Saturday, 24 November 2012

Media Centres

So - about 5 months ago a posted about testing out Media Centres and said I'd test them out and provide feedback.  So - slightly delayed, but here it is.

Just finished watching Thor (local USB) - great performance, not a single glitch.  Coming soon - Wireless & Remote Control!

Thursday, 20 September 2012


So - you might've read something about overclocking recently.

Essentially what this means is you can get roughly 50% extra performance out of your Pi!  It'll allow you to overclock the CPU to up to 1Ghz and while the Pi is cool enough it'll run at this level.  If it overheats?  Well, they've added a fail safe into the latest Rasbian - it'll fall back to a lower config:

And best of all, it's 100% endorsed by the foundation - you can do this without invalidating your warranty!  So - try out the latest distro - you can find it here.


Monday, 20 August 2012

Start VNC automatically

So a couple of you have been asking about getting VNC to start automatically (me included).  I did a bit of digging and have figured out what to do - it's a few simple steps.  First off though, must say thanks to Penguin Tutor for the actual answer to this issue.

So - I'm assuming that you have VNC up and running, working if you start it manually after each boot.  If not, take a look here.

Create startup file
The first thing you need to do is create the file that will actually start VNC on startup.  I'm doing this via Putty (instructions here), but you can just as easily use Terminal directly from the Pi.

Type the following:
sudo nano /etc/init.d/tightvncserver

NOTE: nano is a lightweight editor - the command above will create a new file called tightvncserver in the /etc/init.d directory and open it for editing, presenting the following screen (note the [ New File ] entry at the bottom, indicating a new file):

Once you have the file open, paste in the following:

# First configure the user you want to run this under - this will generally be pi, unless you've created your own users
export USER='pi'

eval cd ~$USER

# Check the state of the command - this'll either be start or stop 
case "$1" in
    # if it's start, then start vncserver using the details below
    su $USER -c '/usr/bin/vncserver :1 -geometry 1280x800 -depth 16 -pixelformat rgb565'
    echo "Starting vncserver for $USER "
    # if it's stop, then just kill the process
    pkill Xtightvnc
    echo "vncserver stopped"
    echo "Usage: /etc/init.d/vncserver {start|stop}"
    exit 1
exit 0

# thanks - check out for more info!

NOTE: In the file I've specified my own resolution with the text -geometry 1280x800 - you can leave this out of you want

This will be what your screen now looks like.

To exit, press Ctrl+X.  You'll be prompted to save - just type Y:

You'll be prompted to confirm the filename - just press Enter:

Set file properties
Once that's done make sure the file has the right propertied by typing the following:
sudo chmod 755 /etc/init.d/tightvncserver

NOTE: Important to do this step every time you modify this file.  I redid these steps to create the tutorial, skipped this step and couldn't VNC in on the reboot!

Add File to startup sequence
And now just add your file to the list of startup actions by typing the following:
sudo update-rc.d tightvncserver defaults

And that should be it!  Just restart, and you should be able to VNC straight in!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Raspbian Wheezy

So after I few weeks (months?) off I decided to try get back on top of everything and what better way than to try out the latest image?  If you haven't been keeping up with things, you'll be pleased to know that Raspberry Pi now has it's own distribution (sort of) - Raspbian.  This is a version of the Debian distribution that has been compiled specifically for the Raspberry Pi.

It can be found here on the Raspberry Pi downloads page:

As always, you can write this using the standard DD process (see here for instructions).

Right - now let's boot it up and see what it's like!  I'm using VNC to connect remotely as my TV is occupied (by Game of Thrones, so I'll let it pass).  You can find out how to set this up here, or just use your TV or HDMI-enabled monitor.

So - I've written my card now and here's what I have:

You'll notice that there's no ssh file here, but I tried booting it up and found that SSH was enabled, so no issue there (I need it to connect over SSH, download VNC and remote in).

And that's it - I'm booted up.  Nothing looks too different:

although I did notice that performance seemed quite good.  Issues I saw in earlier versions (massive CPU usage from Midori, etc.) were gone.

And I'm back baby!!!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Media Centre - because we know we all want to...

Right - let's get back on track!

For anyone that's vaguely interested in this sort of thing, the fact that the Raspberry Pi has the potential to be used as a media centre has been once of the most talked about points.  Now, for anyone paying closer attention to the project, you'll have read that there's a lot more this than plugging it in and getting a state-of-the-art media centre.  This is still early days for the Raspberry  Pi project (remember, we're still technically in the developer release stage) and the main focus is the educational release due out at the end of the year.

Thankfully, this is where the community comes in.  There are a large number of people out there working on projects like this, and they're doing an awesome job!!  The two main projects I've been looking at are OpenELEC and Raspbmc.  Both of these are full media centre operating systems (they boot into an operating system that is a dedicated media centre rather than a standard desktop) running the XBMC interface, or XBox Media Centre.  This is the interface that runs on the original XBox.

