For the last six months all of my home computing has been done on a $35 computer called the Raspberry Pi. My family and I have surfed the web, checked my email, written articles, run this website, done graphic design work, run accounting software, used spreadsheets too large for Google Drive to run, planned vacations, played games, done online classes, done homework, run 4 side businesses, and did my taxes. Just about anything you would want your computer to do. In this review we will look at whether the $35 Raspberry Pi is right for you, what it can and cannot do, and what you need to do to make it work.
This is some kind of clickbait scam, right?
I realize when I make a claim like you can get a home computer for $35 I have created a credibility problem, so let’s start by fixing that credibility problem.
Let’s start by thinking about the 3rd generation Moto G Republic Wireless phone I reviewed last year. That phone cost $150 and had similar specs to the Raspberry Pi. The Moto G was a perfectly fine phone that had plenty of computing power to run all the programs you needed it to run. It had 1 GB of RAM that ran at 1.4 Ghz. The Raspberry Pi is comparible in power with 1 RAM that runs at 1.2 Ghz.
So take your $150 Moto G and take away the most expensive part of it, the touch screen. Then take away the 2nd and 3rd most expensive parts, the 2 cameras it is equipped with. Then take away the the 4th most expensive part, the battery. Then take away the microphone, the cell antennae, the speakers, the FM radio, the accelerometer, the case, the software and the operating system. What you have left is a computer board, a couple of chips, a wifi antennae, and a couple of inputs, which is pretty much what a Raspberry Pi is.
So if you take a $150 phone, take away all the expensive parts, plus most of the other parts as well does it seem reasonable that the device I just described might cost as little as $35? Good. It’s not too good to be true, and it’s not a scam.
Should the Raspberry Pi be your home computer?
The Raspberry Pi was never meant to be your primary home computer. It was meant to be a learning tool for kids to learn computing and programming, and for hobbyists to have a cheap computer to experiment with on whatever creative projects they can come up with.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean it can’t be used as your home computer though. As i stated above, I have used one for the last 6 months as my home computer and it has done everything I needed it to do. However, it doesn’t do everything everybody needs it to do. Here are the things it can’t do:
- It can’t run Windows- If you absolutely have to use windows you are out of luck. But do you really need windows? If there is specific software you use that can only be installed on windows, then you need windows. I don’t really need Windows. The Raspberry Pi runs a simple version of an operating system called Linux with everything I need. It has a microsoft office clone with, a word processor, a spreadsheet, a powerpoint clone, and a graphic editing program that are almost 100% compatible with Microsoft files.It has a browser that runs all the programs I need it to run. It has a simple operating system that isn’t windows, but is similar enough to windows that you will be able to run with almost no learning curve if you already know windows. Because almost all the programs I run anymore are in a browser, this is everything I need.
- Additional software can be installed, but you will certainly have less options than with a Windows machine, and you will probably find the software harder to install. I myself haven’t needed to install any additional software. The Office clone and browser are all I have needed.
- It can’t run high powered games or other software- If you want to play the latest games, the Raspberry Pi isn’t for you. It just doesn’t have the computing power or the graphics capabilities to run modern games or other high powered software. I didn’t say you can’t play any games. I play a lot of games on the Raspberry Pi, but they are older games that a nostalgic 40 year old would enjoy.
- It isn’t very good at playing video- You can watch youtube videos, but that is about it. No Netflix, no hulu, and no other streaming TV services. If you do a google search or two you will find articles about how the Raspberry PI makes a great media device for watching video, but don’t believe it. I have tried that program and I think it is junk. It’s for people who really know what they are doing, and is inferior in every way to all the other devices in your house that play video. So when I want to watch a video I watch it on my TV, Ipad, or phone, and leave the Raspberry Pi for computing stuff.
Who could use the Raspberry Pi for their home computer?
The Rasberry Pi is normally used by computer geeks and people who really know what they are doing, but don’t let that fool you. It is simple to use and can work as a home computer if your needs are simple. If you don’t need to install much software, and do all of your work either in Microsoft Office or a browser I think you will get along just fine.
What do you need?
