Custom PC, Issue 141

Custom PC Issue 141If you’re a fan of my work, this month’s Custom PC magazine is going to be something of a treat: as well as the usual five-page Hobby Tech column, I’ve penned an eight-page special cover feature on the Raspberry Pi 2 single-board computer.

The special blends nicely into Hobby Tech itself: a two-page review of the Raspberry Pi 2 straddles the two features, leading in to a two-page round-up of the best operating systems available for the Pi – along with a preview of Windows 10, coming to the platform in the summer. Four pages of tutorials then follow: turning the Raspberry Pi 2 into a media streamer, a Windows- and Mac-compatible file server, and getting started with Canonical’s new Snappy Ubuntu Core and its innovative packaging system.

The next page walks the reader through a series of tips-and-tricks to help squeeze the most from the £30 marvel: overclocking the new quad-core Broadcom BCM2836 processor, built specifically for the Raspberry Pi 2 and offering a significant improvement over the single-core original BCM2835; expanding the capabilities of the Pi’s general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header; setting up a multi-boot platform to try out different operating systems; and updating the firmware and kernel modules to the very latest revisions using rpi-update.

Finally, the feature finishes with a single-page round-up of the best and brightest rivals to the Raspberry Pi’s crown: Lemaker’s Banana Pro, a dual-core Pi-compatible device with impressive operating system options; the SolidRun HummingBoard, a computer-on-module (CoM) design which promises future upgrade potential; the CubieTech Cubieboard 4, which packs an octa-core processor; the low-cost Hardkernel Odroid C1, the only entry in the list I haven’t personally tested; and the Imagination Technology Creator CI20, which bucks the trend by packing a MIPS-architecture processor in place of the more common ARM chips.

The remaining three pages of my regular Hobby Tech column – which celebrates its second birthday with this issue – feature an interview with local game devs Kriss and shi of Wetgenes regarding their clever Deluxe Paint-inspired pixel-art editor Swanky Paint and a review of Intel’s diminutive Atom- and Quark-powered Edison development platform.

All this, plus a smaller-than-usual amount of stuff written by people who aren’t me, can be yours from a newsagent, supermarket, via subscription or digitally via Zinio and similar services.

Raspberry Pi: 21 Brilliant Projects

Raspberry Pi: 21 Brilliant ProjectsA few months ago I was approached by PC Pro’s Priti Patel with a project proposal: a MagBook featuring a number of interesting projects for the low-cost Raspberry Pi microcomputer. I, naturally, jumped at the chance, and the fruit – pun entirely intended, I’m afraid – of my labour is now available.

Entitled Raspberry Pi: 21 Brilliant Projects, the MagBook features 141 full-colour pages of projects designed for beginner to intermediate users. The introductory projects are, as you might expect, gentle indeed: unboxing and connecting the Pi, installing an operating system via the New Out-Of-Box Software (NOOBS), and the like. From there, the MagBook then covers four project categories: Productivity, Entertainment, Plug-In Hardware and DIY & Advanced.

In the Productivity chapter, I walk the reader through safely overclocking the Pi to boost its performance, sharing a keyboard and mouse with a desktop without the need to move any cables, using the Pi as a thin client for a desktop or laptop running Windows, OS X or Linux, setting up a TOR proxy, and installing and running the popular WordPress blogging platform.

In Entertainment, readers see how to convert any TV with HDMI, DVI, SCART or composite video inputs into a smart TV, work with Minecraft Pi Edition, emulate vintage gaming platforms, and build a headless Internet radio receiver.

For the Plug-In Hardware chapter, I wrote up how to build a digital photo frame, the use of USB-connected application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to mine Bitcoins, a Twitter-powered motion-sensing security system, how to configure the Pi for fully wireless use, and how to combine the power of the Pi with that of the Arduino microcontroller.

Finally, in the DIY & Advanced section, the reader learns how to use the Pi’s general-purpose input-output (GPIO) capabilities to build a traffic light system, create a doorbell that sends Twitter messages when activated, drive motors for a robotics system, build a custom arcade controller, create an Internet of Things printer, and how to cluster multiple Raspberry Pi units together to boost performance.

The MagBook is available in supermarkets and newsagents now, and will soon start shipping from Amazon UK for £9.99.

