Being a bit of a Linux nut, I set up a cheap always-on “Raspberry Pi” to acts as a web server, remote shell, mail server, git repo, and accounting software app. And here she is:
The “case” that you see is actually a plastic lunchbox with holes drilled into them, although I think I’ve seen breakfast cereal boxes used as cases. Surely it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to ACTUALLY use a dead badger as a case, and claim to be the first person in history to run Linux on a dead badger as a reality.
The lunchbox was free, of course. The Pi model B itself cost £30, and I did pay a £5 for some casing. Don’t get a model A if you want to set up Linux with networking. You’ll need an SD card, and the simplest solution is to buy a “NOOBS” version which has Raspbian (a hacked version of Debian) preloaded. There’s no point making things more difficult than they need to be. A 16G SDHC card cost me £12.
I heard that SD cards have longevity problems, so I decided to install the OS proper on a Kingston Tech DataTraveller USB 2 32G Flash Drive, cost £13. I was worried about the power draw of the flash drive, so I connected it via a POWERED pluggable 7 port high speed USB 2 hub, cost £20. I estimated that the flash drive is probably within the power draw tolerance of the Pi, but it’s likely to be cutting it close. At a push, you might want to dispense with the powered hub, or even the flash drive entirely.
You might also need additional cabling. Much of it is standard which you might be able to cobble together from your existing wiring. Be aware, though, I seem to have enough cables to open my own shop, but I still lacked the necessary stuff. A USB to micro USB will cost you about £3. If you have a digital cam, then you might already have a suitable cable. You’ll need some kind of video cable to set up the Pi initially. You’ve got two basic options: connect to a TV using an RF connector. A phono male to male video coaxial 1.2m cable will cost you £2 for just such a prupose. Alternatively, you can connect via HDMI to your monitor. I didn’t take a note of the price, but £2 sounds about right.
So, £40 will set you up with a nice little Linux Debian-derived machine, assuming you don’t opt or need anything else. You might be able to scrounge components elsewhere, or forgo them entirely. Don’t expect much grunt out of them, as the Pis are made from what is often considered an obsolete ARM chipset. They’ll make for a bad everyday desktop system. As a lightweight server, it works for perfectly adequately. Pis also have good graphics chips and can play videos, so it’s possible to set them up as properly functioning PVRs, I believe.
Could you do better than a Pi? Well, possibly.There’s a lot of competitors to choose from, and I can’t offer much in the way of insightful analysis. The Pi is the cheapest, and it depends if you are willing to pay a little more to get a little more grunt. The MK809 might take your fancy, for example. It is an all-in-one design, costs just a little more than the Pi, and even has built-in bluetooth. If you’re looking for a Linux or Smart TV server, as opposed to an electronics projects board, that might be a preferrable route to go. DYOR (Do Your Own Research).
What also caught my eye was a Cubieboard, which has a SATA controller on it. So, that might be more interesting if you’re looking to go down a server route.
My list is by no means exhaustive. Arduinos, Beagleboards, and a Utilite seem to be amongst the many other alternatives which may be a better fit for you than the Pi.
- Using the Allwinner A10 as a home server – argues the case against the Pi as a home server, and offers better choices.