The things you’ll need for your first Raspberry Pi build

The things you'll need for your first Raspberry Pi build
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Raspberry Pi

To many of us South Africans, the Raspberry Pi is something only for computer geeks, computer engineers, guys, people who know their electronics, established hobbyists or people from the USA. Although this is true, the Raspberry Pi is also available, locally, in South Africa! These are the things you’ll need for your first Raspberry Pi build.

This is an ongoing post. It is updated at least once a year. Please suggest corrections, explanations, etc. in the comment section at the bottom of this page and please report dead links or removed items.

I've also included generic links to my favourite Chinese supplier, BangGood. If you want to get cheaper, value-for-money products and don't mind waiting a long time for your parcels, give them a try!

What you’ll need

  1. Raspberry Pi board
  2. Power supply
  3. MicroSD card
  4. MicroSD card reader
  5. Operating system for the Raspberry Pi
  6. Keyboard & mouse
  7. HDMI cable & screen
  8. Network cable (optional)
  9. Case (optional)
  10. USB Wi-Fi dongle (optional)

The Raspberry Pi board

At the time of updating this post, there are a couple of Raspberry Pi Models available. The models can be categorised into the Raspberry Pi A-models, B-models, Compute Models and the Raspberry Pi Zero-models. For beginners I would recommend to stick to the newest B-model.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is one of the latest additions to the Raspberry Pi family. Credit Sven.petersen (CC BY-SA 4.0)

All the B-models looks almost identical in form, but the latest versions are considered top of the range with most features. They are also, as with previous versions, priced at U$35 (around ZAR500). The prices of older B-models might drop as newer versions appear. I most commonly order my Raspberry Pis from RS-online, but BangGood also has the original version.

The power supply

The Raspberry Pi board needs 5V dc power supply which is capable of supplying at least 1.2A (1 200mA). The total amperage required depends on what and how many peripherals are hooked up to it. It is strongly recommended to get a reputable power supply capable of supplying 2 – 2.5A.

Official Raspberry Pi power supply
Official Raspberry Pi power supply with a micro-USB plug capable of supplying 5V dc & 2.5A of power.

The power supply connects to the Raspberry Pi’s micro-USB socket. RS Components once again comes to the rescue when looking for an proper, original Raspberry Pi power supply. The official Raspberry Pi power supplies (2 000 mA or 2 500mA) costs around ZAR120 and will do the trick. BangGood also has some 2.5 A power supplies for less than half the price.

The MicroSD card

As with all computers, the Raspberry Pi board needs primary storage space – of which the most important function is to store the operating system. Additional space can always be added later on. The Raspberry Pi comes standard with a MicroSD card slot.

Raspberry Pi MicroSD card

The guys at RaspberryPi.org recommend a MicroSD card with at least 8GB of space. It is also recommended to get hold of the fastest card available, i.e. Class 10 or faster. Because MicroSD cards are fairly cheap (selling new for about ZAR100) and easily interchangeable, it is recommended to get a few at the same time.

MicroSD card

Loot and Takealot very often has great discounts on MicroSD cards under their camera sections. Although not always the case, BangGood might have some deals on MicroSD cards that is worth their price.

The MicroSD card reader

A MicroSD card reader is needed to copy the operating system onto the SD card. If you don’t already have a built-in card reader on a PC or laptop or PC, you’ll also need an external MicroSD card reader. External SD card readers are connected to a PC via one of the USB ports. If used correctly, the PC will simply see the card reader as one of its drives.

HAMA USB 2.0 MicroSD card reader for various card types
The HAMA USB 2.0 Micro SD card reader has SD & MicroSD card slots.

There are many options available. Some card readers will only be able to read SD/MicroSD cards, while other have slots for a variety of card sizes. My experience with the HAMA External USB 2.0 Card Reader for Various Card Types for about ZAR200, from RS Online, has been a good one. BangGood also offers a range of significantly cheaper card readers.

