I frequently get emails from people asking how they get started with the Raspberry Pi. So, I’ve taken one of my responses and turned it into this page. I hope it’s useful. If you’ve got anything to add, please leave a comment and I’ll see about adding it. Remember, this is for beginners so suggestions that are too advanced will get rejected. I’m hoping, however, that this will be a very “open” document that will grow. So, here goes…
What is the Raspberry Pi and why should I bother?
The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer. You plug in an SD card (which contains the operating system), a keyboard, a mouse and a monitor and you’re all set!
The Pi was designed to help people, especially children, learn how to program/code and to understand electronics. In our modern age of devices, gadgets and whizzy things, it is important to know how they work, not just how to use them. We have become a society of technology users rather than technology creators – the Pi was designed to get people interested in creating again. If you, or your son/daughter, has ever shown an interest in technology (and let’s face it, these days who hasn’t?) then getting them a Pi and helping them to learn coding and learn how technology works is key to their survival in the wider world.
What do I need?
- a Raspberry Pi (make sure you get the Raspberry Pi 4, which is the newest one. A 2GB one will do for starters)
- a USB keyboard and mouse (I like the official one as it’s got a USB hub built-in)
- a power supply
- a microSD card (16GB or larger, I suggest getting a NOOBS card)
- an HDMI monitor or television (or a different monitor with the correct cable or adapter). Lots of vendors have these – shop around. eBuyer is pretty good if you’re in the UK.
- an ethernet cable (for a wired connection to your router) or you can use the wifi connection on-board the Pi 4 (or Pi 3).
Where do I buy a Pi?
Now that I’ve got the Pi, how do I make it work?
The first thing you’ll need to do is to download and install an ‘image’ of the operating system. This is the file that you will write or ‘burn’ to your SD card. The easiest way of doing it is to get hold of ‘NOOBS’ which makes the process easier. Read the Foundation’s guide to getting NOOBS and installing it here. Once you’ve got the operating system onto the SD card, insert it into the Pi and away you go. Read the Foundation’s quick start guide here – this will tell you how to login, amongst other things.
Now what can I do with it?
You can do many things with a Pi that you can do with a regular computer, like a laptop or desktop machine. There is a vast number of different software ‘packages’ available that can be installed. Before you get to that, though, you will find that there are several great software packages pre-installed. Among these are:
- Scratch – a visual programming environment aimed at primary school children.
- Minecraft Pi Edition – a version of Minecraft that you can hack through Python as well as just play around and build structures.
- Sonic Pi – use computer code to compose music.
- Python – a text-based programming language suitable for slightly older children and adults.
- Mathematica – an industry-standard computational platform suitable for older programmers (or those with specific requirements).
Any tutorials or guides available?
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has published a series of guides to help get you started with the Pi:
What books and magazines are available?
- For a general overview when you’re getting started
Adventures in Raspberry Pi by Carrie Anne Philbin (make sure you get the second edition) This is THE book to have, as far as I’m concerned (here’s my review of the first edition). It’s sort of a mini course in using the Raspberry Pi from first principles of setting it up and turning it on. Buy it from Amazon.
- If you want to learn to program from the perspective of a game
Adventures in Minecraft by David Whale and Martin O’Hanlon. Just a brilliant book (with the same design aesthetic as the Philbin book) that shows you how to hack the Pi’s special version of Minecraft. Really goes down well with kids as it takes place in a three-dimensional world onscreen that many kids are already familiar with. Buy it from Amazon.
- For when you want to start with Python
Learning Python with Raspberry Pi by Bradbury and Everard – for when you get onto Python programming properly, this is that ‘next step’. Another great book. Buy it from Amazon.
- For when you want a magazine
The main magazine for the Raspberry Pi is The MagPi. It was started by a group of enthusiasts and was then taken over by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Since the takeover it has increased in size and improved greatly in quality (and it was already pretty good to begin with). It is always available for free electronically from the website and from the end of July 2015 you can get it in print form.
- Other magazine options are:
How do I get started with experimenting with electronics on the Pi?
Are there any good websites for beginners?
- For LOADS of free resources, go to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s website.
- For when you’re beginning and you want videos … take a look at Raspberry Pi IV Beginners and also The Raspberry Pi Guy.
- For inspiration for projects, keep an eye on my blog – I post several times a day about things to do with the Pi and there’s lots of project ideas and news on there.
- For when you’re a bit further down the line, there’s a lot of good stuff on RasPi.TV.
Are there any training courses or workshops I can go on?
Where can I find out about the camera module?
How do I get started with robotics?
What about HATs?
HATs are “Hardware Attached on Top”, or attachable circuit boards. There are many available, but here are some of the better, more fun & flexible ones:
- RasPiO ProHAT – a great idea from Alex Eames. This puts all the GPIO pins in the correct order and gives you a small breadboard to help you build circuits. There’s a lot of protection built-in and I think it’s especially great for beginners.
- ExplorerHAT Pro – this is an excellent one with lots of capabilities, including analog input allowing you to connect up lots of different sensors (which themselves are very cheap if you get them from China) and motor controller pins. They’re the ones used currently by the Raspberry Pi Foundation at their Picademy.
- PianoHAT – this is a fantastic music-focused HAT which has touch pads to allow you to play an electronic piano. The buttons are read in as inputs by the Raspberry Pi and then interpreted and the correct sound ‘sample’ played out via the audio port on the Pi. You’ll also need headphones or a speaker (I recommend this one: http://thepihut.com/products/mini-portable-speaker-for-the-raspberry-pi – it’s powerful, small and rechargeable).
- TrafficHAT – if you want simple and cheap, you can’t go wrong. It has 3 super-sized LEDs, a buzzer and a button and is suitable for kids just starting out with the GPIO. You learn about input and output and you can progress to programming a complete traffic lights sequence.
- SenseHAT – this is a fantastic HAT created by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It has lots of sensors on-board and an 8×8 LED matrix. It is currently being prepped to go up to the International Space Station in December. It’s not the cheapest but it is well worth the money due to the on-board capabilities.
If you get into real trouble with getting started, you can post to the Raspberry Pi Forums. It can be a bit daunting posting something publicly, though, and if that’s the case, you can reach me directly by using this contact form. I’m online 90% of the time and will try and get back to you quickly!