Computing stuff tied to the physical world

DIJN.05 – RPi in a nutshell

In Uncategorized on Feb 9, 2013 at 00:01

Welcome to the fifth instalment of Dive Into JeeNodes. Linux, anyone?

(Note: these instructions have been updated to use the Feb 9th Raspbian image)

The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer running Linux. What sets it apart from the others is its low cost and the fact that it was designed to be educational and hackable:


It’s really the Arduino story all over again, but for a different audience and with a completely different hardware and software underpinning. As a matter of fact, the “RPi” as it’s often called, can run the Arduino IDE on-board, which means these two platforms are really complementary in actual use.

The performance of this ARM board with on-board GPU is very impressive, but it’s no match for computers with a modern Intel processor (nor does it need to be, at that price!). As a ballpark figure, think of it as 1/10th to 1/20th the performance of a i5 or i7.

One way to use the RPi, is to hook up a USB keyboard and HDMI monitor, but in the context of DIJN, we’re really more interested in using this thing as a little server on the network. Note that a RPi can easily be used for both, and that all you need to handle different scenario’s is a couple of SD cards, each configured with the proper Linux system. You could also install a full GUI and still use it as a server, but the goal here is to start as simple as possible. There are already enough things to get to grips with as it is.

The Raspberry Pi Model B comes with built-in 10/100 MHz wired Ethernet, which is what will be used here. With a few extra steps, it’s also possible to plug in a WiFi dongle and connect to your in-house WLAN.

The main preparation needed, is to create an SD card with a Linux system on it. This is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, since the RPi cannot be used for it while it’s not yet up and running. Fortunately, the task is not too complicated, if you have a way to plug an SD card into your main Windows, Mac, or Linux workstation or laptop:

  1. Get a new SD card – 4 .. 8 Gb will be more than enough. There can be significant differences in performance between SD cards from different vendors, so if you’re keen on squeezing the max out of this setup, google for good choices. I’m getting excellent mileage out of Platinum’s 4 GB Class 10 SDHC cards.
  2. Download the latest SD image from here, which is based on Raspbian, i.e. Debian for the RPi. This is a 500 MB download. Unzip to get an SD “image” of just under 2 GB.
  3. Follow the instructions on this page, using the section which applies to your platform. You have to be careful, it’s possible to wipe-out your workstation / laptop hard drive if you make a mistake with disk names!

The end result is a bunch-of-bits, ready to make that little RPi board do fascinating things:


For the next step, you’re going to need a Raspberry Pi model B, a 5V power adapter with micro USB connector, and an Ethernet cable to hook it all up to your local network.


(This series of posts is also available from the Dive Into JeeNodes page on the Café wiki.)

PS – The DIJN.12 post has a link to a fully-configured Raspbian + HouseMon SD image.

  1. Very excited about this section. I’ve been mucking with my Pi lately, also just discovered that there is a RF12B board made for it! Costs 16 pounds though, which is a bit rough. Anyway, I’m looking forward to more updates on the Pi / JeeNode combination!

  2. What I would like to see when using the RPi with a Jeelink, is the ability to reboot the RPi and check for missed packets in the Jeelink’s ram.

    That way it should be possible to avoid missing packets.

    • Should be feasible, since RF12demo already saves packets in its flash memory. This will need some extra code to tap into the ‘r’ (replay) command, but it’s certainly an interesting idea.

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