Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I just got my Raspberry Pi. Now what?

I recently bought the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. When it showed up at my doorstep I had no idea how to get started. Most online tutorials jumped straight into beginner projects, but you need to set up and configure the Pi before you can do anything with it. So here goes.

The Raspberry Pi literally comes as just a motherboard, so most likely you'll want to get it as part of a Raspberry Pi "kit" that includes a charger, cables, protective case, and SD Card. Don't spend more than $50 total.

It will look like this...

Now, before we can do anything with the Pi, we have to give it an operating system. For Windows users, download the free Win32DiskImager, and unzip it to your computer. Then, download Raspbian which is the official operating system for Raspberry Pi, and unzip that to your computer as well.

The next step is to open that Disk Imager program, click the blue folder icon, go find your Raspbian image file, and click to "Write" it to your SD card (which you should've put in your computer's SD card reader).

Believe it or not, you're almost finished. The only remaining task is to put that SD card into your Raspberry Pi and turn the Pi on.

Here is definitely something important to be aware of, though.  The first time you break out your Raspberry Pi and want to install your Raspbian operating system, you MUST connect your Pi to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard.  You'll only need to do this the first time you use it, but it's an unavoidable step.  You can't use a laptop either.  Without realizing this, after getting my Pi in the mail, I then had to wait a few days, bring the Pi into my office at work, take over a colleague's USB mouse and keyboard for an hour, and finally (and this was the real challenge) I had to find a monitor that not only used an HDMI cable but also had the right adapter for that HDMI cable (the adapter with the cord didn't work for some still-unknown reason).

But here's the good news... even though hooking the Pi up to a mouse, keyboard and monitor the first time can be a pain, once they're all connected and you simply power it on, the operating system automatically loads, and just like that you have a new pocket-sized computer.

You're totally finished and ready to experiment with all of those beginner Raspberry Pi projects that you see all over the Web.

One last thing, which is optional but highly recommended.  As of now, your Pi is 100% ready to use, but you still need it connected to a keyboard, mouse, and monitor whenever you want to do something with it.  Why not make it "headless"?

To make your Pi headless, you just need to set up some type of Remote Desktop program so that your laptop or main computer can take control of your Pi when you want it to and give you an interface.

I recommend the VNC Viewer.  While your Pi is still hooked up to a monitor, boot it up. What's nice is that the VNC Server software is already built in to Raspbian, so all you need to do is click on Menu > Preferences > Raspberry Pi Configuration > Interfaces, and then click to Enable VNC.  You should also double-click on the VNC Server icon on the top-right of the desktop screen and take note of your IP address. Reboot your Pi. You can now disconnect the mouse, keyboard, and monitor.

Your Pi is headless, so when you want to control it from your laptop or main computer, download and install the VNC Viewer software linked to above, then simply click to Create New Connection and enter your Raspberry Pi's IP address.  It will display a nice Raspbian interface for your Pi so you'll never need to connect those external pieces of hardware again.

You're off to the races!  My first few projects... 1) Turn the Pi into a Web server, 2) turn it into a Minecraft gaming server, 3) turn it into a RetroPi gaming console, and 4) turn it into a Kodi device for use with my TV.



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