take a while to load. Gizmodo UK loaded up pretty quick – the Pi performs about as fast as an iPhone 3GS would.

The board is a basic computer, but it’s also very similar what’s in most phones. It might be missing a radio and a camera at the moment, but this is about as close as you can get in a homebrew environment to the process that mobile phone manufacturers go through when designing, building and optimising software on their new phones.

The board itself feels pretty robust, drawing about 2W of power over a microUSB connector, and only got as warm as your average smartphone does under pretty heavy load. At just £22 for the model B board, this isn’t the holy grail of a net-top replacement out-of-the-box, though it might just give a Smart TV a run for its money. Those looking to turn it into something specific will have all the power they need for basic tasks, programing, and video thanks to the GPU’s hardware acceleration. You're limited to using the SD card to boot from though; you won’t be able to boot from a USB flash drive. But you can hook up a powered USB hub, and add as much USB-based storage as your Linux distro can handle.

Anyone familiar with Linux will be instantly at home, but for those who aren’t as open source-savvy, the Element14 and Raspberry Pi communities will be there to help. Basically, once you’ve bought it, you’re definitely not alone, which is great news for those of us who are just starting out in all this. Element14 is attempting to put together a Raspberry Pi community to handle everything from the experienced hacker to the novice Pi-buyer, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re keen on using the Pi.

As for shipping, those with pre-orders will get them as soon as they’re produced. Raspberry Pi is handling the manufacturing of these first batches to make sure they’re all perfect, with some back-orders shipping any minute now. Unfortunately the demand, like anything new and shiny, is outstripping supply, so you might have a bit of a wait till you can get your grubby little mitts on them -- apparently it could be another month or more.

In the meantime, check out our rough-and-ready boot-up video below produced by yours truly (apologies it's not up to our usual standard, but the video team was all tied up with something called the new iPad). And don't forget you can busy yourself by trying to print a case for your incoming Pi while you're waiting, and seeing what all the fuss is about on the Element14 and Raspberry Pi boards. Personally, I can't wait to see what Android's like on this thing, but here are five more ideas of what to cobble together if you're lucky enough to get a slice.