Small is the new big with the Raspberry Pi Zero

Raspberry Pi Zero kit

Do you remember the days when computer magazines came with cover disks? And then with CDs that progressed to DVDs? All with must-have utilities and often free programs that were part and parcel of the PC enthusiast experience from the 80s through to the early 00s.

That fell by the wayside with the advent of the modern internet and growing broadband connectivity along with worries about malware and viruses and greater knowledge and sophistication in using computers. Among many other things.

But imagine if you could get an actual computer on the front cover of a magazine. That’s just what you can right now with the launch this week of the Raspberry Pi Zero, a tiny but powerful computer that is offered as a cover mount with the latest issue of The MagPi, the official Raspberry Pi magazine (out of stock as I write this).

You can also buy the Zero directly for just £4 in the UK, $5 in the USA. If you’re a school or other educational institution, or a wholesaler, you can get significant discounts.

I bought one from reseller The Pi Hut along with the Zero Essentials Kit – containing handy adapter cables along with a range of GPIO headers, and more – that you see in the photo above, that all came in a smart metal tin about the size of a tin of mints you can get in a supermarket. The whole thing cost £10 (hence the tenner in the photo), a tiny price to pay for something that offers huge possibilities.

The Raspberry Pi Zero is the latest product from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a British educational charity whose mission is “to advance the education of adults and children, particularly in the field of computers, computer science and related subjects.”

Previous Raspberry Pi products released between 2012 and earlier in 2015 captured imaginations worldwide especially with great stories of how they’re being used in education in ways that totally fit with the foundation’s mission. See how Raspberry Pi use in education is rapidly expanding in other countries.

The Zero is a powerful little beast with an impressive spec including:

  • 1Ghz processor (40 percent faster than previous Raspberry devices)
  • 512Mb of RAM (that’s half a gig, quite a  bit)
  • MicroSD card slot that can handle cards up to 128Gb storage capacity for programs and data
  • Micro USB ports for power and data (eg, plug in a wifi dongle and get online)
  • Mini HDMI port to connect a monitor; it can support high definition up to 1080p60 (the ’60’ means 60 frames per second)

Overall, it can make the Zero a credible device in comparison with mobile devices on the market today (ultrabooks, tablets, smartphones, etc) although I think of it in terms of power and capability more as on a par with what you had in the early 2000s (the Compaq iPaq days).

So what could I use my Raspberry Pi Zero for? Well, I could use various programs available for this platform including Minecraft (game), Sonic Pi (code audio) and Scratch, the programming language that lets you create stories, games and animations. Maybe mine some Bitcoins? Use it as a router? Or automate making a cup of tea in a very Internet of Things approach?

Quite a few possibilities: see ITPro’s good sampling of 18 projects for more.

Is it worth getting one? Depends on how you see it and your interest level. I’m thinking of what worthwhile uses it could have without spending a load of money to add things on (just look at Amazon). The attic is full of old gadgets that I’m sure could find second lives when used with the Zero. Sounds like a tinkering project for Christmas!

Meanwhile, take a look at this video of Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton introducing the Raspberry Pi Zero.

And then let your imagination free!

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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