Visit to the Official Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge

Two weeks ago I had the chance to visit the official Raspberry Pi store in Cambridge. Apart from those living in the UK, I think not many will it that far, so I thought to share my pictures from the visit for you to enjoy (and maybe evaluate whether it’s worth the trip). Enjoy!

The Store

The Raspberry Pi Store is located in the Grand Arcade shopping mall, and on the second floor. Looks nice and official.

Naturally, it houses an excellent selection of the Pi boards. There was 3B-, 3A2, Zero, Zero W, Zero W+, compute modules, Pi 4 of course (with different memory options), all with good availability. To cheapest Zero boards were limited to 1 per customer, much like in web store. All boards had a good choice of cases as well on sale. Very nice.

You could also get whole computer kits with a nice raspberry themed keyboard and mouse, as well as a case, an SD card, power delivery (UK plug at least on the display version) and a beginner’s guide. Nice combo, although it of course about doubles the price tag of just the unit itself.

The dual monitor capability of the Pi 4 was very much on display, and there were a couple of machines to try out in the central table area of the store. The machines also had network connection, which was nice for test drive purposes, and not something that even mainstream computer stores have.

And if you want to tout your inner pi’ness, there was of course coffee mugs, notepads and t-shirts available. Would definitely have gotten one if I drank coffee, or had arrived to UK with more than just carry-on luggage!

Cool things with the Pi

Another thing prominently shown at the store were all the projects that you could do with Raspberry Pi. Here is a setup with an ultrasound distance sensor wired to the board.

Apart from trendy slogans and on-display unit, it was more than just a show or a “hands off demo”. The machines usually had a Python editor open with a short piece of code showcasing the actual DIY setup on display, which you could run and try out — or even modify! This is something that many kids or programming newbies will hopefully find exciting and maybe inspire them to try it out themselves.

Here’s another one with a Sense HAT from element 14 on top a Pi unit. It had a nice RGB display with the code to run animations in, so I naturally had to take a shot and made an old-school “random red and green blinking lights” progression that you see happening in front of very old mainframes. Was a bit disheartened I could not get my own invented-on-the-spot random number generator working and had to resort to stanrdard Python RNG. :(

Another with basic GPIO demo with a button, and some leds. The exact setup was naturally available for purchase on the shelves. The “project stands” usually also had a small display telling a bit more about what the setup is doing.

For those with less programming ability or maybe familiarity with the visual programming language used in LEGO robotic projects, there was also a Scratch demo in the store.

The Pi Accessories

In addition to the Pi boards, there was a multitude of exciting components and project kits, including but not limited to robotics, OLED and TFT displays, all kinds of Pi sensor hats, basic electronics kits, and sensors. The pricing was also good, and competitive with web, especially with no shipping fees and zero wait time. I spent probably an hour poring through the shelves and trying to decide what to pick!

Particularly tempting were the colorful Picade units on display, with robust controls and great retro feel. The size and price thankfully saved me from hauling these units back to Finland, but it was not an easy temptation to avoid!

There was also a very interesting mechanical “Turing Tumble” kit on display. It’s basically a mechanical “computer” powered by marbles. You can take a look at their website to learn more. Different mechanisms enable simple logic to be built, and even though the space is too limited to make a 16-bit adder or anything of the like, you’ll certainly have fun grasping the fundamentals!

Pi literature

In addition to coffee mugs, you can see a couple of t-shirts that were also available. There were also good hacker and geek friendly magazines with reasonable pricing, definitely something that you might pick up to spend some time with on the train ride back to London for example.

In addition to magazines, there was an excellent array of Pi and programming related books. Had I not switched solely to ebooks myself (and not having read those “Learn C” books already 25 years ago) I’d definitely left the store weighed down with some quality reading material!

Great selection of Raspberry Pi books catering all topics from computer architecture to projects and kids was superb as well. If you’d want to gift your kid, relative or neighbor (or even a co-worker) some Pi knowledge, you’d be well covered here.

