Raspberry Pi - first hands on moment

Opening the miniscule box that the Raspberry Pi comes in (if it were a plug computer it would challenge them all in the size stakes) myself and those around me at work started making the obligatory “ooo” and “aahh” noises.

Getting the Raspberry Pi up and running was fairly straightforward with but two almost-scary moments and one “D’oh!”. Here goes:

I had ordered the RPi complete with micro USB power supply and HDMI cable from RS via a special link and code that they emailed me. Choosing to provide an HDMI rather than VGA or DVI socket was a stroke of genius by the creators of the RPi as it will plug into and auto-configure to your HD HDMI TV (or HDMI monitor, or DVI monitor with an HDMI->DVI converter). Remember: this is for “Home computing” in its original context, from back when we were plugging our Sinclair ZX81 or Commodore Amiga 500s/1200s into our TVs instead of monitors. Talking of which, the RPi also includes a composite video output for non-HDMI TV owners - good show!

For storage I bought a 4GB Transcend Class 6 SD card from Amazon.co.uk to install the OS onto. Now this may sound small by any modern standards, but again, having grown up with 1KB, 48KB and similar keeping things small seems natural to me. Plus after installing the OS and repartitioning the card (I chose the Debian download on offer at raspberrypi.org/downloads) there were still around 3GB of space left on the card. And in either case, I intend to attach an external 1TB hard disk containing all of my media. Oh, and if you are wondering: yes the RPi does come with a printed quick start instruction sheet from which I got the above OS install instructions. This guide is a great addition and takes one quickly from the initial “um I have a circuit board, how do I make it into a working computer?” stage to having a booted computer in no time (well, in reality it took me about 30 minutes).

Now, above I mentioned two almost-scary moments so I think I should highlight these now:

- Without an OS installed on the card I plugged in the power and HDMI, turned on the power supply and nothing was displayed on my monitor (which promptly went into standby). For a moment I had the “ouch it’s broken!” feeling, but then I decided not to rush so (I was hoping for some kind of BIOS screen to be shown) and installed the OS properly. This time, with the OS installed it booted perfectly. First boot was around 2 minutes with it sorting itself out. But after a shutdown and start it now comes up fully within about a minute. Marvellous, I have a working slice of Pi :)

- When disconnecting the HDMI cable there is a tendency to put one’s fingers over the HDMI port to provide leverage. BUT be careful: next to the HDMI port is a small silver capacitor (like a small silver tube sticking up from the circuit board), and as you put pressure on the board to pull the HDMI cable free your finger is likely to put pressure on that capacitor to the side (ie: pull HDMI cable “left” will result in a force of your finger to the “right”, straight on to that capacitor). This pressure is enough I found out to dislodge the capacitor slightly... mine now creaks a little bit and has a tiny wobble side to side. This kind of thing is going to be a potential issue for any caseless PC like the RPi, and I can understand why the capacitor is where it is (next to the power input micro USB port makes perfect sense), but it is something to watch out for. Luckily I did not break the board..!

Oh and did I mention a “D’oh!” too? I followed the OS installation instructions perfectly, or so I thought. But I forgot to run one the second command to resize the root partition on the SD card. Needless to say when my 4GB card was booted it still reckoned it was only providing a small amount of space to partition 2 (root). I popped out the card, put it back into my Asus Eee PC, ran these two commands again (the second was the one I missed last time, but you have to run both in sequence hence needing both again) and hey presto everything ran like clockwork:

$ sudo e2fsck -f /dev/sdd2
$ sudo resize2fs /dev/sdd2

And so I booted...

...and logged in...

...and issued the command startx...

...and my Pi was flying with the GUI up and running too :)
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