Custom PC, Issue 199

Custom PC Issue 199This month’s Hobby Tech column breaks out the thermal camera once again for a look at Pimoroni’s Heatsink Case for the Raspberry Pi 4, discusses the new Code the Classics educational programming book with Eben Upton, and reviews Bitmap Books’ The Art of Point and Click Adventure Games.

Pimoroni’s surprisingly robust case for the Raspberry Pi 4 – and not, thanks to changes made in the ports on the board, for any other model of Raspberry Pi – is something of an anomaly in the company’s stock: it’s not an in-house design, but rather a third party creation placed in Pimoroni packaging. There’s also not that much to it: the case is nothing more than two pieces of aluminium, some screws, and three thermal interface material (TIM) pads – of which, Pimoroni’s instructions inform the buyer, you should only use one.

Aside from mechanical fit and feel, the majority of the testing took place using my in-house thermal throttling benchmark – ten minutes of heavy CPU and GPU workload plus a five-minute cooldown period, tracked over one-second intervals – and via thermal imaging. The latter is an increasingly important tool for this type of review: placing the heatsink under the thermal camera revealed that there was little thermal headroom in the design, meaning it may not be wholly appropriate for extreme environments or overclocking scenarios – despite handling the benchmark well.

Upton’s Code the Classics, meanwhile, is a programming book with a difference: It takes an in-depth look at a series of classic game types and teaches the reader not only how to program their own but what went into the creation of the originals, including interviewing some big names from the industry. It’s half coffee-table, half-educational and wholly clever – and while Eben Upton provided the code, it’s a definite team effort with Sean Tracey, Dan Malone, Alastair Brimble, David Crookes, Andrew Gillet, and Liz Upton all contributing according to their own skills. Impressively, the entire book is also available to download free of charge under a Creative Commons licence.

Finally, The Art of Point and Click Adventure Games is yet another colourful coffee-table tome from Bitmap Books’ Sam Dyer, and one well worth picking up. Reviewed in the since sold-out Collector’s Edition form – packaged in an oversized cardboard housing designed to mimic big-box PC games of yore, complete with a USB stick disguised as a somewhat shrunken 3.5″ floppy disk – it makes an excellent companion piece to The CRPG Book from the same publisher, and is up to Bitmap’s usual excellent quality.

Custom PC Issue 199 is available now from all good supermarkets and newsagents, via several digital distribution platforms, or for online purchase with global delivery from the Raspberry Pi Press store.

Custom PC, Issue 119

Custom PC, Issue 119My four-page bumper column for Custom PC, wonderfully titled Gareth Halfacree’s Hobby Tech – and don’t I feel like the important one – continues this month, and once again is granted a cover splash thanks to the key magazine-shifting phrase ‘Raspberry Pi.’ That’s not all it contains, of course: once again the page count is split between a tutorial, retro computing, a pseudo-review and for the first time a box-out containing news from the world of the maker, hacker and tinkerer.

First, the tutorial. Thanks to my friends Eben and Liz Upton, I’m one of the lucky few to have received a Raspberry Pi Camera Module. The first official first-party hardware add-on for the Raspberry Pi, the Camera Module makes use of the Camera Serial Interface (CSI) port to provide a five-megapixel fixed-focus camera on a teeny-tiny circuit board smaller than most coins.

The software for the board is still very much in the early stages, but working well enough for the purpose of the tutorial: to use a Raspberry Pi as a timelapse photography system. Using a bit of Bash shell scripting – the Pi’s own camera software has a timelapse mode, but it doesn’t actually work just yet – the reader is walked through getting the camera connected, the software activated and the software running to capture Full HD stills every thirty seconds until cancelled or the SD card fills up.

This month’s review is of the excellent SpikenzieLabs Calculator Kit. Built around an Atmel ATmega microcontroller – the same one that powers the Arduino Duemilanove, in fact – the device is a cleverly designed kit that functions somewhat better as an exercise in neat soldering than a calculator. Nevertheless, I had fun making it – and I have a few ideas for how I can make use of the microcontroller’s other functions in later projects.

The retrocomputing fix is provided by the Amstrad Notepad Computer NC100, having picked up a mint-condition example from eBay just recently. Rather than sitting on a shelf, the NC100 is to form a part of my field kit – its moulded keyboard and 30-hour battery life make it great for taking notes at events – which provides a great example of how classic computing hardware can be used to augment more modern and powerful equipment.

Finally, there’s the news. Now to be a regular fixture – space permitting – I’ll be picking a couple of stories from the world of the maker to highlight major product launches, announcements or trends.

As always, I’d love to hear feedback about the column; response to the first has been uniformly positive, but if anyone has any ideas for improvements I’d be more than happy to hear them.

Custom PC Issue 119 is, as always, available from wherever you would normally find magazines, or digitally via Zinio and similar services.