Readers of this blog probably need no introduction to the incredible Raspberry Pi. Introduced in 2013 to teach computer science in developing countries, it has sold over eight million units while blossoming as a simple, yet powerful platform for hobbyists, businesses, and students around the world.
The Pi has been steadily improving, and the newest Raspberry Pi 3 can almost replace your desktop, with built-in WiFi, Bluetooth, and a powerful quad-core ARM CPU. But what if you are stuck with an older Pi? In this blog post, we will focus on using a plethora of Plugable products to make the most of any Pi, even the tiny five-dollar Pi Zero.
Let’s start by talking about what you want to do with your Pi…
Raspberry Pis enable an array of use scenarios that require modest computing power at an incredible price and tiny size. Today, they are used in applications that include education, general purpose computing, servers for printing and storage, home automation hubs, and lately as both nodes and gateways in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem. The new Raspberry Pi 3 is specifically advertised as the IoT version of the platform due to its on-board Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities.
Plugable has made several posts in the past to help our customers set up and use the Pi with our one or two of our products. In this post and video, we will showcase a whole range of Plugable products that work with the Pi. You’ll find links in the video and at the end of this post to each product we show.
Raspberry Pi and resources
The Raspberry Pi parade ranges from the original Pi released in 2013 to the Pi 3 released February 2016, and includes the amazing little five-dollar Pi Zero. Not every application needs the horsepower of the Pi 3, and Plugable products can bring out the best in each Pi model, while adding the most useful features of the Pi 3.
One of the major differences between Pi versions is the number of USB ports and the power they can supply. Earlier Pis had one or two USB ports while the Pi Zero has only one, while all have power limitations. Devices that need a lot of power, such as USB WiFi adapters, don’t work with earlier versions or the Zero due to these power constraints. Other devices like external USB hard drives often won’t work without external power supplies, unless specially designed for the Pi.
Plugable offers several powered USB hubs that add more ports while supplying more power. In the video, we show a good example with the Pi Zero where our USB2-HUB4BC adds powered USB ports while powering the Pi itself. In this configuration external connections are reduced to just an HDMI cable and the power cable to the Plugable hub.
Another use for the Pi Zero is as a server on your network with no other connectivity. But the Pi Zero has no network interface built in. Plugable to the rescue! In a previous post and video we used our OTGE100 USB Ethernet adapter with no additional adapters or hubs to connect. This allows you to ssh into the Pi from another computer, and no keyboard, mouse, or hub is needed.
What do you need to give your older Pi the resources of the Pi 3?
We can’t help speed up your CPU or add memory, but we can help with just almost everything else! The older Raspberry Pis lacked USB ports and especially lacked the power to drive many USB device types. As with the Pi Zero, Plugable provides several powered USB hubs that expand your capability to connect USB peripherals.
Our USB 2.0 hubs are a great match for the Pi family, such as the 7 port USB2-HUB7BC. Its seven USB ports and 60 Watt power supply can turn your Pi into a very capable multiple-drive file server, and still leave room printer connections as well. The Pi is designed specifically for USB 2.0, so stick to those devices and hubs when perfecting your Pi.
The Pi 3 comes with built-in Bluetooth and WiFi, but we can match that for your older Pi. In the video we show a configuration that uses Plugable’s USB Bluetooth and WiFi adapters to get rid of bothersome cables. As shown in the post for our KEY3 and KEY3XL keyboards you can connect all sorts of Bluetooth and Bluetooth low energy devices, from keyboard and mouse to sensors and beacons. The whole world of IoT is open to your upgraded Raspberry Pi!
What about audio?
The Raspberry Pi Zero has no audio output unless you provide your own circuitry and connector. Pis with an audio connector have notoriously poor audio due to the method and circuitry used to generate sound. Plugable helps you improve this situation in two different ways: One is to use our USB-BT4LE Bluetooth adapter to drive audio devices ranging from headsets to speakers. We recently provided a blog post on how to set that up.
The second way that Plugable can help your Pi’s audio is our USB-AUDIO adapter. This device gives both stereo output and microphone input and works great with current Raspian releases right out of the box. Some of the latest Pis even allow streaming, but all versions allow decent playback for MP3 and other audio file formats. Either wired or wirelessly, Plugable can help you get great sound from your Pi.
Plugable Bluetooth wireless keyboards
Our Bluetooth keyboards eliminate cabling and allow the freedom of connecting a keyboard only when you need it. This is handy when the Pi is used in scenarios such as a server or in a kiosk. That’s great with the Pi 3’s built-in Bluetooth, but Plugable lets you do it with the entire Pi family. As we’ve shown in our posts, Plugable keyboards and Bluetooth mice pair perfectly with our USB Bluetooth adapter and work just as well with the Raspberry Pi 3’s built-in Bluetooth.
Communicate with legacy serial devices
Pis work great as communication devices and can be used between devices or networks with different protocols. This is useful for controlling older scientific and industrial devices that still connect through RS-232 serial ports. Plugable’s PL2303-DB9 USB serial adapter makes it easy to add one or more serial ports or terminals to your PI and bring legacy devices into the networking and wireless age.
Sometimes you just want to look at really small things
Are you bored? Plugable’s USB microscope is just the thing to look around your environment. While very practical for lab and educational uses, honestly, a lot of us just use it for fun and an occasional project. Whatever the use, it works great with your Pi.
Products used in this video
- USB2-HUB4C and USB2-HUB7BC
- USB2-OTGE100 on-the-go Ethernet Adapter
- BT-KEY3 and BT-KEY3XL
We hope you have found this blog post useful! Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or comments to add. How have you perfected your Pi with Plugable Products?