So, you finally picked up a Raspberry Pi and it's sitting on your desk, waiting for you to do something awesome with it. Good news, setting it up is stupid-easy these days, and in less than 30 minutes, you'll be hacking away on your tiny little cheap-as-chips computer.
What's a Raspberry Pi?
The Raspberry Pi is a small, ultra-budget computer that fits in the palm of your hand. It runs Linux as well as a handful of other low-power operating systems. It was created by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to get computers into the hands of kids around the world, and to teach them to code. Since its initial launch, it's become the most popular computer for DIYers who want to make their own electronics projects, from media centres to video game systems. The Raspberry Pi also has it's own official operating system, Raspbian. Other operating systems exist, but they're mostly made for specific projects. Raspbian is the operating system most people will want to start with, so it's the one we'll detail how to install here.
The Raspberry Pi has gone through several iterations since its launch in 2012. The newest version is the Raspberry Pi Model 3. For $56.18, you get a caseless computer that includes an HDMI output, up to four USB ports, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
The Raspberry Pi Model 3 is not the only version available right now. There's also the Raspberry Pi Model A+, which is smaller and does not include a USB port. The Raspberry Pi Zero is about the size of a battery and doesn't include USB either. Both of those boards are great for specific projects, but for most people, we recommend the full-size Raspberry Pi Model 3, so that's what we'll stick to in this guide.
What You'll Need
- A Raspberry Pi: Since we recommend the Model 3, it's the one we'll show you how to set up below.
- An HDMI television or monitor: You'll need to connect your Raspberry Pi to a display, which means you'll need an HDMI-enabled screen of some kind. Thee are plenty of compact displays available if you don't want to dedicate a full monitor to the Pi. There are also ways around using a monitor at all, which we'll talk about at the end of this post.
- A USB keyboard and mouse: In order to control your Pi, you'll need a keyboard and mouse. At this point, pretty much any USB keyboard and mouse will work.
- An 8GB MicroSD card and card reader: Instead of a hard drive, you install the Raspberry Pi's operating system on a MicroSD card. You'll want at least an 8GB card for this. The Samsung EVO+ Class 10 cards are among the best. If your computer doesn't have a card reader, you'll need to snap one of these up too.
- A power supply: The Raspberry Pi is powered by a micro USB, much like the one you've likely used for your phone. Since the Pi 3 has four USB ports, it's best to use a good power supply that can provide at least 2.5A of juice. This one will do just that.
Once you've collected together all those accessories, it's time to set it up.
Step One: Install Raspbian Onto Your SD Card Using NOOBs
First things first, you need to get Raspbian onto an SD card. This means you'll need to download the operating system on another computer and transfer it over to an SD card using an SD card reader. You have two ways of doing this. You can install Raspbian manually, which requires either command line know-how or external software, or you can download and install NOOBs, which stands for "New Out of Box Software." It's a much simpler process, and the one we'll use here.
- Put your SD card into your computer or SD card reader.
- Download NOOBs. Pick the "offline and network install" option. This version includes Raspbian in the download itself.
- You may need to format your SD card as FAT. You can find guides to do this for Windows and Mac here.
- Extract the ZIP file and copy the entire contents of the folder to your SD card. Once it's complete, eject your SD card and insert it into the Raspberry Pi.
That's it. You'll do the rest of the work on the Raspberry Pi itself, which means it's time to hook it up to your monitor.
Step Two: Hook Up Your Raspberry Pi
Connecting all your devices to the Raspberry Pi is very easy, but you want to do it in a specific order so it can recognise all your devices when it boots up. First, connect your HDMI cable to your Raspberry Pi and your monitor, then connect your USB devices. If you're using an ethernet cable to connect to your router, go ahead and connect that as well.
Finally, once everything is connected, go ahead and plug in your power adaptor. The Raspberry Pi does not have a power switch, so once you connect the power adaptor, it will turn on all by itself.
Step Three: Set Up Raspbian
When you first boot up NOOBs, it will take a couple of minutes to format the SD card and set up a few things, so let it do its thing. Eventually, you'll see a screen asking you to install an operating system. This process is super easy:
- At the bottom of the screen, choose your language and keyboard layout for your region.
- Click the checkbox next to Raspbian, then click Install.
Now, let NOOBs run the installation process, which can take 10 or 20 minutes. When it's complete, it will restart and send you straight into the Raspbian desktop, where you can configure everything else.
Step Four: Configure Your Raspberry Pi
Congratulations, your Raspberry Pi is basically ready to go. In Raspbian, you'll see a start menu where you can select applications, open up a file browser, and everything else you'd expect from an operating system. First though, you'll probably want to set up your Wi-Fi connection and any Bluetooth devices you want to use.
Connect to Your Wi-Fi Network
Connecting to your Wi-Fi network works the same in Raspbian as it does it any modern operating system.
- Click the network icon (it's the one with two computers) in the top right corner.
- Select your Wi-Fi network name, and enter your password.
That's it, you're now connected to Wi-Fi. This will work in both the command line and in the graphical interface, so you only need to set it once. If you have an older Pi and you're using a Wi-Fi adaptor like this, the process is the same.
Connect Bluetooth Devices
If you have Bluetooth devices, like a mouse or keyboard, that you want to use with your Raspberry Pi, you'll need to pair them with your Pi. This varies a bit depending on your device, but it's a straightforward enough process:
- Click the Bluetooth icon in the upper right corner.
- Click "Add Device."
- Find the device you want to pair, click on it, and follow the on-screen directions to pair it up.
That's all there is to it, now you can start playing around with Raspbian. Go ahead and click around and open whatever you want, if anything ever goes wrong and you mess something up, just follow the above process to reinstall Raspbian again.
Connect to Your Raspberry Pi Remotely
While the Raspberry Pi might cost under $60, the added requirement of needing an HDMI monitor and a USB keyboard and mouse bumps up the cost a bit. Thankfully, you do have ways to connect to the Pi remotely. This is especially useful if you only have a laptop in your house, or you don't have access to a monitor. Neither of these are required by any means, but they're nice to know about if you need them.
- Connect to the Command Line Through SSH: You can connect to your Raspberry Pi's command line interface using SSH from any computer. While you won't get a graphic interface, you can run any type of command from the Terminal application on another computer and it will execute on the Raspberry Pi. If you're working on a project that doesn't require a screen, this is a great way to connect to your Raspberry Pi without a monitor, keyboard, or mouse.
- Use VNC to Use Your Home Computer as a Remote Screen: If you do need that graphical interface, you can use VNC (virtual network computing) to get it. You'll see the desktop of the Raspberry Pi in a window on your desktop computer and you can control it as if you're sitting in front of the Pi itself. If you only own a laptop or an all-in-one desktop, this is a way to use your Pi remotely. It's not great for everyday use because it's a little slow, but if you just need to get some things set up and don't want to buy extra accessories, VNC is a way to do so.
Remotely connecting to and controlling your Raspberry Pi is a pretty useful feature, so you'll want to familiarise yourself with both of these remote connection methods at some point.
Take It Further With Some of Our Favourite Raspberry Pi Projects
Setting up and installing Raspbian is really just the first step with a Raspberry Pi. Once you're done with that, it's time to really start digging into it and making something new. Here are some of our favourite projects and guides:
- Retro Game Console
- A Command Line Primer for Beginners
- Media Center
- Portable Hacking Station with Kali Linux
- Animated GIF Photo Frame
- Portable Computer
- Alexa Device
- Magic Mirror
We've featured countless other Raspberry Pi projects, so go ahead and dig around on the Raspberry Pi tag page if you're looking for inspiration on what to use your Pi for.