Hard to get
Since I’ve heard of the existence of the Raspberry Pi early this year I’ve been a great fan of it. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with this little gem. As a result the first couple of months it was nearly impossible to get your hands on one but by now production is on a par with demand. So you’ve probably managed to get one (or a couple, like me) and might be wondering what you’re going to do with it (or them). For some inspiration I’ll share my 10 favorite things you can do with you Raspberry Pi.
1. Media Center
One of the most obvious choices is to turn your Raspberry Pi into a media center. Its low power consumption combined with its great media playback capabilities make it a very attractive device for all your multimedia needs. To good news is that one of the best media center packages, XBMC, runs very nicely on the Raspberry Pi.
There are a few XBMC versions you can run on the Raspberry Pi but I would suggest going for OpenELEC which has a very low footprint, is easy to install and performs really well. It will give you full HD video playback, support for all modern surround sound formats and a highly configurable user interface. As a bonus you get AirPlay support so you can play video and audio straight from your Apple devices. Not bad for a device that costs less than an HDMI adapter for your iPad or iPod.
If you decide to give XBMC a try you should check out this guide which shows how to get the most out of XBMC on the Raspberry Pi.
2. Learn To Program Computers
This is what the inventors of the Raspberry Pi originally had in mind when developing the hardware. It was meant to become a platform for teaching students and other enthusiasts to learn to program in languages like Python. With some great tutorials around to be found on the web it is easy and fun to control the indication leds of the Pi or control other hardware via the GPIO interface.
3. Scan and Print Server
Commercial scan and print server can be pretty expensive but you can easily build your own Raspberry Pi power printer and scan server. With some additional hardware and a bit of python you can add features like one-push-to-Dropbox-scanning, copying documents and a whole lot of other cool things.
4. Old Skool Game Console
Who can’t remember the fun they had playing video games on a Nintendo (S)NES? Wouldn’t it be fun to play those games again on your TV again every now and then? With a few good emulators and lots of instructions how to connect old skool gamepads to your Pi you can have the same experience as you did way back and see if your still any good at those golden oldies.
5. Write Your Own Raspberry Pi Operating System
Ever imagined writing your own operating system like Linus Torvalds did? Yes, writing a fully operational OS will take a lot of computer knowledge and lots of your precious time. But with the excellent tutorials provided freely by the University of Cambridge it is quite easy to write software that boots your Raspberry Pi and runs some program. It may not be a fully functional OS but writing and running programs on the bare metal of your Pi will be a great experience.
6. Use It As A Small Linux Machine
Yes, this little bugger can run full Linux distributions like Raspbian Wheezy or Arch Linux which can be found at the RapsberryPi.org download section. Don’t expect Intel i7 performance but it is usable for trivial tasks and (very) light web browsing. So maybe not a desktop replacement but at least you should try a Linux distribution once because it is cool to just see it boot into X.
7. Home Automation
With the GPIO pins and the available Gertboard it is pretty straightforward to connect your Raspberry Pi to existing home automation solutions or build your own from scratch. With home automation combined with the power of the Raspberry Pi creates a very powerful system that could intelligently control all things in your house or let you control things remotely across your network (or even the internet).
Ever since hardware was small and energy efficient enough to run of car batteries, people tried to cram computers into their cars to service as multimedia system, car automation and navigation. The Raspberry Pi is a gift of the gods for those people. Lots of multimedia power and all the inputs and outputs you need in a small, low power consuming package makes it the ideal piece of kit for a carputer. Attached to a touchscreen and your on board audio system (and you car electronics interface) and the possibilities are nearly endless.
9. Low Power Render Farm/ Super Cluster
Okay, I have to admit, this great super computer build out of 64 Raspberries built by the university of Southampton is probably not a project you will attempt at home. Still it is really cool to see how they build and configured this massive cluster which runs of just one 13 Amps power supply. Maybe a smaller version with around 4 devices would be more realistic for the average home user and would still be a lot of fun to experiment with.
10. SSH/VNC Gateway
Connecting to your home network from anywhere on the planet can be really useful. Whether you use it to access your files or start some task on one of your computers, remote access can be really helpful at times. Instead of having a desktop computer running (and consuming a lot of power) all the time you could use the Raspberry Pi as your always-on gateway machine and from there connect to other devices in your home network.