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Buy the Pi with a kit

D – I highly recommend buying the Pi as part of a kit. I looked around for power supplies and found that most of them are either too wimpy (less than 1A for the 5V output) or were labeled “For use with Amazon Kindle” which made them cost a fortune. There is also a need for other hardware and accessories such as a network cable (unless you have a bunch accumulated over the years) an HDMI cable, SD/SDHC card, enclosure, etc. When I got our kits from Newark there was also a moderate, but still welcome saving when buying everything together. Unless you have the additional hardware already in the abyss of your too good to throw away box (come on, everyone has at least one of those and count yourself lucky when it really is just one!) getting the kit is the way to go. You also can rest assured that the hardware that comes with the kit will work with the Pi.

As of today Newark offers two kits and an assortment of accessories, the link to the Pi page is http://www.newark.com/…../rasp-pi-accessories.jsp&ICID=HP-Raspberrypi-Accessories

Adafruit Industries offers currently two packs, the Pi Starter Pack (includes the Pi), which is the same kit I got for my son. There is also the Budget Pack (does NOT include the Pi, need to order that extra!)

MCM Electronics has a few kits for every budget posted at http://www.mcmelectronics.com/content/en-US/raspberry-pi

ModMyPi offers also an array of kits, but they ship from Great Britain and the kits can be bought with or without Pi. They also offer wall outlet adapters for the EU (SchuKo) or the US (the two flat prongs). Shipping for the Ultimate Kit is around 30$ and more than affordable.

Raspberry Pi Status LEDs

D – I could not find any detailed description for the status LEDs that are on the Pi board next to the USB ports. While plowing through a few resources and thinking about it a bit more I now know what the status LEDs indicate. The list below starts with the outermost LED.

100M – yellow – indicates if the network connection is 100 Mbit or not – if it is lit up the connection is 100 M, if it is off the connection is 10 M

LNK – green – indicates that a physical network connection exists – if it is lit up the network connection is OK, if it is off the cable is unplugged on either end or broken

FDX – green – indicates that the network connection is using full duplex – if it is lit up the connection is full duplex, if it is off the connection is half-duplex

PWR – red – indicates that the Pi has power – if it is lit the power is connected, if it is off the power is not connected or the power supply is unplugged / broken

ACT – green – indicates SD card access – if it is lit the SD card is read from or written to, if it is off then there is no SD card access of any kind

Addition: I came across this post http://elinux.org/R-Pi_Troubleshooting#Green_LED_blinks_in_a_specific_pattern . What is a bit odd is that the color description of the LEDs is different in that post. On our Pis there are three green LEDs. I have yet to confirm which one of them is the one that reports any errors, but if I had to guess I’d guess it is the ACT LED.

It is now confirmed that the error reporting is done through the ACT LED. Makes sense as the other green LEDs are controlled by the network adapter that is attached to the onboard USB hub and therefore cannot be controlled before the OS was loaded.

Pi enclosures

D – With the kits we got we got two different enclosures, the Pi Box from BUD and the Adafruit enclosure. Here is my opinion on each of the enclosures.

BUD Pi Box

General

The Pi Box consists of two identical parts that stick together. Either one of the parts has four holders that the Pi board can be snapped into. Two stops on each side make it so that the Pi board stays in place. Each side of the Pi Box has a large opening so that the connectors are accessible.

Pros

I find the name funny (as all the other references to fruit and pie) and in online images the Pi Box looked really nice with its translucent red color and the pi letter symbol on top. Once put together the two halves do not easily separate. The plastic is thick and makes this a sturdy enclosure. The fact that it is translucent makes looking at the status LEDs of the Pi easy as pie. The Pi Box is noticeably larger than the Pi board so that the board as well as connectors are protected. Nice to see that a company made an enclosure especially for the Raspberry Pi and kept with the theme. The box is likely large enough to also house one the Arduino boards that plug straight onto the Pi. When snapping off or shortening one of the unneeded retaining clips from the top piece it is probably possible to attach and detach connectors to the I/O pins through the wide opening.

Cons

After opening the Pi Box twice I already snapped off one of the pins that hold the box pieces together. The big wide openings on each side allow for easy access of more than just the plugs. I can see that while working on some projects a screwdriver finds its way inside the enclosure with potentially bad consequences. The two pins that are supposed to hold the Pi board in place are not centered and not located where a lot of plugging action will occur. This causes the board to slip out of the somewhat weak clips that hold the board. When not using the RCA video output or the I/O pins the box could stand on the side, but I wonder how well the retaining clips hold the board in place.

Conclusion

This is a nice looking enclosure for little money that is designed for the Pi. I see it more as a solution for someone who wants some protection for the Pi board, but once hooking everything up just leaves the Pi in its box and both sitting on the desk. I still like the Pi Box and it is definitely better than leaving the bare board flopping around on my desk. If there ever is a redesign of the Pi Box it should hold on to the Pi board better and have the sides closed with cutouts for the connectors.

