To many of us South Africans, the Raspberry Pi is something only for computer geeks, computer engineers, guys, people who know their electronics, established hobbyists or people from the USA. Although this is true, the Raspberry Pi is also available, locally, in South Africa! These are the things you’ll need for your first Raspberry Pi build.
What you’ll need
- Raspberry Pi board
- Power supply
- MicroSD card
- MicroSD card reader
- The operating system for the Raspberry Pi
- Keyboard & mouse
- HDMI cable & screen
- Network cable (optional)
- Case (optional)
- USB Wi-Fi dongle (optional)
The Raspberry Pi board
At the time of updating this post, there are a couple of Raspberry Pi Models available. The models can be categorised into the Raspberry Pi A-models, B-models, Compute Models and the Raspberry Pi Zero-models. For beginners, I would recommend sticking to the newest B-model.
All the B-models looks almost identical in form, but the latest versions are considered top of the range with most features. They are also, as with previous versions, priced at U$35 (around ZAR500). The prices of older B-models might drop as newer versions appear. I most commonly order my Raspberry Pis from RS-online, but BangGood and Amazon.com also have the original version.
The power supply
The Raspberry Pi board needs 5V dc power supply which is capable of supplying at least 1.2A (1 200mA). The total amperage required depends on what and how many peripherals are hooked up to it. It is strongly recommended to get a reputable power supply capable of supplying 2 – 2.5A.
The power supply connects to the Raspberry Pi’s micro-USB socket. RS Components once again comes to the rescue when looking for a proper, original Raspberry Pi power supply. The official Raspberry Pi power supplies (2 000 mA or 2 500mA) costs around ZAR120 and will do the trick. BangGood also has some 2.5 A power supplies for less than half the price.
The MicroSD card
As with all computers, the Raspberry Pi board needs primary storage space – of which the most important function is to store the operating system. Additional space can always be added later on. The Raspberry Pi comes standard with a MicroSD card slot.
The guys at RaspberryPi.org recommend a MicroSD card with at least 8GB of space. It is also recommended to get hold of the fastest card available, i.e. Class 10 or faster. Because MicroSD cards are fairly cheap (selling new for about ZAR100) and easily interchangeable, it is recommended to get a few at the same time.
Loot and Takealot very often have great discounts on MicroSD cards under their camera sections. Although not always the case, BangGood might have some deals on MicroSD cards that are worth their price.
The MicroSD card reader
A MicroSD card reader is needed to copy the operating system onto the SD card. If you don’t already have a built-in card reader on a PC or laptop or PC, you’ll also need an external MicroSD card reader. External SD card readers are connected to a PC via one of the USB ports. If used correctly, the PC will simply see the card reader as one of its drives.
There are many options available. Some card readers will only be able to read SD/MicroSD cards, while others have slots for a variety of card sizes. My experience with the HAMA External USB 2.0 Card Reader for Various Card Types for about ZAR200, from RS Online, has been a good one. BangGood also offers a range of significantly cheaper card readers.
The operating system (OS)
The Raspberry Pi board will need commands to function. The commands are determined by the operating system (OS) which is copied onto the MicroSD card. Most of the popular operating systems are Linux-based, incl. Raspbian, OpenELEC, etc. Although there are many certified Raspberry Pi operating systems available, Raspbian is probably one of the better ones for beginners.
Most of the better, certified Raspberry Pi operating systems are open source and free to download. Generally, operating systems are copied onto a MicroSD card as a .img file.
The keyboard & mouse
Peripherals, such as a keyboard and mouse, can be connected via the Raspberry Pi’s multiple USB ports. The most basic peripheral needed is a keyboard, but if the graphic user interface (GUI) is going to be used, a USB mouse is also a must.
Any new or old USB keyboard and mouse will do. Out of the box, the Raspberry Pi is also capable of using a wireless keyboard and mouse. These peripherals can be obtained fairly cheaply from your local PC shop, Amazon.com or BangGood.
The HDMI cable & screen
Unfortunately (or fortunately), starting with the second generation Raspberry Pi boards, there are only a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connection port to connect to a display. Because the output resolution of the Raspberry Pi is on the lower side, the quality of the cable is less important.
The screen can be anything from an old PC monitor to a flatscreen TV. If a screen does not have an HDMI input, various connectors are available to make it work. HDMI cables and screens and are available from a local PC shop, Takealot, Loot, Game and Makro. HDMI cables are also available from BangGood.
The network cable (optional)
Being able to connect a Raspberry Pi board to a network (or the internet) significantly increases its functionality. Although, technically, not a requirement, it definitely comes highly recommended.
The Raspberry Pi has an Ethernet port, ready to connect to a local area network (LAN). Although the third generation Raspberry Pi’s also have on-board Wi-Fi connectivity, a wired network might also be your style. Any standard Ethernet cat5/cat6 cable can be used and are available from local PC shops, Takealot, Loot and BangGood.
Using a Raspberry Pi model 3, it can be connected to a Wi-Fi network in almost no time. Earlier models will need a USB Wi-Fi dongle (see below).
Other optional accessories
The Raspberry Pi case
Just like any computer, the Raspberry Pi board needs some protection. Apart from protection, the case is also something to show off with, or to make the Raspberry Pi fit into its surroundings.
There are many type, shape, colour and form variations available in South Africa. One thing to look out for is to make sure the case is designed for the model used. RS Online has a few official Raspberry Pi cases to choose from. Seeing that the Raspberry Pi case is generally just a piece of plastic, nice, cheaper generic cases can also be ordered from BangGood.
USB Wi-Fi dongle
In the case of a Raspberry Pi model 2 (or earlier), a USB Wi-Fi dongle can be used to connect wirelessly. Edimax has a nice range of USB Wi-Fi dongles, but any general Wi-Fi dongle can be used.