All good things must come to an end

After much deliberation, I finally picked some stuff and headed to the counter. And what a counter! Behind the glass there seems to be every model of the Pi produced, as well as some pure boards and probably a couple of prototype ones as well. A mini-museum in itself!

My official Raspberry Pi Store receipt. Yeah I know: A measly Pi4 case! What was I thinking?! Probably mostly the 25+ boards, sensors, cases and other stuff waiting at home for me to work on — while walking the aisles I realized that apart from the Picade and the robotics units, I pretty much had almost every kind of gadget already purchased. So I settled for something light but officially Pi.

I had a superb visit, and considering the great historical landmarks and good pubs and restaurants, I can warmly recommend a trip to Cambridge and the Grand Arcade Pi Store to anyone visiting UK for more than a day or two.

In addition to housing an excellent selection of all things Pi, the official store gets my respect for representing Pi culture and projects in a very easy to approach and inviting manner. I believe the foundation’s goal to bring children to computing is well served with the store, and hopefully they can open a few more to other cities as well. The concept certainly seems strong enough. Five stars out of five.

Hands-on review of IKALOGIC SQ200

Most electronics DIY projects I’ve worked in the past have involved digital communication protocols such as USB, UART or PS/2. Sometimes when first twiddling with a new protocols, everything works nicely. Other times, things don’t quite work the way they should. In the latter case, a logic analyzer is an invaluable tool, essentially a multi-channel logger of digital signals, which you can use to hopefully pinpoint where things are not going as they should. Nowadays most of these are connected to PC, so you can capture a piece of communications between two devices, and analyze what is happening with a dedicated software.

I started my logic analysis with the inexpensive Bus Pirate, but after a while also got Saleae Logic unit I used to view the PS/2 traffic in my knock sensor project. Later on, I have gotten the PicoScope 2208B which has both analog oscilloscope functionality, as well as digital logic analysis capabilities.

So when I was contacted by IKALOGIC, the makers of ScanaQuad series of logic analyzers, who offered to send me a unit to try out in return for a review, I though I was in a good position to give it a spin and also have previous experience to compare it against. I also had a project in mind to test drive the SQ200 unit I got: my recent MIDI-USB adapter, which is a combination of slow 32 KHz serial signals, and quite fast USB signalling.

Note: I received the review unit from Ikalogic without cost, but with freedom to form my own opinion about the device. I’m giving praise where it’s due, but not pulling any punches where something will nag me or compare unfavorably against the devices I’ve had first-hand experience in the past!

Unboxing the ScanaQuad SQ200

The unit arrived well packaged, and inside the plastic wrapping I uncovered a matte black cardboard box with the unit name. A grade above no-name Chinese vendors, but of course not an iPhone “unwrapping ceremony” kind of thing either. Inside, there was the unit, USB cord and logic probes neatly packed (click for larger images).

There’s nothing complicated in taking the unit into use: Just attach the USB cable, the probes, and you’re set. Build quality of the unit is very good, with grey matte surface with nice finishing, four screws and a product spec sticker on the backside, and logo, markings and a power/activity LED on top.

Size-wise, the SQ200 is slightly larger than the very compact Logic unit I have from Saleae (it’s an old model, don’t recall the exact model code), which I rate as the gold standard in product casing, with Apple-esque metal feel (aluminum?) and solid construction. The Saleae unit actually has 8 channels despite it’s smaller size. On the comparison image you can also see PicoScope 2208B with 16-channel MSO capability. Compared to that, both IKALOGIC and Saleae units are quity tiny (still, the palm-sized 2208B is extremely compact as well, given the 2 high frequency analog channels and waveform generator).


Continue reading Hands-on review of IKALOGIC SQ200

Picoscope 2208B MSO Review

There are few tools that are essential for an electronics hobbyist. When I started, I had a soldering iron, a multimeter and some components, and that was about it. That got me quite far because you can do simple debugging even with a multimeter, but once you start to do any communications, you will either work in the dark or get a signal analyzer, oscilloscope, or both. I reached that point about 9 months into my hobby, and eventually decided to get an entry-level PicoScope from Picotech. You can read the whole story from my PicoScope 2204 review from four years ago.

