• Maplin Raspberry Pi Board and Starter Kit

    Ever since I heard about the Raspberri Pi, I had been hoping to buy one to start tinkering with. Not because I want to learn how to write software (I already do that as a day job), but more because I am intrigued by what something so small can be capable of. Essentially, it’s a computer on a credit-card-sized circuit board.

    When the device was first released, there were many reports of how certain accessories just did not work, including power supplies which could not supply the correct voltage and SD cards which could not be read. There is a site which helpfully lists many devices which are compatible with the Pi, but for those who do not want to have to trouble themselves trawling through the lists, Maplin helpfully now sells a starter kit with a Raspberry Pi main board. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the Pi itself has been available for sale on the high street in the UK.

    Price:

    The most notable aspect of this bundle is probably the price. £69.99 seems rather expensive for this kit, when the Pi costs £30 delivered from RS. The accessories included with the Pi in the Maplin kit are hardly top-of-the-range components, but there are three main reasons why you would expect the price to be a little higher:

    1. The components are guaranteed to work
    2. You are getting the device without having to wait for stock to arrive (7 weeks on RS at the time of writing)
    3. Maplin will no-doubt want to carve a profit margin out for themselves

    The bundle from Maplin includes the following items:

    • Raspberry Pi Model B
    • USB mains adaptor with 1.5m USB A to Micro B cable
    • 4GB Class 6 Transcend SD card (pre-loaded with OS)
    • Mains-powered 4 port USB hub (As a side note, I have successfully booted the Pi powered from the hub.)
    • USB keyboard and mouse
    • N150 WiFi nano dongle
    • HDMI Cable

    Initially, my thoughts were that I would not bother with the higher price of the device at Maplin. Items such as the Transcend card are pretty basic (cheap) and my previous experience with Transcend has not been good. It was once I had started to price up compatible components that I decided £70 not to be too steep. With everything I wanted (minus the keyboard and mouse), I was looking at an overall cost of £60 and a wait-time of 7 weeks for the Pi itself. Here is a list of example items which I priced up on Amazon (all are verified to work on Raspberry Pi devices):

    Whilst it may be possible to get items cheaper, based on that price list I came up with a rough total of a little over £60 for everything.

    OS and Software Add-ons:

    The SD card supplied comes “Pre-loaded with the latest pre-approved O/S“. I gave this a go – mainly to see the device working and to make sure that the various supplied components worked. I was able to connect to WiFi networks with no problems whatsoever.

    I was particularly interested in trying to load XBMC onto the device to see how capable it would be running as a media centre / video streamer. The process of doing this was very simple (though it required a wired connection to the Pi). I followed the set of instructions on the Raspbmc site to get the installation image on the SD card which then installs the OS once the SD card is booted on the Pi. The process was very smooth, and once booted in I was able to install BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Demand 5 and ITV player. As a quick test, I was able to stream live TV on BBC iPlayer.

    General Installation Instructions:

    The process for installing each of the above services is very similar, so I’ll cover it in one section. Firstly, you will need to get each of the applications downloaded onto the Pi. I did this using a terminal on another machine and had SSH’ed into the Pi (if you are using Windows, use PuTTY). I found out the latest version for each of the applications via the following links (use the download button to the left of each version to get the link):

    Once you have the link for each of the applications, you need to download the files. I did this using wget, for example:

    wget http://xbmc-iplayerv2.googlecode.com/files/iPlayer-v2.4.17.zip

    This will download a zip for each of the applications into the folder you are currently in (I was in the home folder). Once downloaded, perform the following steps for each of the applications using the Raspbmc interface:

    • Navigate to the System section and select Settings.
    • Click on Add-ons
    • Select “Install from zip file”
    • Select the “Home folder” (or wherever you saved the zips) and then click on a zip file.
    • Repeat this for each application.

    Once I had installed the apps, they then appeared in the Video section under the Add-ons menu. I needed to reboot the device, but after that was able to watch BBC iPlayer live. I have not yet tested other installs.

    Other Operating Systems:

    There are a number of operating systems available for the Pi and I have not had the chance to try them – as I do, I’ll probably write up some articles on this blog (updating this post to point to them). My intention is to get a number of SD cards, saving on having to reinstall from scratch every time. I am particularly interested in the idea of running Android.

    WiFi on Raspbmc:

    The WiFi adaptor seems to work out of the box on Raspbmc, however native WiFi support on the current release version does not seem all that great. There is a network configuration app which can be installed but I tested compatibility using terminal first.

    Whilst SSH’ed in, I typed the following into the terminal:

    Check the device status:

    %nmcli dev 
    eth0 802-3-ethernet connected 
    wlan0 802-11-wireless disconnected

    Scan for WiFi access points:

    %nmcli dev wifi list

    This showed a list of access points including my own. If you don’t see anything it could be that the drivers for your device have not been installed. Note thatI was using the nano dongle supplied as part of the Maplin starter kit. Seeing the list of networks was enough to convince me that the nano dongle worked without the need for more drivers.

    Following this, I installed the network manager (in Programmes -> Add-ons) and managed to configure the WiFi. I did try and configure the WiFi initially on the terminal using a guide I found online. I was unable to get the connection working and found that after installing Network-Manager I found the Pi no longer able to scan for networks (including on the command line).

    Updates:

    As I continue to play around with the Pi, I’ll provide updates to this post or may start a new post. Any new and related posts will be linked to by this post. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. I’ll do my best to answer them, but as I have not owned a Pi for very long, I’m not sure how much help I will be.

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