It might not be edible, but for tech enthusiasts the Raspberry Pi is a tasty prospect. It's a low-cost, pocket-sized, bare bones computer with customisable hardware and software that you can use to make almost all of your wildest technical dreams come true. Home programmers and electronics enthusiasts have been buying up Raspberry Pi kits to build everything from home-automation systems to portable internet radios and personal computer servers.

Take a bite 

Although it can't compete with the power of even a small desktop computer, the Raspberry Pi's specs are impressive given its small size. It's designed to be customisable to do just about anything, but not everything all at once. The current Model B unit has two USB 2.0 ports, 512MB RAM, HDMI-out, audio-out and Ethernet. It's also Wi-Fi compatible, but doesn't have Wi-Fi built in, so you'll need to add a wireless adapter. The Pi's operating system (OS) runs from an SD card, so you can use different operating systems by simply plugging in a different card.

There are about 35 operating systems available for the Pi, most of which are based on Linux distributions. First-timers are encouraged to use the default OS, called Raspbian (an offshoot of the Debian variety of Linux) but you can dabble with different distributions (distros) from the same SD card using the New Out Of Box Software (NOOBS) kit available on the Raspberry Pi website. It brings together six of the best distros for beginners and advanced users into a single package.

Too many fingers, not enough Pi

Raspbian comes with all the basic software you need to get started, including a web browser and coding and scripting tools for beginners. It encourages experimentation, and if you make a mess of it, you just need to wipe the SD card and reinstall Raspbian or another distro for free.

Behind the Pi is a huge community of dedicated users who embrace the notions of free software and free information. There are hundreds of do-it-yourself projects available online, ranging from simple (by Linux standards) coding to hardcore modifications that require a serious understanding of microelectronics. Most of the community are seasoned Linux users, and it helps to know a few Linux basics before you take a bite, but you can learn as you go.

CHOICE Verdict

Even if you're not a technical type, there are a few easy-to-install options that most people could handle fairly easily, such as media software and even the popular game Minecraft. Raspbmc, a stripped-down version of the open source media centre XBMC, can turn your Pi into a portable media centre that fits into half a shoebox. The Pi is a tool that promotes education about electronics, Linux and computing and while it's a challenge, it can be a very rewarding one.


Price: $54.95 for Raspberry Pi Model B