Do you have young children that are curious about technology and like to work with their hands? Is your significant other a hands-on person or a hobbyist? Maybe you’re a bit of an electronics geek in hiding and not sure what you should get yourself? Well if you can relate to any of those then this article is for you.

What am I talking about?

Your ideal Christmas gift for your family tinkerer especially if you live on a budget, has got to be hands down  The Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi or Pi for short is a tiny single-board computer made by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. They cost about $35 USD a piece or roughly $7000 USD and can usually be set up with stuff most people would have lying around the house if they own a smartphone or computer (You can purchase a complete setup for about $70 USD or $14,000).

What does this mean?

A single-Board computer is a fully functional computer compressed onto a circuit board about the size of your wallet. There’s no Hard drive disk or video card or if you lived in the 90’s, a modem for telephone connection required. This tiny little electronic marvel runs off of fully integrated hardware that can do some really amazing things.

What can it do?

Raspberry Pi’s can be used for a wide range of purposes ranging from:

  1. A video game console (both handheld and home) for All of your games up to PlayStation and Nintendo DS;
  2. A Home Media Server to share Movies, Music and Tv Shows across your home network without the lag of your internet connection;
  3. Your own low powered computer;
  4. (My personal favourite) A low-cost Fileserver that you can remotely access from anywhere i.e. your own lost cost, low maintenance cloud;
  5. A low-tech DIY security system;
  6. Turn your regular TV into a smart TV in about 15 minutes;
  7. A network access point to effectively and cheaply extend your Wifi;
  8. Make a smart mirror;
  9. You can learn to programme!; and
  10. You can often do more than one of these things at a time!

Thankfully, a simple google search will reveal an entire world of possibilities that stem from this little device which includes creating Robots and even a home automation system.

Why is this a great gift?

If you know someone that has a love for any of this stuff or just likes little DIY projects, then this is perfect for them because:

  1. It’s relatively cheap (only $7000);
  2. You have most of the tools you’ll need already;
  3. There are lots of different kinds of projects that cater to all skill levels;
  4. They will thank you for giving them something to do with their hands;
  5. It runs open Source and Linux;
  6. It can help get persons into engineering, coding, computers and that’s all stuff we need in the 21st Century.

Of course, this isn’t for everyone. Speaking as someone who owns a Pi it can get a little frustrating when your cool DIY all-in-one problem-solving device doesn’t work on the first or fourteenth try. Some people might get a little frustrated. This is especially true if there isn’t someone along to guide them on what they should and shouldn’t do.

Fortunately, there is a wide range of projects and all kinds of FREE support out there including the official Raspberry Pi Team who send out cool ideas almost every few weeks or so. So there’s a lot to do if you have the drive and I think this is the sort of device that can help you create that drive to work with your hands.

The Downside/Catch

The Pi is awesome but there are some limitations that you’ll notice as soon as it fires up. The main one is the power limitation of the hardware itself. The Pi clocks in at 1.2 GHz and uses ARM architecture which means you probably can use it to replace your personal computer.

The projects are also limited by the number of materials you have and while you can do quite a bit with just an ethernet cable, HDMI cable, Monitor, mouse and keyboard, most of the really cool projects demand you spend some money or get some equipment. They also might require some wiring and soldering so there’s a learning curve. Some projects also require some programming.

Its also primarily Linux powered. This while in my opinion,  is a superior operating system, has a bit of a learning curve. As long as you don’t fight the experience you usually get the hang of things within the first thirty minutes or so and can DIY to your heart’s content.

The Verdict

GET ONE OF THESE FOR EVERY NERD YOU KNOW. Buy one for your child if they were good this year. Buy one for your spouse, girlfriend or friend if they like this sort of stuff.  Heck, you can even buy one for me as I really would like a second PI for a dedicated secure home network 🙂

Ron Motilall is a Linux user and a huge technology enthusiast. He graduated with a LLB in Law from the University of Guyana and believes the late 90’s was the most important period for human innovation. Ron describes himself as a learner and teacher with extensive knowledge about open source technology and its role in changing innovation, you can read more of his articles here.