Recommend a RaspberryPi kit.
November 30, 2017 11:48 AM   Subscribe

My husband has shown interest in Raspberry Pi; I'd like to get him a starter kit for Christmas but I've looked at a few and have no idea what the best options are for him.

He's a software engineer so has coding experience (not sure if it translates though) but only very light hardware experience. We probably have no tools right now (definitely no soldering tools), so either everything needs to be in the kit or purchased separately. As for project ideas, I'm sure he can come up with some, but if the kit has a specific project it's able to output that would be nice. Book recommendations would also be good.

I'm not sure exactly what he might want to do with it, but if I ask it would give away the element of surprise.

All suggestions appreciated. Thanks.
posted by Laura in Canada to Technology (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A kit with a case, power supply, and SD card would be super handy, just as the bare essentials. Everything else, he's probably already got if he's into computers. Canakit makes a few like this.

Adafruit sells one (currently out of stock, sorry, this looks like the Canakit alternative) that comes with a few more 'hardware experimenting' type stuff that doesn't require soldering. In fact, Adafruit's Pi category has a lot of fun stuff for the Pi that you could probably add to the Canakit setup if you wanted.

And if he's in software he's probably already fond of Oreilly books, so here's one for the Pi.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:06 PM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above and recommend starting with the latest model Pi 3 if nothing else than for the built-in WiFi. It takes a microSD card. A USB keyboard (same as for a regular computer) is handy for at least the initial setup so if you don't have one around that might be borrowed for this purpose it might be worth getting a cheap one — after that the Pi can be controlled over the network. It can display on a TV or monitor with an HDMI connection.

I've been playing with this lately but it does require a little soldering.
posted by exogenous at 12:23 PM on November 30, 2017

It's designed for kids, but other than the stickers, it's a fully capable current generation Raspberry Pi, so...
posted by acm at 1:06 PM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I chucked this question at my partner who's deep in Raspberry Pi stuff, and he said that destructive cactus' recommendation is exactly the one he would have made, including the book, so here's a hearty seconding of that motion.
posted by Stacey at 3:09 PM on November 30, 2017

If he's familiar with Linux and the programming language Python, unless he likes learning from books, there's lots of information (projects, walk-throughs) available on the web and on YouTube. And if he's at all into photography, spending the book money instead on a Raspberry Pi camera add-on provides additional project possibilities.
posted by dws at 3:17 PM on November 30, 2017

Best answer: There's nothing wrong with the CanaKit, but I think it's a little overpriced for what you get for it. Personally, I'd get a more bare-bones kit, consisting of just the RPi3 board, a case, and heatsinks like this one and basically any old 16 or 32GB micro SD card. A breakout board, ribbon cable, and breadboard is only another $10.

I'd probably let him get his own electronic components based on the projects he wants to complete, because those intro kits never give you (IMO) enough stuff for whatever you want to do. You can also get a lot of parts assortments with slight flavors to them, e.g. emphasizing TTL logic or analog circuits or I/O or whatever. Many of them are only a few bucks. I am skeptical of the value of the $50+ ones.

As for books, I'm a fan of Simon Monk's books on the RPi, including the O'Reilly Cookbook. But there are a ton of them and it'd be good to look for one that at least has some connection to his other interests, if I were buying.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:47 PM on November 30, 2017

When I gave one to my son a few years ago, I looked up some kit options and picked one that had all the parts to be built into a particular device. Something like an iPod, I think, but I don't actually remember. I did this even though another kit actually looked like a better deal for the sort of person who would like an RPi. It just seemed better to have an entire something rather than a partial something.

If by an chance your husband is interested in aviation, you may want this.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:27 PM on November 30, 2017

Best answer: I work for one of the bigger independent Raspberry Pi, Adafruit and Pimoroni resellers in Canada, so please excuse me not self-linking. Some pretty good suggestions, but all the Amazon links have the additional Amazon tax that you have to add to make selling via the big river profitable. If you can go to a reseller directly, it will be cheaper.

Any old 16 or 32GB micro SD card may cause problems. Raspberry Pis are picky about cards. Many kits come with the official Element14 16 GB “NOOBS” card, which is a decent Transcend Class10 card. We don't get many of those returned. Also, the Raspberry Pi 3B needs a dedicated power supply to be reliable. If your kit doesn't include a power supply able to deliver ≥ 2.2 A, you may have problems.

Probably our biggest sellers are the HiFiBerry boards for turning a Raspberry Pi into (quite a nice) music streaming box. But for breadboarding, any kit that includes a pre-soldered breadboard “cobbler” (like Adafruit's Assembled Pi T-Cobbler Plus, #2028) will get you going quickly. Element14's kit is not bad, if a bit overpriced.

Simon Monk's books are good, though any Raspberry Pi book published before mid-2016 will provide confusing and incorrect advice.
posted by scruss at 7:25 PM on November 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have an older v2 Ultimate CanaKit kit from the BoingBoing store ages ago. It's pretty complete and satisfied my "OMG it's like 1st year EE and breadboards and blinky lights and buttons" thing. Geeky-wise I have a few USB keyboard/mice things laying around and HDMI cables and whatnot.. You can steal those from your desktop, but I have no clue if you can get the thing up and running without a bit of keyboard/monitor thing. Second the SD memory cards and power are slightly tricky (so a kit that includes those is probably worth the hassle unless he enjoys that sort of pain).

I'd totally splurge again on a kit of some sort with power, SD card, some sort of network, breadboard, bits and pieces. You still need HDMI to a monitor of some sort and keyboard/mouse to get the thing up and working. After that first bit, it's just another tiny invisible computer that you can poke buttons and lights into and it's easy-peasy.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:29 PM on December 2, 2017

I have no clue if you can get the thing up and running without a bit of keyboard/monitor thing.

You can, at least assuming you are running the default Raspbian software; I have done it on all of mine. Once you write the OS image to the SD card (prior to putting it in the Pi), you need to write an empty file named "ssh" to the root of the card's boot partition. That enables the ssh server, and DHCP is already running by default, so as long as you have a way of figuring out what IP address it grabs when you plug it into your network and turn it on, you can connect to it and away you go. Only thing I've ever noticed is sometimes it takes until the second boot cycle to come up.

There's a somewhat more complex process if you want to connect to wireless rather than use Ethernet for a headless setup, but still quite possible as long as you are willing to write out a config file by hand.

I had no idea they had a reputation for pickiness about cards; I guess I've just gotten lucky with mine, or my pickiness in buying cards is more restrictive than the Pi's. FWIW, Samsung 16GB and 32GB cards seem to work OK.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:06 PM on December 3, 2017

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