Adafruit Enclosure

General

The Adafruit enclosure comes in parts and needs to be assembled around the Pi board. Unlike the Bud Pi Box I did not see the Adafruit enclosure for sale individually, but only included in the kits. Wrong, I just didn’t look in the right spot. The enclosure is available here.

Pros

After figuring out that the plexiglass pieces have the protection film still on them the pieces are easily assembled around the Pi board. The cutouts are all in the right places and they are all labeled. The enclosure looks really nice and resembles a crystal case for something very precious (which in case of the Pi applies). The enclosure has enough weight to keep itself and the Pi from tipping over even when a twisted cable is plugged in. The pieces are also nicely thick so that every connector and plug gets some additional physical support. The enclosure is just slightly bigger than the Pi board and will fit in even the smallest amount of space. As engineer I am impressed by the straight forward, simple design of the enclosure. The labeling of the connectors isn’t really necessary as it is quite obvious which connector is used for what, but it is still a nice touch that makes the enclosure look classy.

Cons

At first the pieces look rather ugly with the brown protection film on it. Peeling that film off requires a lot of patience and quite some fingernail action. In some places where the labels were etched in some more scrubbing is needed to get the tiny pieces of film off. The shorter side pieces hook in on one end and snap on on the other end which requires holding the partially assembled and then still wobbly enclosure together with one hand. For someone with small hands this is a challenge. The correct order of assembly is key because the Pi board needs to be dropped in after putting the base, one long side, and one short side together. Then the second long side piece needs to be added followed by the top piece. While holding all that together the last side piece goes on. Once assembled the enclosure parts have some give to them making the whole thing feel ‘rattly’. If there is a need to attach or detach connectors to the I/O pins the entire enclosure needs to be disassembled and then reassembled in the same tricky procedure described above. The cutout for the I/O pins is designed to let a ribbon cable through, any other cable won’t fit. So if a project is done using a round cable an additional hole needs to be drilled. Also, the enclosure is not that large so that having anything plugged onto the I/O pins will cause the top piece to be in the way. Leaving the top off is an option, but defeats the purpose of having an enclosure.

Conclusion

This is a really nice enclosure that fully protects the Pi board while still giving easy access to all connectors. The I/O pins are accessible with the Adafruit breakout ribbon cable without requiring a big hole on the side. The enclosure looks really nice and shiny once it sheds its ugly protective film. The rattling can be fixed by using some clear silicone to glue the pieces together, but that means that opening the enclosure will take some time. All pieces are flat and using the pieces as template will make it easy to build replacement parts if needed, but I highly suggest supporting the small company Adafruit Industries and buy from them. Here they designed such a nice enclosure and the reward should be that we don’t just copy their work.

Pi Box versus Adafruit Enclosure

I think both enclosures are nicely done. If I had to pick one for my purposes I’d go with the one from Adafruit. It looks a bit snazzier and the really simple design without specially molded parts strikes a tune with the engineer in me. I also think that rewarding fellow New Yorkers is the way to go. That said, I can see where the BUD Pi Box is the better fit, especially when adding an extra board on top of the Pi. The Pi Box is just bigger and allows for packaging Pi and another board or self-made project into one box that does not restrict where cables and connectors need to go.

The Pi kits we got from Element 14 / Newark / Adafruit

D – On my search for buying the Pi I eventually landed on the Element 14 website (http://www.element14.com/community/index.jspa). Element 14 is an online community website for engineers. Since engineers need parts partnering with Newark isn’t that far of a stretch. Element 14 links to various electronic component vendors (Newark, MCM) that in the end are all subsidies of Premier Farnell. One might wonder why I even care, but I like to know where I buy stuff from and since RadioShack isn’t really that great when it comes to electronic components I am always on the lookout for a good distributor.

The kits that I bought are not longer offered as such from Newark. They put together new kits which I think are better. So a yay for Newark and an ohhh for me because the change occurred just a few days after I ordered. As it was back then as well, Newark shows 0 stock for individual Raspberry Pis. I expected that when I ordered the delivery would take several weeks until the Pis are back in stock, but it appears as that the kits including the Pi have nothing to do with the stock for the individually sold Pis. It was nice to see that I get my toys sooner than expected. Also, unlike others who sell through Amazon Newark does not mark up the Pis by quite some. The Pi website states it costs 35$ and that is what Newark asks for it – and not 80$ or 90$ that other ‘resellers’ request. Still, the Newark website is for the consumer rather confusing. Although you can order this or that kit in the end the order lists shows each individual item. And when ordering two kits the parts that are the same in each kit get doubled. It got confusing really fast and getting everything distributed over four shipments did not help. I think I was supposed to get one more HDMI cable, but I still cannot tell if that is the case. Even if, I don’t need the extra HDMI cable as the plan for both our Pis is to run with computer monitors via DVI connection.

