Programmer Gifts - Pi For Xmas
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Sunday, 12 December 2021

The holiday season is a good time to learn about computers - you have the time. But where to start? Our advice is to ignore the pudding and go for a Pi.

Disclosure: If you make a purchase at Amazon by clicking on the product images in this article we may earn an affiliate commission. 

There has never been a better time to get involved in computing and the reason is the Raspberry Pi. This remarkable hardware can get you started in a whole different way of using computers. It is also a safe and cheap way to simply learn about programming.

You can do this for the unbelievably low price of $5 but I'd advise spending just a little more. The $5 miracle is the Raspberry Pi Zero. It is a complete computer that you can program using Python, C, Java etc and you can use it as the basis for custom hardware projects. It is remarkable value but I'd advise against buying it unless you are already happy with such technicalities. and remember you'll also need a USB power supply, a micro HDMI to HDMI connector and a keyboard and HDMI monitor. The reason is that it doesn't have any network connection at all and the era of the Internet this is limiting.

Personally I'd opt for the Pi Zero W 2, launched in October 2021, which has WiFi and Bluetooth built in. In this case you can even get away without a keyboard and and a monitor but again for simplicity it is better not to try this until you know a bit more. The W costs double the basic Zero but at $15 or less it is still almost a disposable computer. If you do decide to go for a basic Zero then I'd invest in a small kit. You need a USB power supply, a micro HDMI to HDMI connector and a keyboard and HDMI monitor.

The Pi Zero W 2 is great for getting started with learning to program or for building clever devices, but if you want to use the Pi as something like a full computer then you need to move up to the Raspberry Pi 4. This comes in a range of memory sizes and starts at $35 with 1GByte. If you know what you want to use the Pi 4 for then buy the size that suits the task. If you don't know then by the 4GByte version as you can't upgrade later. In practice the Pi 4 with 4GBytes is powerful enough to be used as a desktop replacement. 

Click to buy at Amazon.

Again you can't just buy a Pi, you need some extras. You need a USB power supply that will source 3amps, which is more than most smartphones and similar adapters produce. If you are going to use it "the easy way" you will also need an micro HDMI cable, a USB keyboard/mouse, an HDMI monitor and an SD card. You might well have some of these items already, but you can also simplify things a bit more by buying a starter kit:

Click to buy at Amazon.

The top of the range Raspberry Pi is the Pi 400 - a complete desktop machine based on a slightly faster Pi 4Bhoused in a keyboard. You can buy the Pi 400 standalone: 

or together with a power supply, a mouse, micro HDMI cable, and a 16GB SD card preloaded with Raspberry Pi OS and a manual:

Click to buy at Amazon.

While the Pi 400 can be used as a desktop machine (preferably with two monitors which is what I currently use), but it is an excellent development machine for IoT type applications as the GPIO connector is available at the back. 

So what do you do if you want to not just to learn to program but also want to find out about physical computing or the IoT? You need a selection of components, a prototyping board and some jumper wires. There are a number of different kits that supply a range of parts, but the one I personally like, which is suitable for a Raspberry Pi 400, 4B or  3B+  is this one:

kit

 Click to buy at Amazon.

What is so good about this kit is that at $21.95 it includes a full range of possibilities. You get a lots of LEDs, LED display, small motore, power supply and a prototyping board and jumper wires. Notice that you don't get a Pi or any of the things you need for basic use of the Pi this is an add-on.

For an even more extensive kit there's this one from Sunfounder, again no Pi is included. What this kit does offer is the 131 lessons in four programming languages: 60 Python lessons, 45 lessons in C#, 10 processing lessons in Java, and 18 lessons in Scratch and components you need for projects.

Click to buy at Amazon. 

Personally I'd advise getting a multimeter as well and, given how cheap they are today, why not. This just over $10 meter isn't the best, but it is good enough for most things:

meter

Click to buy at Amazon.

Later you will need a soldering iron, wire cutters, digital signal analyzer and more...

Finally would it be Xmas without a copy of one of my Pi books?

No of course not! 

Probably the easiest route into IoT projects using a Raspberry Pi for the comparative beginner is to take advantage of Linux Drivers and for this you have two choices of language - Python and C: 

Click to buy at Amazon

The direct way to program the Pi is using GPIO Zero and if you want to do this from Python then this is the book you need:


pyIoT360coverClick to buy at Amazon

My recommendation for programming your Pi is to use C and get the most out of it, along with an education that is becoming rarer as things move ever upward and abstract. C is at least 10 times faster than Python. 

FrontCover800 Click to buy at Amazon.

If you need something to get you up to speed in C then my  book on the C language is written with an IoT context in mind - but this is not a book for the complete beginner.

Click to buy at Amazon.

And if you are looking for something on using Linux at a fairly low level then you also need the companion volume:

Click to buy at Amazon

 

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 12 December 2021 )