Sunday, 5 May 2013

My GrannyBook Raspberry Pi Emerges

At the first MakerCamp on the Gold Coast we were asked to suggest a project we were working on. I suggested I would like to make a GrannyBook based on the Raspberry Pi, the $35 computer I estimated would do the job. Loosely defined, my idea is for a very cheap device, under $100, that would allow your granny to turn her old Windows XP box into something akin to a Chromebook. In other words any person with an obsolete PC that still works could throw out their old processor box and replace it with a small device that would boot straight to a browser within which all normal use of a computer could be conducted - a very cheap and easy cloud computer.

I duly purchased a $60 the Raspberry Pi kit from Steve at Gold Coast Techspace which included the Raspberry Pi board, an SD card completely configured with the OS and an HDMI cable. On eBay Australia I bought a clear acrylic case for less than $10. To use my existing monitor I had to add a $5 HDMI to DVI adapter. Finally with another eBay purchase from the shop that supplied the case I added a $10 Comfast Wi-Fi adapter rather than use the built-in Ethernet port. In total this amounted to a $85 investment.

After plugging in a USB keyboard I added a standard non-powered USB adapter to take a USB mouse and the Comfast Wi-Fi adapter. Then came the big moment of the first boot and true to form the RPi within about 15 seconds opened in the desktop having determined the monitor resolution perfectly. To my surprise and delight there were drivers present for the Comfast Wi-Fi adapter and I simply had to login to my home Wi-Fi network.

The on-board Midori browser fired up perfectly and I logged in to my Google account. Thereafter I was in the usual Google wonderland with access to email, calendar, sites, blog, and all the other goodies - in other words a good approximation to a Chromebook.

The inevitable downsides are present:

  • the less than lightning speed of the boot sequence compared to a real Chromebook
  • the pauses as web pages are loaded in the browser although performance overall is very adequate
  • the lack of Google Chrome and associated plugins, but further investigation might solve this
Nevertheless for a very small investment and an hour of my time I am well on the way to a viable GrannyBook. More anon.