Ode to the Raspberry Pi

The best little computer money can buy.

I love the Raspberry Pi. I love the concept of a cheap, tiny, and capable computer that can be used for anything and everything. I鈥檝e used them since they first came out in 2011, and I still have my original Raspberry Pi 1 Model B. It鈥檚 not very useful now, with it鈥檚 slow CPU and lack of built-in wireless, but it鈥檚 still sitting in my desk drawer. You never know when it could be useful again.

I鈥檝e had and have many versions of the Raspberry Pi, and have used them for a variety of projects and purposes. I want to detail a few of them here.


I posted about this a few months back, but the Pi-Hole might be the best thing I鈥檝e ever used a Pi for. It鈥檚 easy to set up, easy to maintain, and has made my life better in a meaningful way. My Pi-Hole is running on a Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ in the official case. It鈥檚 tucked under my TV next to the cable modem and connected directly to the router. The older-model Pi is plenty powerful for this purpose, and having it hard-wired removes any annoyances with WiFi adapters.

If there is a project to recommend, it鈥檚 this one. Any Pi will work, as it requires very little in terms of resources, and the benefits are huge.


GoPiGo Robot

I built a robot once. It was for a Hebocon that AWH hosted. I picked up an open-box kit at MicroCenter for around $40, and used the Pi 1 B+ (which is now the Pi-Hole). I controlled it using a mouse and lost the tournament. The robot parts are still in a drawer and can be hooked up to just about any (non-Zero) Pi if I ever wanted to take another stab at it. I鈥檝e considered grabbing a camera (or some other sensor) and trying to make it more than a glorified R/C car, but haven鈥檛 had the motivation (yet).

Smart Switch

Raspberry Pi Smart Switch

For a few years, I used a Pi and a PowerSwitch Tail to create a custom smart switch. It was used to control Christmas lights around the apartment (then later the house). The software was a simple web server controlling some GPIO pins that toggled the switch on or off. I tried various combinations of server languages and frameworks (Python with Flask, then Node with Express), and various ways of pinging the server (web site, Ionic app, then another web site). Ultimately, it was a fun project but not very useful once actual smart switches became cheaper and easier to use.

I now have a whole collection of WeMo switches around the house and the Pi鈥檚 have been repurposed.


RetroPie is the most fun I鈥檝e had with a Pi. At it鈥檚 core, RetroPie isn鈥檛 much more than a collection of other software and utilities to make emulation easier. It doesn鈥檛 even have to be run on a Pi, I鈥檝e run it on my little laptop, but it excels on the Pi. You can get pre-made SD card images which make set up fast and easy. Once it鈥檚 set up, you add your ROMs (from totally legit places, of course), run the scraper to collect some metadata, and play.

Using their pre-made images on the Pi works better because it can take over the entire system rather than being another app in a menu. It also saves a lot of hassle with compiling all the emulators and tools, and making sure it鈥檚 all configured right. Updates take a while no matter which way you installed it.

My current RetroPie is a Pi 3 Model B, though I intend to get a 4 once they are more available and once RetroPie officially supports it. But the 3 is plenty powerful to emulate up to the PS1 (not N64, though it might be possible with the Pi 4). I鈥檝e used a handful of USB controllers (this and this), but have settled on a nice wireless one recently which as made it much easier to pick up and play. I also keep it in the wonderful Flirc case, which looks great and works well as a big, passive heatsink.

RetroPie鈥檚 also don鈥檛 require an active internet connection, so they are perfect for hotels (as long as you have an HDMI input on the TV).

GPi Case

This is a new development. I saw the announcement and initial release of the GPi Case a couple of months back and wanted it from the moment I saw it. It鈥檚 made by RetroFlag, whose other cases I鈥檝e used before, but is much more than a simple case. It includes a screen and buttons to turn a Raspberry Pi Zero (I鈥檓 using a W) into the best GameBoy every made. I finally managed to order one last week and only just received it. I鈥檒l probably post more thoughts once I鈥檝e had more time to play with it. First impressions are good, though.

Future Projects

I鈥檝e always got some idea floating around about how I can use a Pi. I kind of want to build a Magic Mirror, but would settle for a simple dashboard-style screen displaying a shared calendar. The Raspberry Pi Subreddit is wonderful and friendly, and browsing other people鈥檚 projects is lots of fun


Get a Pi. They are cheap and versatile. And with the new Raspberry Pi 4, they are legitimately pretty powerful.