Usage of RPi3
The RPi can actually be used to do many things. Let us understand some of the major uses and look at what really exists in the market.
Use as a desktop computer
Though this was never the intention of the SBC designers, this is one of the easiest tasks that the RPi can perform. To work as a desktop computer, the RPi has 3 major software elements needed – an easy to use OS, a browser, and an equivalent of MS-Office. The extra hardware needed are a keyboard and a mouse, a monitor, and an external HDD. But, the RPi never gained popularity in this area. We will discuss this in some detail later on.
As a Server
The RPi can act as a web server and as a storage server in a LAN. This needs connections to the Internet, and to one or more HDDs to store the data. Software to make the RPi work as a server is available for free.
As a NAS
Again, like a server, you can connect multiple HDDs to an RPi and use it as a Network Attached Storage (NAS). One of the primary components for this is NAS software. A popular offering is the Open Media Vault that runs on Debian Linux and acts like an OS for NAS. It offers services including SSH, (S)FTP, SMB/CIFS, DAAP media server, RSync, BitTorrent client and many more. Detailed instructions on setting up the RPi as a NAS are available on the Net. Once this is set up, you can access the files from any other device that is connected to the network.
As a controller for devices in real-time
One of the uses of RPi along with its GPIO is to use it to control external devices in real-time. It is quite popular in labs for the control of robotic devices. It can be connected to sensors to read real-time data, and then trigger some form of action. For example, when a person enters a room, a sensor could send information of human presence to the RPi that could switch a light on.
Though using the RPi in the labs is fine, using it in real life may not make too much sense. There are three main issues.
- Sensing and control of devices need limited, very focused, and high-speed processing. This can be better achieved with specific micro-controllers that would be faster than a general-purpose CPU. A well-designed board using such a micro-controller would be less expensive. With good embedded code, such boards are always preferred. For example, every electronic and even some electrical equipment at home will have such as a board that has been programmed for a specific task. Your TV, fridge, microwave – all have some microprocessor and their accompanying circuits and accessories to make the device work for you.
- With a 64-bit circuitry, the ARM processor will be, in most cases, an overkill for real-time control.
- Most of the I/O and communication in the RPi may never be used.
What is done is that the RPi is used in the lab to design and develop a system. Once that is done, the code is translated to a specific micro-controller and that is implemented. But again, most micro-controller manufacturers provide breadboards that do just that. Whatever code you develop using a breadboard, can be transferred directly to the final production board without any translation.
As a Media Server and Player
One area where the RPi is gaining acceptance and popularity is entertainment. Used with the right software, the RPi can act as a repository of your media files and make it available to you across your home. In this case, the RPi acts as a media server. It can also act as a media player. Connected to your TV or amplifier, the RPi can play movies and music for you quite well. Again, we will be discussing this in some detail further down in the article.
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