So - let's start with OpenELEC.  This is a well-established solution that has been ported to the Raspberry Pi.  It's still under development, but is feature-rich.  As an open source project, the code it out there for anyone to download and compile, with a lot of published information on this.  If you'd like to try build it yourself, take a look here:
Alternatively, you can get the latest build here (thanks sparky!):
An for up-to-date builds, published by members of the community as they built it, take a look here:
And of course if you'd like more information on the project itself, take a look here:

Next, there's Raspbmc.  From what I can make out this is a fairly new project, based on the Debian distro and XBMC, written specifically for the Raspberry Pi.  While you have the obvious downsides to a new project like this (bugs, stability, etc.) there are a lot of positives - you have a product aimed specifically at the Raspberry Pi, without the distraction of different targets, distributions, etc.  At first glance, the added benefit of Raspbmc is that is has an installer that automatically downloads the image and applies it to the SD card.  I've always had issues with creating an SD card other than using DD for Windows (see here), this seems to write without a problem.  So - here's where you can download the installer:
And that's about all you'll need!

So - that's my first pass at a review (and first post in a few weeks!).  I'll apply these images, test them out and post my feedback soon.

EDIT 24/11/2012: I've had a play with the latest 2 images and am pretty happy with what I've seen.  I'll go into more detail soon, but for now you can find the images here:
Raspbmc -
OpenELEC - (Thanks Chris Swan!!)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

And out the other side!

So - after having my in-laws stay with us for close on 3 weeks, I finally get to play with my Pi again!  Thanks for all your comments over the last few weeks - I have been reading them, but haven't had much free time.

For those of you not too focused on the Raspberry Pi site, there have been a few interesting developments.  First off - how would you like to see the Raspberry Pi voted in as Innovation of the year?  Vote now!

And here's another one - Google are quite interested in the work the Foundation is doing - so much so that they're investing in a bunch of boards, training a bunch of new teachers & sending them into schools - read more here!

So - what next for my Pi?  I think I'll be tackling getting it properly hooked up to my network - either by getting a cheapie wireless USB dongle working, or finding a way to get it working through a 2nd wireless router.  I'm thinking of using a spare Netgear router as an access point, routing onto my Linksys router upstairs.  I've been digging around and found sites detailing how I can update the firmware to work in client mode.  Not 100% working, but once I crack it I'll post it.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Browsing issues & other browsers

Now that I've had a chance to play around with my Raspberry Pi I've started looking at more mundane things like browsing.  I've been using the browser the Pi ships with - Midori.  While it sees OK, I've noticed several stability and performance issues.

The main issues I've found are as follows:
  1. When loading each page the CPU spikes to 100% for 3-4 seconds.
  2. When loading this blog the CPU spikes for a few seconds then then Midori crashes completely
  3. Gmail can only be used under the HTML mode
  4. While browsing the Raspberry Pi site & forum it seems OK, although when trying to reply to a post the CPU hits 100% and sticks there and keypresses are delayed by about 10 seconds.  If I move out of the reply window the CPU drops and responses are OK, if I click in the window again CPU spikes

Some helpful advice from the forums led me to Chromium.  This is an open-source version of Google's Chrome browser (As I understand it, Chromium is the open source code created by Google that produces their Chrome browser - other developers have taken than same code and created the Chromium browser).

I've installed it and it looks pretty good.  Issue 2, 3 & 4 above are resolved, and although the CPU does still spike a lot moving between pages, it doesn't seem to affect general performance too much.  Overall, I'd say definitely give it a go.  This should provide you with everything you need to get it up and running.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Quake 3!!

Thanks to a lot of people on the Raspberry Pi forums, I was able to get Quake 3 up and running with a fairly small amount of effort.  As I don't own the game itself I'm simply playing the demo levels, but that's more than enough for now, as I've realised I'm particularly bad it would seem.  I wasn't ever much of a gamer, but was addicted to Quake 1 & spent a fair amount of time on Quake 3, but it would appear the years have robbed me of the meagre skills that I spent days and weeks of my youth building up.

But, regardless of the number of times I've had to start a new game, it's still bloody cool.  Playing it at 1080p on my 40" LCD looks beautiful!

As with the other tutorials I've created separated pages for them - hopefully this should give you everything you need to get Quake 3 up and running.  As always, let me know how you get on, and if you hit anything I haven't covered.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Setting up VNC

While the Raspberry Pi does provide a superb picture over hdmi, there are a lot of scenarios where one might not need a display, and connecting remotely via VNC will suffice.  For instance, any programming could be done remotely, while still having access to the physical hardware.  It's also particularly useful when the TV is in use and getting it back to "play on" isn't an option.

EDIT 29/04/2012: I've had a done a bit of a clean-up on my blog, creating separate pages for specific tutorials, keeping the main page free.  You can find the VNC guide here, or click on the tab at the top of the page.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Initial thoughts

I've had my Raspberry Pi for 4 days now so thought I'd provide some feedback. 

