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13 fun things to try with your Raspberry Pi

So you just got a new Raspberry Pi. Now what? Here are 13 things to try or do with your Raspberry Pi to get your started.

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Taylor Martin
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1 of 14 Taylor Martin/CNET

13 things to try with your Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a wonderfully affordable computer capable of some really impressive things. But where do you start with your new project board? Here are some things you should do or try with your Raspberry Pi right out of the box to get acquainted with it.

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Install a case

The Raspberry Pi is touted as a $35 computer. In reality, it's a $35 motherboard with no peripherals, no storage and no protection. You can find dozens of options to protect (or style) your Raspberry Pi online for as little as $5 (£3.42 or AU$6.96).

Cases range from clear acrylic that show off the inner workings of the board or enclosures that make the Raspberry Pi look like a small HDD to cases that allow the mounting of cooling fans or stackable Raspberry Pis.

If you prefer, you can also use this Instructable to make a case with LEGO.

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Add a display

The Raspberry Pi comes with an HDMI out port so you can connect it to your existing computer monitor or television. However, companies like WaveShare create small, stacking displays that connect directly to the GPIO pins. This means you can have a tiny, integrated touchscreen display that mounts directly on top of the motherboard.

As a fair warning, getting the integrated touchscreen to work is a fair bit more difficult than plugging in an HDMI display. It requires downloading some drivers and installing them, which isn't always so straightforward. But once it's working, it's well worth the effort.

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Add a camera

If you take a closer look at the motherboard, you will see a quick connect hookup for a camera. Of course, you'll have to purchase the camera module separately and install it yourself. But unlike the touchscreen display, the camera module can be enabled with relative ease. It's doing something with the camera once it's installed and enabled that's a little more tricky.

Fortunately, the camera module has been around for several years now, and several tutorials, including one from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, explaining how to setup the Raspberry Pi as a motion-activated security camera.

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Learn to code

The Raspberry Pi was created to lower the barrier to entry for learning to work with computers, program and create things, such as robots or magic mirrors.

As such, the Raspberry Pi comes preloaded with several software options to help you learn to program. By default, the full version of Raspbian comes with BlueJ Java IDE, Greenfoot Java IDE, Node-RED, Python 2 and 3, Scratch and Sonic Pi.

And with over 8 million Raspberry Pi units out in the world, there are thousands upon thousands of tutorials for programming simple (and very complex) things with a Raspberry Pi. A good place to start is learning how to toggle an LED through the GPIO pins using Python.

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Install a better web browser

The web browser that comes with the Raspberry Pi is pretty awful. It's slow, full of bugs and struggles to keep up with pretty basic things, such as playing a YouTube video.

Your best bet is to look into alternatives. One of the better options is Iceweasel (or a fork of Firefox), which you can install by typing sudo apt-get install iceweasel in terminal. It's still not going to give you blistering performance, but that's not why you buy a Raspberry Pi anyway.

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Install Chromium OS

Chromium OS is the open-source version of Chrome OS. Being Linux-based, it was only a matter of time before someone started developing Chromium for the Raspberry Pi and other project boards.

Sure enough, if you go to chromiumforsbc.org (Chromium for single board computers), you can download an image for the Raspberry Pi, flash it to an SD card and have Chromium up and running on your Raspberry Pi in a matter of minutes.

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Make it a living room PC

After you've installed a better web browser or Chromium OS on your Raspberry Pi, a great place to get the most out of the tiny computer is in the living room. Use an HDMI cable and plug in into your television to have a web browser accessible from your couch. All you'll need to make it the most comfortable place to browse the web is a wireless keyboard and mouse. Personally, I prefer a wireless keyboard with an integrated trackpad.

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9 of 14 Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Install the full version of Minecraft

Out of the box, the Raspberry Pi has a Pi edition of Minecraft installed. But as Jason Cipriani said, it's not the Minecraft everyone has come to love. Unsurprisingly, the Raspberry Pi community has found a way to get the full version of Minecraft working on the project board. Earlier last week, Jason explained how it's done.

Once it's installed, you can have a dedicated Minecraft machine for as little as $35. Not bad at all.

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Make a media server

If you own a bunch of music or digital copies of movies (legally obtained, no doubt), you might want to consider setting your Raspberry Pi up as a media server using Plex or Kodi.

OpenELEC, or Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center, is a Linux distribution specifically meant to turn to the Raspberry Pi into a Kodi media server. Installing it is as simple as downloading the image, flashing it to an SD card, popping it into the Raspberry Pi and transferring over all your media files.

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Build a cheap NAS

Alternatively, if you don't want to setup just a media server, you can setup the Raspberry Pi as NAS. It takes a little bit of work, but with an external hard drive or two, you can have a very affordable networked storage in your home.

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Create your own cloud storage

You can also take the networked storage setup one step further by using ownCloud and turning your Raspberry Pi into your own cloud storage device that you can access from anywhere. This setup is obviously more involved than creating local networked storage, but may be worth considering if you would prefer to stay off storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox.

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Make a retro gaming setup

The Raspberry Pi may not be a high performance computer, but it makes a fantastic retro gaming setup. Distributions like Lakka or RetroPie use the RetroArch make it possible to play all your old favorite games from the Atari, NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, Sega, PlayStation and many more systems. Setup is a breeze and should only take a few minutes. And as long as you have a compatible controller and some old game ROMs, you can be playing your favorite classics in no time.

Many people have gone one step further and built cabinets around their Raspberry Pis to make old Arcade machines that can play hundreds or thousands of games.

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Make your printer wireless

If you have an old printer you wish were wireless, want no more. You can create a wireless printer network with the Raspberry Pi, and plugging you non-wireless printer into it will convert it into a networked printer. Instructables users Bartboy explains how to setup a printer network on the Raspberry Pi in four quick steps.

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