Having had quite a lot of spare time on my hands recently, I’ve been checking out some of the recent posts in social media regarding the Raspberry Pi. One of the things I’ve noticed is a number of articles questioning whether or not the Raspberry Pi really is, as is commonly claimed, a cheap (sub £35) computer. Many of these articles attempt to effectively debunk this claim by arguing that because of all the extra bits and pieces required (e.g. mouse, keyboard, monitor/TV, HDMI cable, micro SD card, power supply, WiFi dongle/Ethernet cable, etc.) you effectively have to spend a lot more than the £35 price tag of the Raspberry Pi in order to get it working.
Now I’ve never been one to get all political, or for jumping on soap boxes, but I do genuinely believe that it is possible to get your Raspberry Pi up and running for very little more than the basic price of the Pi itself. If you don’t believe me, read on.
Although for many typical configurations of the Raspberry Pi, it is useful to have a separate keyboard, mouse and monitor or TV, these items are by no means essential since it is still possible to setup and use your Pi without any of these items by means of a virtual desktop. Clearly, in order to do this, it will be necessary to have access to either a laptop or desktop computer of some sort, but arguably unless you’re a complete Luddite or technophobe, you’ll have one or other of these anyway.
So, let’s take it as read that one of the essentials for setting up your Pi is either a laptop or desktop computer. However, apart from that, there are actually very few essential items. The only other things that you do actually require are:-
- Micro SD card – these are fairly cheap and readily available, so no big deal. There’s some good advice regarding choice of micro SD card at the following link – https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/installation/sd-cards.md
- Power supply – most people will have one of these anyway, since they are commonly used to charge many modern mobile phones. If you don’t have one, you’ll very likely have a USB to micro USB cable which you could simply plug into a USB socket on your laptop/desktop in order to supply power to your Pi. Power instability can sometimes be a bit of an issue for the Raspberry Pi, but the following link gives some good guidelines and things to consider – https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/hardware/raspberrypi/power/README.md
- Ethernet cable – again, most computer people will probably have one or more of these knocking about somewhere. If not, these are easily available and cheap enough. You don’t need a particularly long one either; just long enough to connect from the Pi to your router (yes, OK, I am, of course, assuming that you have a router too).
So, assuming you’ve got all of these items, what comes next?
Well, the first thing is to download an up to date copy of the Raspbian operating system from the Raspberry Pi foundation web site.
Depending on your download speed, this may take some time; but be patient.
In order to install the Raspbian operating system onto your micro SD card (I’d suggest at least an 8GB card, but a 16GB card is probably better for the latest version of Raspbian), you will need to download some software to write the downloaded Raspbian image to the micro SD card. The following article describes the procedure for doing this:-
I have only ever done this from Windows, for which I have found Win32DiskImager to work perfectly; as described in the following:-
Once you’ve got your micro SD card imaged, the next step is to eject and remove the micro SD card from your computer and put the micro SD card into the card slot on the Pi. You’ll also need to connect the Pi to your Router by means of your Ethernet cable between the network connector on the Pi and a spare network port on your Router. Having done this, all you need to do is to connect your power supply to the Pi, and your Pi should very quickly be up and running and available to do some work.
As it stands, you won’t actually be able to do very much with your Raspberry Pi just yet; other than admire the flickering red and yellow LEDs on the board. However, bear with me as there’s still more to come.
One of the great things about the Raspbian operating system for the Raspberry Pi is that it has an SSH (Secure Shell) server running by default. This means that it is fairly straightforward to connect to a terminal session on your Pi from your laptop/desktop by means of an SSH client program. There are a number of good open source SSH clients available, but my personal SSH client of choice is PuTTY; available for free download at the following link:-
Further details on how to use SSH can be found at the following link:-
In order to connect to your Raspberry Pi using SSH, it will be necessary to know the IP address of your Pi on your network. It should be fairly easy to obtain this information by looking at your router’s list of network devices.
Once you know the IP address of your Pi, you can enter this information into your SSH client, and attach to your Pi. The following image shows how to do this using PuTTY.
Pressing the Open button will create a terminal session with the Pi:-
To log in to your Pi, enter the username ‘pi’ and password ‘raspberry’.
And there you have it; a terminal session with your Raspberry Pi which will allow you to do pretty much anything you need, without the need for a separate monitor, keyboard, mouse, HDMI cable, etc., etc.
For the time being this will only allow you enter terminal commands. However, another time we’ll take a look at how we can create a virtual desktop to the Raspberry Pi to use many of the other features available.