On the whole, it's definitely living up to my expectations, although if you're looking for gaming machine, media centre of something that is a finished, production-ready product then you might a little disappointed.  As it's been said many times before, this is a development release, aimed to get people using the hardware and software and helping to improve the product to a state that it's ready for schools at the end of the year.

First impression - it's smaller than I had expected, and very light.  It fits easily into the palm of my hand and feels like I'm barely holding anything at all.  I don't have any concerns about strength - everything on the board feels stable and solid.  The Ethernet jack & USB ports seem quite tight (snug rather than worryingly tight I'd say) and therefore need a bit of a wriggle to disconnect, but I felt confident to (gently) do this without fear of it coming apart in my hand.

Booting up it's nice and fast too.  As mentioned in earlier posts the Debian image boots up in less that a minute - I timed it at 50 seconds when poised & ready to log in.  LWDE is responsive with no massive lag that I've seen.  Every now and again I've found a spot here and there where I have to pause for a second or so after a window's opened before I can start typing.

As far as networking goes, everything seems to work straight out of the box.  Connecting my Pi to my laptop (configured with Internet connection sharing) it immediately picks up a DHCP-assigned IP Address and can go online.

I've tested out SSH and this also works without any setup required.  I tried using this in a headless setup with just power & Ethernet connected as I plan on using it like this going forward and it was relatively painless (see my other post with the details on setting this up).

So - any issues?  Just a few.  I've found a few stability issues with the Midori browser - when trying to browse and log into twitter the CPU spikes.  Browsing to appears to work without issue.  When browsing to this blog CPU spikes again, and after about 5 seconds it crashes completely.  Issues with JavaScript perhaps?  Audio doesn't work either, but there are reports of a fix on the way.

 To sum it all up - great device with a lot of promise.  Any issues should be quickly resolved as there are a lot of people out there hard at work to resolve this.  This is what everyone, especially the foundation, has been waiting for.  It's time for the community to step up and take this product to the next level.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Let's boot this up, shall we?

After admiring what a awesome little thing this is, I decided to plug it all in.  I'll say upfront here that I've been pleasantly surprised at the performance.  I'd heard several gripes about speed, but from plugging the power in, logging in and launching the GUI it took less than 60 seconds.

For this I used my Samsung Series 6 40" LCD, using a fairly standard HDMI cable (can't remember where I got it).  I'm using a 4GB Class 4 Kingson card with the latest Debian image.

Let's plug it in (HDMI, keyboard & SC card - power pending):

The first thing you see it a login prompt.  The latest credentials for this version are pi and raspberry.

Once logged in I just need to run startx:

And there we have it - Debian running on the Raspberry Pi!

Here you can see the Pi running at 1920 x 1080 @ 60Hz:

You can see it all in action here:

Pi in a box!

Today's been a good day.  Today I received my Pi.  Oh, what a good day!

I unfortunately had to work today, but my Pi was delivered just before 4PM, so not too much play-time that I missed out on.

So, lets get on with the good stuff!

Here's my box:

An another box!

Almost there:

And there she is!!

Here are some closeups:

And an idea of scale:

Next - see it in action:

Friday, 13 April 2012

And they're shipping!!

There's been a lot of activity over the last few days.  The Foundation posted a bit of information about what was happening during the middle of the week - this covered general updates about paperwork being signed off, plans for the educational release, the latest Debian updated - no concrete information, but the update was nice.

Then late on Thursday there were several posts from forum members stating that they'd received an email from RS Components, inviting them to order their Pi.  Now, as I've mentioned before I placed my 'RS registration' at about 06:03 - I was fairly confident that I would receive one of the first units, but it wouldn't seem so.  After digging around the forums I found out why.  It would seem that RS issues emails to the first 700 registrations.  They also decided that they would spread these 700 units world-wide, across 30 countries.  This means that there were less that 30 boards issued in the UK (theoretically).  That made me feel a bit better.

It was a tough Friday, I must admit.  I wouldn't say bitter was the right description, but I was quite disappointed that I wouldn't be one of the first people to receive a Pi, one of the first people to post my photos and experiences here for you to read.  But hey - at least it was Friday!

The I received my good news for the week (it happens on Friday it seems?!).  I received this email from Farnell:

This really made my day!!

A slight hiccup almost threw things - I received a call from Farnell, saying my credit card was declined!  Luckily this was down to my cancelling the card I used to purchase my Pi 6 weeks ago due to it going - I would've REALLY been kicking myself if that had been responsible for me missing out!!  Luckily the guy that called me was happy to take new card details and process my order.

I received an updated email from Farnell minutes later, along with a UPS tracking number.  My status is showing up as "Ready for UPS" - not as far as a lot of other people who have firm delivery dates for Monday, but at this point I think I need to count myself lucky!

I'll be sure to post an update when a receive my Pi, and will be posting plenty of pictures and first experiences.

EDIT: It looks like I did actually make the Monday delivery - UPS updated my status today - "Monday, By End of Day"