‘Medium kit’ for dad

The kit that I bought for myself contained the Pi, the BUD Pi Box enclosure, a network cable, an HDMI cable (?), a 4GB SDHC card (Samsung) with Debian for the Pi on it, and a power supply. I call it the ‘medium kit’ because it was not the smallest kit that was offered and not the Adafruit kit, but the one in the middle. It might have had an official name, but I forgot and due to the change in kits I can no longer look it up. I don’t see myself spending much time dabbling with electronic circuits and programming I/O. It is not that I lack interest, but I lack time with a good number of other hobbies and now a blog to post on. I am more in for the fun factor rather than the purely educational aspect. For that reason I did not go for the Adafruit kit for myself. I like this kit and it has enough parts in it to get going, my only complaint is with the BUD Pi Box enclosure, but I post about enclosures later. The kit cost around 60$ which is a fair price.

‘Adafruit kit’ for son

As mentioned in the About page my son likes playing with electronics and computers so buying the Adafruit kit made sense. The kit came with the Pi, an Adafruit enclosure, HDMI cable, 4 GB Dane-Elec micro SDHC card with adaptor, power supply, and the Adafruit Pi Cobbler Breakout kit. The Cobbler kit contains a ribbon cable assembly that connects the Pi’s I/O pins to a breadboard, a full-size breadboard, a handful of resistors, breadboarding wire bundle, the USB to serial cable, the Raspberry Pi badge, and three gigantic LEDs.

I think that is a well put together starter kit for the young electronics fan. I do have two minor complaints. For one, the SDHC card was empty although the description stated that it will contain the Adafruit edition of the Debian distro for the Pi. The card was in in retail packaging and I didn’t think that someone spends the time to carefully open the package, write the image on the card, and then glue the package back together. That problem was easily fixed by downloading the image from Adafruit’s website and writing it to the card. For two, Cobbler kit came in a nice box and was packaged well, but missed a piece of paper with some URLs providing instructions for projects. I did fine the project pages on the Adafruit site. I’d rather see a sheet with the blinking LEDs project included than the badge (although that badge looks neat, also see note at end of post). The entire system is to be educational and fun for kids and teens. Nothing stops them more in the tracks than having no instructions at hand. How great would it be if the young engineers open up the box, plug everything together, grab the breadboard and start building. Now that I think about it I could have just printed out the project instructions myself! The kit cost around 100$ which is also a fair price.

Conclusion

I think Element 14, Newark, MCM Electronics, and Adafruit are excellent representatives and distributors for the Raspberry Pi. The Pi foundation can call itself blessed to have such partners. I also think that whoever puts these kits together did a really great job. In that sense my small complaints are nothing more than just that. I also found that purchasing from Newark was easy. They are mainly a distributor for commercial customers so some of the purchasing process and parts lists make sense to companies that buy a thousand pieces of this and a thousand of those plus 500 connectors. The hobbyists might find this a bit awkward. Also, one typically needs more than what the kits contain and for things like one USB hub or one HDMI to DVI cable Newark seems not to be the right place. The new kits compensate for this quite a bit, but I think Newark could pull through more products with the Pi sales if the selection for likely needed items (keyboards, mice, wireless network adapters, powered USB hubs, HDMI cables, network cables) is better and prices are lower. I get it, as mentioned above Newark is geared towards selling to businesses not the consumer who buys one or two of a kind. Businesses will also not buy their PC keyboards from a company like Newark. For that reason holding on to stock of commodity hardware that is rather large and with low margins just doesn’t make much sense. In the end I bought the parts that I still needed somewhere else (will blog about that later) for less money despite the generous 15% off coupon from Newark. Despite all that Newark gets an A from me!

Here is the link to the Newark Pi kits and accessories page. I just wonder why the list a VGA cable as accessory, it is rather useless for a Pi….unless you use Pi-View.

Note: After writing this post I came across the video about Adafruit Industries. There is a significance to the badge and it is not like these stickers you get with your boxed AMD processor.

How I got Pi fever

D – A few months back I was reading a computer or engineering magazine (I forgot which one it was) that had an article about a new educational computer that a foundation at Cambridge University in England created. The article described the features and eventually revealed the 25$ price tag. Come again? Just 25 bucks for something that can do all that? WOW! I had to have one! I got Pi fever!

Time went by and I was still interested in the Pi, especially now that model B had Ethernet and two USB ports. The slightly higher price tag at 35$ was fair for the added features. Then it got later in the year and my wife and I were wondering what we could get our boys for Christmas. The older one is ‘into computers’ and he likes making things with his SnapCircuits kits. He also likes putting soldering kits together and he asked me more than once for a blank DVD to put a new Linux distro on. Hmmm, electronics, Linux, computers….the Pi should be the perfect fit without breaking the bank.

I did find Element 14 / Newark to be the distributor for the US and they have starter kits of various kinds. I got the medium one for myself and the Adafruit kit for my son. I will write at a later point about what the kits contained and my experiences for shopping around. The parts of the kits came in bit by bit and eventually I had everything together a week before Christmas. While it was nice to have my son open up the box with the real thing rather than just an envelope with a promise on paper it also meant that I had to wait as well. There would have been no way to hide my Pi. Glad the waiting time is over! And now both my son and I have Pi fever!