The operating system (OS)

The Raspberry Pi board will need commands to function. The commands are determined by the operating system (OS) which is copied onto the MicroSD card. Most of the popular operating systems are linux-based, incl. Raspbian, OpenELEC, etc. Although there are many certified Raspberry Pi operating systems available, Raspbian is probably one of the better ones for beginners.

Raspbian Jessie GUI
Stretch is the newest version of Raspbian and has a Windows-like, GUI & a terminal to send & receive commands.

Most of the better, certified, Raspberry Pi operating systems are open source and free to download. Generally, operating systems are copied onto a MicroSD card as an .img file. Also see basics of installing an operating system to a Raspberry Pi.

The keyboard & mouse

Peripherals, such as a keyboard and mouse, can be connected via the Raspberry Pi’s multiple USB ports. The most basic peripheral needed is a keyboard, but if the graphic user interface (GUI) is going to be used, an USB mouse is also a must.

USB Keyboard & mouse
Any standard or wireless USB keyboard & mouse will be enough to connect to the Raspberry Pi’s USB ports.

Any new or old USB keyboard and mouse will do. Out of the box, the Raspberry Pi is also capable of using wireless keyboards and mice. These peripherals can be obtained fairly cheaply from your local PC shop, Takealot, Loot, or even Game and Makro. Various cheaper keyboard/mouse combos are also available from BangGood.

The HDMI cable & screen

Unfortunately (or fortunately), starting with the second generation Raspberry Pi boards, there are only a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connection port to connect to a display. Because the output resolution of the Raspberry Pi is on the lower side, the quality of the of the cable is less important.

HDMI cable & VGA converter
Most male-male HDMI cables will be enough to connect a Raspberry Pi board to an appropriate screen. VGA converters are also available to be able to connect to some older screens.

The screen can be anything from an old PC monitor to a flat screen TV. If a screen does not have an HDMI input, various connectors are available to make it work. HDMI cables and screens and are available from a local PC shop, Takealot, LootGame and Makro. HDMI cables are also available from BangGood.

The network cable (optional)

Being able to connect a Raspberry Pi board to a network (or the internet) significantly increases its functionality. Although, technically, not a requirement, it definitely comes highly recommended.

Ethernet cable
Regular cat5/cat6 Ethernet cable.

The Raspberry Pi has an Ethernet port, ready to connect to a local area network (LAN). Although the third generation Raspberry Pi’s also have on-board Wi-Fi connectivity, a wired network might also be your style. Any standard Ethernet cat5/cat6 cable can be used and are available from local PC shops, TakealotLoot and BangGood.

Using a Raspberry Pi model 3, it can be connected to a Wi-Fi network in almost no time. Earlier models will need an USB Wi-Fi dongle (see below). Also see 3 ways to connect a Raspberry Pi 3 to a network using Wi-Fi.

Other optional accessories

The Raspberry Pi case

Just like any computer, the Raspberry Pi board needs some protection. Apart from protection, the case is also something to show off with, or to make the Raspberry Pi fit into its surroundings.

Official Raspberry Pi case
One of many available Raspberry Pi cases. This is the official Raspberry Pi white/red case.

There are many type, shape, colour and form variations available in South Africa. One thing to look out for is to make sure the case is designed for the model used. RS Online has a few official Raspberry Pi cases to choose from. Seeing that the Raspberry Pi case is generally just a piece of plastic, nice, cheaper generic cases can also be ordered from BangGood.

USB Wi-Fi dongle

In the case of a Raspberry Pi model 2 (or earlier), an USB Wi-Fi dongle can be used to connect wirelessly. Edimax has a nice range of USB Wi-Fi dongles, but any general Wi-Fi dongle can be used.

USB Wi-Fi dongles are available from a local PC shop, Takealot, LootGame and Makro. Generic versions are also available from BangGood.

About the author
Renier busies himself with improving his English writing, creative web design and his websites, photoshopping, micro-electronics, multiple genres of music, superhero movies and badass series.
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