Because the Raspberry Pi is sold as just a bare bones computer board with a couple of inputs you might need to buy a few things to make it work. Chances are you will have some of this stuff laying around your house, but you will probably need to buy a few things besides the Pi. All links to Amazon are affiliate links, see disclosure below. Here is what you need:
The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
– $35 on Amazon. There are a couple different versions and some are cheaper than $35, but if you are going to use this as a home computer I think you want the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B.
– The Pi doesn’t come with a power supply. Although the power supply looks like your phone charger, there is a decent chance you don’t have a charger laying around your house that is powerful enough and will need to buy one. Look at the label on the charger for the voltage and the amperage. Look for the part of the label that says something like:
DC Output: +5V 2.5A
The 5V means it puts out 5 volts, and the 2.5A means it puts out 2.5 Amps. You want the volts to be at least 5 and the Amps to be 2.5. Chances are an everyday phone charger won’t be powerful enough but if you have a device that is made to power multiple USB cords at once you might just be in luck. I tried to cheat a little and use a charger with 2.1 amps instead of 2.5 and found my Pi ran slower than it should have.
A USB keyboard
– Many people will have one of these laying around the house already.
A USB mouse
– Just like the keyboard, any mouse will do as long as it connects to a computer through a USB.
If you need both a mouse and a keyboard you can get them bundled $20 for wireless.
A monitor with a HDMI input
– You can also use an old TV with HDMI inputs, which is what I do. If you don’t have an old TV or monitor that will work I recommend checking garage sales or Craigslist where a monitor can often be had for around $20. If you absolutely have no other options you can get a new monitor from Amazon for around $90.
– If you don’t have one already check your local thrift store. My local thrift store sells them for $1. A new one costs $6 on Amazon.
– You don’t need this. It is included in many of the packages but according to the makers of the Raspberry Pi under most conditions this isn’t necessary. One came with the package I bought, but I didn’t even bother to install it.
– The Pi has no internal hard drive, so the operating system and all your data live on a SD card that can easily be removed. The minimum size is 8GB and the max is 32 GB. If you don’t already have one Amazon has a 8GB micro SD card for $8.
– The Pi itself is just a bare computer board, so you are going to want to put it in something protective. Here is your chance to be creative, do a google search and you will find relatively easy plans showing you how to make your own case from wood, cardboard, or even legos. 3d printing is also an option. If you are boring like me, just can just buy a case for $8 from Amazon.
Chances are you will need some of this stuff but have some of the stuff already, so Amazon has different packages available, hopefully 1 has the combination of what you need.
Pi, Charger, and Case, for $50– This is the package I bought.You basically get a charger and case for $15, which seems like a deal.
Pi, Charger, SD card, and Case, for $57- For $7 they throw in a SD card. This SD card is preloaded with the software you need so it saves you just a little bit of time.
Pi, Charger, Case, SD card, and HDMI cord for $70– So this basically adds a HDMI cord for $13. You could buy them separate for less. I’m not a fan of this bundle. I don’t think this SD card is even preloaded like the above bundle.
Pi and Charge for $42- If you want to make your own case this is just $8 extra for the charger. Not bad.
Setting up your Pi takes a little time, but you can do it. It really isn’t very hard. Just follow the instructions that come with your Pi and you’ll be up and running quickly.
Other stuff you can do with your Pi
You can also turn your Pi into a retro game console which is way better than one of those overpriced retro NES or SNES consoles Nintendo is selling like hotcakes. The best part is you don’t even need to buy another Pi. Just buy another Micro SD card and you can switch out SD cards to turn your Pi from a computer to a game machine and back. I’ll write more about this later.
Other projects you can do with your pi are limited only by your imagination. Make your own tablet, dashcam, baby monitor, or any number of other things. I like to browse reddit.com/r/raspberrypi for ideas.
The prices stated in this article were accurate as of the time this article was written, but prices might have changed since that time. It is my opinion that the items linked were the best deal available on Amazon at the time this article was written, but that too might have changed. All links to Amazon are affiliate links. 10% of all revenue generated from affiliate links is donated to a charity chosen annually by readers of artofbeingcheap.com.