📅 January 31, 2018
The Raspberry Pi is a wonder worker!
So many uses are possible. If you enjoy Linux, then the Pi wonder becomes even more wonderful since most applications depend upon Linux.
Do you have a Raspberry Pi tucked away in a box somewhere because you are not sure what to do with it after the novelty wore off?
Here are five free, useful purposes for the humble Pi.
All software listed here is free of charge, fully functional, and runs on the Raspberry Pi 2 and Raspberry Pi 3. The Raspberry Pi 3 is the newer model with faster specifications, so it is recommended over the Pi 2…especially for RetroPie.
For the Pi 3, you should use at least a 5v 2A power supply. You will also need a Pi enclosure, an HDMI cable (for HDTV connection), and a Cat 5e or better network cable for network connection. A standard USB keyboard will work with the Pi. This is useful for manual configuration locally.
Most importantly, the Pi requires a micro SD card. 32G or higher is recommended. 128GB cards work well too. Burn an image to the card, and then insert it into the Pi. The Pi then boots and runs from the micro SD card. Additional storage devices can be plugged into the USB ports directly, but mechanical drives, both 2.5″ and 3.5″, will require their own power supplies. Most SSD drives and USB thumb drives should receive enough power from the USB ports alone.
In all cases, the Pi can administered remotely via SSH provided it has been set up to do so. This means that after the initial local configuration, you can tuck the Pi away somewhere and handle details remotely over the network.
Ready for some fun ideas? Here we go.
Do you crave the simpler games from years ago? RetroPie provides a wealth of emulators for playing nostalgic goodies. Simply download the free ISO, write it to a micro SD, and enjoy!
(Some configuration might be required.)
You can customize RetroPie to your liking with various hardware, themes, and supported consoles. You must supply the games yourself. Many do-it-yourself builders use RetroPie when building their own arcade cabinets. There are some truly impressive projects worth reading about that were centered around the Raspberry Pi and RetroPie.
Performance-wise, most games play as good as they did on their original consoles. Expect quirks once in a while due to lack of the original hardware, but do expect sharper graphics. You can connect a RetroPie device to a 4K HDTV or a simple computer monitor via the Pi’s built-in HDMI port.
RetroPie takes advantage of better processing power, so definitely use the Raspberry Pi 3 if given the choice. A Pi 2 will work, but expect slowdown in some games that require added processing power.
Another reason to use the Pi 3’s better processing is video filters. RetroPie includes many graphic filters that alter or improve the game graphics depending upon your choice. Scanlines, watercolors, eagle smoothing, and much, much more are available. However, the more video filters that are enabled, the slower the game will run, so use the fastest Pi available.
Controllers may be wired, such as the DualShock 4, or wireless, such as the 8bitdo, but trial and error might be needed. This is a free project that is continually being improved, so research the hardware you wish to use for compatibility.
Roku. Minix. NVIDIA Shield. All of these devices stream Internet TV and video to your living room’s big screen television, but they are prebuilt products. For the adventurous tinkerer, why not build your own?
With OpenELEC (Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center), you can convert a Raspberry Pi into a streaming TV box of your liking. Of course, there might be more to fiddle with, such as the kind of remote you prefer and making the hardware and software agree with each other, but the result can does things that prebuilt options cannot.
Simply download the ISO, and write it to a micro SD card.
Do you need a network attached storage device (NAS)? A simple NAS? A complex NAS? OpenMediaVault is a full-featured NAS program that turns your Raspberry Pi into a storage repository to meet your needs no matter how large or how small they might be.
The options available are truly impressive out of the box. FTP, SSH, SMB/CIFS, rsync, TFTP, RAID, User/Group management, NFS, and more! The options are too involved to cover here, but if there is a network storage option you want, then OpenMediaVault probably has it, and, if not, you can usually download and install a plugin to expand its capabilities.
A handy web-based interface allows you to manage every aspect of OpenMediaVault without delving into the command line.
What about a dedicated media server for your home network? MediaTomb is a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) server that serves video, audio, and image files to DLNA-equipped devices on the same network.
Game consoles, Smart TVs, VLC, computers, tablets, cell phones…any software that connects to a DLNA server will access the content. In fact, you can use MediaTomb on one Raspberry Pi to serve your personal media to another Raspberry Pi running OpenELEC.
MediaTomb provides a central location for storing personal media for view by any DLNA device on your home network.
Performance will vary by demand due to the Pi’s limited hardware. For example, streaming 50 4K UHD videos to 50 different devices might not be possible, but for one or two users at a time, then the Raspberry Pi is plenty.
MediaTomb might seem fickle at times, but it features a web-based interface for management. Available for free from the Ubuntu repository.
Oh, no! Not another ad!
If you feel frustrated being forced to view invasive annoyances littering your web pages and wish there was a simple way to remove almost all ads across all devices on your network, then Pi-Hole is an answer to your prayers.
“Why not just use an ad blocker like uBlock or AdBlock?”
Use that too. The difference is scope. Browser-based ad-blocker extensions must be installed for each browser on each computer and device. This amounts to a lot of system maintenance and configuration. If you use custom blocklists, then you must update each one on each device to remain synchronized.
Pi-Hole takes a different approach. Install Raspbian/Pi-Hole on a dedicated Raspberry Pi device, and then connect the Pi to your network. Pi-Hole then handles all DNS requests from any device on the network. If a requested domain name is found on any of Pi-Hole’s blocklists (you can add as many as you like), then no connection is made and you never see the add.
The concept is the similar to editing the /etc/hosts file in Linux to resolve known ad domain names to 0.0.0.0. The connection is never made, and you never see the ads.
Of course, if a domain name is not in a blocklist, then some ads might appear. In that case, you can set blacklists and whitelists. Customization is expansive. You can filter whatever you like, not just ads.
Setup as a single DNS chokepoint requires more work. By default, you must set the primary DNS server to each device manually to point to the Pi-Hole in order for Pi-Hole to filter ads. However, you can simplify matters by pointing your ISP router’s primary DNS server to the Pi-Hole. All devices on the network will automatically use Pi-Hole for DNS resolution and point the Pi-Hole’s upstream DNS server to be the ISP DNS server.
Network speed is unaffected since Pi-Hole only handles DNS resolution. The advantage? Any device connected to the network will automatically have ads blocked without the need to manually set the primary DNS settings on each device separately to the Pi-Hole. Filter ads from one point.
Whether you connect a computer, cell phone, tablet, game console, streaming TV box, or whatever, many ads will be blocked. Since Pi-Hole is simply a DNS blocker, you can block more than just ads. You can block undesirable web sites as well. Best of all, Pi-Hole provides a friendly web-based interface to manage every aspect of the blocking mechanism and provide graphical reports.
Of course, ads served via HTTPS on an allowed domain (think YouTube) will still appear, so this is why a browser-based ad blocker should also be used (you can still block specific YouTube ad servers with Pi-Hole). Nonetheless, Pi-Hole still blocks a large majority of the ads and does a large majority of the ad-blocking work for you in the absence of browser addons.
Pi-Hole can be installed on practically any Linux machine, but a Raspberry Pi is a low-power device that you can set up and forget about on a home network without running up the electric bill.
Pi-Hole is probably one of the best reasons to use a Raspberry Pi. Highly recommended.