Long story short, I was extremely happy with my Picoscope, and I’ve been using Picotech’s products ever since in various projects. In the past years, I’ve also been collaborating with Picotech, so I’ve had the chance to use also their higher end models, including the frighteningly powerful 4-channel, 200 MHz, 16 bit PicoScope 5444B, which is really great but maybe even too hefty for my use. So when I was offered the chance to try out Picotech’s latest generation of their entry-level 2000 series published just a month ago, I was immediately in.

Without further ado, let’s get reviewing!

PicoScope 2000 series overview

The new PicoScope 2000 series is divided into roughly two groups of equipment: The entry models 2204 and 2205 range in price from 139€ for the 10 MHz 2-channel 2204A to 419€ 2205A and 2405A which are 25 MHz and have MSO (mixed-signal oscilloscope, i.e. it has 16 channel digital part as well) capability and 4-channels, respectively. Don’t let the low bandwith confuse you, even these models have sampling rates ranging from 100 MS/s to 500 MS/s, so you will get quite a lot of measuring power out of them.

Biggest limitation with 2204 and 2205 models is the buffer size, which ranges from 8 kS to 48 kS, so for longer captures than a few waveforms, only option is the continuous capture over USB which worked at a steady rate of 1 MS/s the last time I used it. So you can do unlimited capturing of signals around 100 kHz, but above that it’s the normal oscilloscope triggering business — that’s the way scopes have always worked from their beginnings, so it gets the job done as well.

  2204 2205 2206 2207 2208
Bandwith 10 MHz 20 MHz 50 MHz 70 MHz 100 MHz
Sample rate 100 MS/s 200 MS/s 500 MS/s 1000 MS/s 1000 MS/s
Resolution * 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit
Memory 8 kS 16 kS (48 kS w. MSO/4ch) 32 MS 64 MS 128 MS
Price (2015-22-05) 139 € 209 € 319 € 459 € 629 €
Options MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch

*) Resolution for repeating signals can be increased to 12 bit with multiple samples
Continue reading Picoscope 2208B MSO Review

BeagleBone Black GPIO Benchmark

Look what the mailman brought: It’s a shiny (or maybe matte?) BeagleBone Black, freshly arrived (actually it’s been over a month, but time sure flies…) from Newark element14! I’ve been doing Raspberry Pi related hacking for a while, but especially when the Pi was still fresh and new, I did from time to time consider if the grass would be greener on other side of the fence. Or blacker, in this case, as I mean BeagleBone Black.

BeagleBone was long very much more powerful than Raspberry Pi, but now that Pi2 has come out, price and specification-wise they are closer than ever. A quick personal comparison chart:

  BeagleBone Black Raspberry Pi 2 (B)
Price 46 € (Element14) 32 € (Element14)
Processor 1GHz single-core Cortex-A8 0.9GHz quad-core Cortex-A7
Memory 512MB DDR3 1GB
Connections USB host, USB device, micro-HDMI 4x USB, HDMI, 3.5mm Audio/analog video
GPIO 2x 46 pin headers (65 digital I/O) 40 GPIO pins (26 digital I/O)
Other 4GB integrated flash, works as USB device camera and display interface on board

When Pi1 was out, the BeagleBone Black with the more modern Cortex-A8 chip and higher clockrate was definitely the more powerful, but now with 4-core Pi2, the tables have somewhat turned. Still, the clockrate is higher and there’s more GPIO. And speaking of GPIO, my Raspberry Pi vs. Pi2 GPIO benchmark has gotten a lot of interest, so I thought the best way to take this black beauty for a test drive would be to benchmark BeagleBone Black GPIO in a similar way.