Custom PC, Issue 116

Custom PC, Issue 116This month’s Custom PC Magazine is a bumper issue for me: a massive in-depth Raspberry Pi feature is splashed across the cover, for which I provided all but the build-your-own-case section. As usual, the magazine also includes my regular interview column, this time talking to open hardware guru Andrew Back.

First, the Pi material. With the Raspberry Pi having had a phenomenally successful first year, and Custom PC having missed the chance to latch onto that with a cover splash for the launch review, it’s no surprise to see the magazine going all-out to attract Pi fans. Those who pick up the magazine for its Pi-related content are in for a treat, too.

First up is a head-to-head review covering the newly-released Raspberry Pi Model A and the redesigned Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2. While some differences are obvious – the lack of a second USB port and Ethernet on the Model A, for example – others are less so, and the review hopefully answers the question of whether it’s worth paying the extra £12 to get the Model B over the tempting £18 asking price of the Model A.

The benchmarking continues with a look at how to overclock a Raspberry Pi without voiding your warranty, along with a few tips as to how to push it to ever-faster levels. Using a retail-model Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2 equipped with a couple of cheap aluminium heatsinks, I was able to push the CPU from 700MHz to 1.1GHz and the GPU to 500MHz – and it made a serious difference in performance, as the benchmark results show.

Next, I walk newcomers to the project through installing the Raspbmc media server software and configuring it to stream HD YouTube content – something you’d think a £30 PC would struggle to do, but that’s certainly not the case. There’s also a look at the Minecraft: Pi Edition release, which provides a hackable and completely free version of Mojang’s popular block-’em-up game with which tinkers can fiddle around.

Finally, there’s a round-up of the four most popular operating systems for the Pi: Raspbian, the Debian-derived Linux distribution chosen as the ‘official’ OS by the Raspberry Pi Foundation; Raspbmc, the media-centric Linux distribution with integrated Xbmc support; RISCOS, by far the fastest OS for the Pi; and FreeBSD, for those who eschew Linux but still want a POSIX-compliant environment.

With the Pi work done, the interview. Andrew Back is one of the brains behind the Open Source Hardware User Group (OSHUG), and recently moved into my (relative) back-yard in Hebden Bridge. He’s a great guy, and always up for a chat – and his knowledge regarding open hardware, a still relatively unknown offshoot of the open source and free software movements, is second to none.

All this, and more by people who are not called Gareth Halfacree, can be yours if you just mosey on down to your local newsagents and pick up Custom PC Issue 116. Alternatively, stay indoors and get a digital copy via Zinio.

Custom PC, Issue 106

Custom PC, Issue 106This month’s Custom PC Magazine includes my usual Mobile Tech Watch column along with a central feature: a hands-on guide to the Raspberry Pi.

First, the column. In a slight departure from the norm, I took a look at whether transparent, foldable electronics – as seen in films like Iron Man 2 and Ultraviolet (yes, I watched – and enjoyed – Ultravoilet. Don’t judge me) are in any way possible using current technologies.

The answer came as a surprise: yes, yes they are. Between Samsung’s transparent OLED displays, LG’s flexible electrophoretic screens, Rice University’s transparent and flexible electronics and Yuan Yang’s equally bendy see-through battery technology, it’s well within reach if a company has the R&D funds to spare.

The feature – the first full-length feature I’ve done for Custom PC in a long while – sits in the middle of the mag and holds the coveted “Plus” spot on the cover. Unlike my previous Raspberry Pi pieces, which have been reviews, this is a hands-on how-to tutorial starting off with an overview of what’s on the board and branching out into step-by-step guides on setting it up, turning it into a network attached storage (NAS) device, a home theatre PC, and how to address the general-purpose IO (GPIO) pins through Python. It also includes a section on overclocking, albeit with the required “it’s not a good idea to do this” warning in pride of place.

Sadly, there are a couple of hiccoughs with the piece, introduced during the layout and editing stage. It’s nothing major, although a couple of the commands won’t run correctly without modification. Custom PC’s editor, Ben Hardwidge, has promised that corrections will be published in the next issue and on the Custom PC Facebook page. Meanwhile, here are my original (correct) listings for each broken step:

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