Test setup

Test bench

The test subject is the most recent revision C of BeagleBone Black. I followed the (a bit lacking in detail and readability) Getting Started guide and downloaded the latest Debian Jessie image (8.3, 2016-01-24), flashed it to card and ran apt-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade (2016-04-14).
Continue reading BeagleBone Black GPIO Benchmark

Topre Realforce 88UB – A Happier Hacking Keyboard

Topre Realforce 88UB review

This is my review of the Topre Realforce 88UB mechanical keyboard with evenly weighted 45g switches and UK layout. This is the ISO layout sister model of the Topre Realforce 87U (87UB / 87UW) so everything in this review will apply for that model, except a few layout details regarding the extra keys. Before diving into details, a short background of my previous journey:

Two years ago I got really interested in high quality mechanical keyboards. After all, the keyboard is the instrument I use several hours every day, so if I am spending close to 2000€ on a workstation and display, why should I compromise with a cheap 30€ keyboard, especially since the keyboard will likely last several workstation lifespans?

After heavy research I settled on Happy Hacking Keyboard 2 Professional due to its compact “hacker” layout which seemed great for vim, and Topre key switches, which many consider to have the very best tactile feel. See my review of the HHKB2 keyboard for details.

However, in two years of typing with the HHKB, I never fully learned to use function key bindings for cursor keys and Home/End fluently. Coding with Vim somewhat alleviated the problem, but every time with a command prompt or a shell this nagged me. Also, playing games required a separate keyboard, as most games make use of function keys, and many make use of both WASD and cursor keys. It was time for something else. Something better.

Topre Realforce 88UB – Best of both worlds?

After my experience with HHKB, I had the critical components for my dream keyboard well thought out:

  1. Tenkeyless model with dedicated cursor and function keys. I’ve also used CM Quickfire TK and I can say from experience it is a terrible idea.
  2. ISO layout, so I get the \ and | right next to my right pinky, and an additional key next to z to get < and > in Finnish keyboard layout (it doubles as another \| in US layout)
  3. Topre switches for the ultimate typing comfort. Having used rubber dome, scissor mechanisms and Cherry MX blues, and trying out reds, blacks and browns, there really is no competitor. Buckling spring is just too heavy and noisy for my taste.

The items 1 and 2 are quite easy, but the third one essentially meant that the Topre Realforce line would be the primary candidate to fill all these needs. I’ve used The Keyboard Company before and they have a superb selection of Topre models, so I quickly zoomed in on the black 88-key model with UK layout:

Topre Realforce 88UB UK layout
Continue reading Topre Realforce 88UB – A Happier Hacking Keyboard

Picoscope Beta for Linux

Picoscope for Linux

Tux logo by Larry Ewing, Simon Budig, Anja Gerwinski

I’ve been a big fan of Picotech’s USB connected PC oscilloscopes ever since I purchased my first PicoScope 2204 almost two years ago. I liked the compact form factor on my desk a lot, and the powerful Picoscope software for Windows – Picotech makes only one version of this software so you get the same functionality with a £159 ($260) 2204 scope as a £5,995 ($9,900) PicoScope 6407 user would – although of course the scope features would be wildly different.

Now Picoscope is a great piece of Windows software and as I generally use Win7 to avoid reboots every time I want to use Photoshop or play a session of Mass Effect, it’s been perfect for me. However, quite a few of electronics enthusiasts are also big advocates of open software movement, and while Picotech has had drivers and SDK for Linux for a while to implement things like my realtime composite decoder, the fact that there is no Linux version of the oscilloscope software has been unfortunate. So when I noticed in the latest Picotech newsletter that there is now a beta of Picoscope for Linux, I knew I had to take it for a spin.

Installing Picoscope on Linux Mint 15

Picotech’s installation process is built on apt packaging system, so a Debian-based Linux distro is the easiest installation target. This includes the wildly popular Ubuntu and Linux Mint distros, which means mainstream Linux users are well catered to. In Picotech forums, the beta thread had at least one user who extracted necessary stuff from the .deb packages and installed the software for Fedora, too.

In Debian-based Mint, the installation went without any hiccups just by following the instructions at Picotech’s Linux Drivers page. Note that sudo apt-get install picoscope also installs all drivers so you don’t need to install your model-specific driver separately. Essentially the installation is just:

sudo echo deb http://labs.picotech.com/debian picoscope main >> /etc/apt/sources.list
wget -O - http://labs.picotech.com/debian/dists/picoscope/Release.gpg.key | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install picoscope

Continue reading Picoscope Beta for Linux

HHKB Professional 2 Keyboard Review

HHKB Professional 2

The keyboard is something that I use daily, and whether I’m writing e-mails or coding, I’ll likely do several hours of typing a day. Last summer when I switched to US layout in coding and started using Vim, I started thinking that maybe I should upgrade my seven year old Logitech keyboard to something hopefully better. And when I get such a project, I did what I always do: Went totally overkill with research and ended up spending a few hundred euros once I had made up my mind on the “most optimal choice” for me. :)

Update: If you’re interested in this review, you might want to check out my continuation with the Topre Realforce 88UB.

Keyboards: 101

My worldview after 2000 was essentially that laptop type flat keyboards are the way of the future, and keyboard choice mainly depends on whether you buy a Logitech or Microsoft one, and do you get the top of the line model or an OEM version for 15 euros. Enter Geekhack and some interesting discussions at Stack exchange, and it quickly became apparent that there is more to it.

First choice one needs to make is the layout of the keyboard. Kinesis makes some weird looking ones that some people swear by, and there are matrix-type layouts, I decided I would continue to risk carpal tunnel syndrome with a “normal” layout for the time being, as I don’t want to optimize my brain for a keyboard type that would only be available at home.
Continue reading HHKB Professional 2 Keyboard Review

PicoScope 3206B Review

As I mentioned earlier, I got a PicoScope 3206B back in August. After a few months of use I have gathered enough experience with it to feel qualified to write a review on the device.

Those who haven’t yet done so, I suggest you to check out my earlier review of PicoScope 2204 – it covers a bit of my rationale for a USB scope, and the basic features of Picoscope software, which is the same for the whole PicoScope product line.

The 3206B is the top-of-the-line two-channel scope in the 3000 series. The prices have dropped a bit after the introduction of mixed signal version 3206B MSO, so for $1320, you’ll get this device with fairly impressive key feature set:

  • Two channels, and external trigger line
  • 200 MHz analog bandwith
  • 500 MS/s sampling rate
  • A huge 128 MS sample buffer
  • Arbitary waveform function generator (20 MS/s)
  • Two 250 MHz probes, storage bag and software CD

For full details, I suggest you to look up the 3200 series spec sheet from Picotech’s website. Let’s get started!

Unpacking the box

Picotech ships from UK and within EU, no additional taxes or import fees need to be paid. Both my deliveries from them have arrived promptly within two days, well packaged and in impeccable condition.

The scope comes in a cardboard box that also has space for the probes, a storage bag and software CD. Nothing too fancy, but works well for longer term storage, too.
Continue reading PicoScope 3206B Review

Olimex and ATtiny2313 breadboard header

This is the final article in my ATtiny2313 breadboard header series. In the previous parts we’ve looked at:

In this part, I’ll have a short review of the PCB ordering process with Olimex, and a bit how the boards turned out. Let’s get going!
Continue reading Olimex and ATtiny2313 breadboard header

Raspberry Pi arrived today!

A rather long wait ended today, when DHL dropped this little package off at work in the morning. I had placed my Raspberry Pi order in the first 24 hours when they started taking orders (or actually, registrations of interest) from RS Components, but it took about two months for me to receive the invitation to order, and three more weeks for the order to arrive.

Opening up the box, I was greeted with a very small computer, and two small leaflets, a quick start guide and a regulatory and safety pamphlet. The board is really quite small, just a few millimeters larger than a credit card. Two USB slots, HDMI, coaxial and stereo audio plugs and micro-USB for power, plus an ethernet jack.

I ran a quick test to see if everything worked. Initially, there was flicker on my projector (the only device with native HDMI input I currently have), but that turned out to be incompatibility with the HDMI switch I had – without it it worked just fine. I used the premade Debian image on a SD card and it worked perfectly.
Continue reading Raspberry Pi arrived today!