Looking after your Pi – Part 2 – General Handling

Following on from the previous post, which covers the importance of using a quality power supply with the Raspberry Pi, this post will cover:

  • General handling of the Pi, electrostatic discharge, and using an enclosure
  • Best practices for connection and disconnection of peripherals
  • Pi shutdown and SD card handling

General Handling

An earlier version of the aforementioned Raspberry Pi Regulatory Compliance and Safety Information (specific to Model A and B variants of Pi) offers some general handling advice, which applies equally to all electronics:

“Take care whilst handling to avoid mechanical or electrical damage to the printed circuit board and connectors.”

“Avoid handling the Raspberry Pi while it is powered. Only handle by the edges to minimize the risk of electrostatic discharge damage.”

Further useful general handling tips can be found in the article Working safely with your Pi, which includes the following advice:

“…in general, turn it off before changing what it’s connected to

The exceptions to this are the USB and Ethernet ports, which are designed to be pluggable. The non-exception to this is the HDMI port which, unlike for every other console or computer you’ve owned recently, you should only connect or disconnect with the power off.

The silent killer for components is static electricity
get into the habit of grounding yourself, by touching something large and metal, before touching the components”

It goes without saying that enclosing the Raspberry Pi in a suitable case can only help increase the robustness and lifespan of the device, aiding in protection against accidental knocks and reducing electrostatic discharge risks.

As noted in the System Overview post on this blog, my Pi is encased in a Carmac enclosure which provides a balance of protection and passive cooling

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SD Card handling

A helpful guide covering best pratices for shutting down the Pi correctly to avoid SD card corruption is the article 3 reasons why your Raspberry Pi doesn’t work properly from MakeUseOf.com; this also contains further recommendations to use a quality Psu with quality cabling.

If the Pi doesn’t do anything when powered on, one thing to check is the SD card, as noted in in the aforementioned Raspberry Pi User Guide 2nd edition:

“If your Pi’s power light glows when you connect the micro-USB power supply, but nothing else happens and the OK light remains dark, you have an SD card problem”

(chapter 4, troubleshooting)

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Looking after your Pi – Part 1 – The Importance of a Quality Power Supply (PSU)

When I took delivery of my original Raspberry Pi (Model B) the board arrived packed in a sturdy plastic case, not unlike an audio or DAT cassette box (a reference which instantly shows my age…)

In contrast, the Pi 2 arrived in a flimsy cardboard box, with absolutely no crumple protection.

image

My first Pi 2 actually had to be returned as there was damage to the relatively fragile board. This raised questions in my mind regarding the robustness of the unit, and best practices for general usage and handling.

Some of the topics I’ll be covering in this and the next post are:

  • Hardware damage vs ‘soft’ damage (configuration errors and data corruption)
  • Power supply and usb cable quality
  • Power supply voltage, amperage, and order of connection to the Pi
  • The importance of a 2amp Psu when attaching peripherals via Usb
  • Usb cable quality technicalities: 2828 AWG vs 2824 AWG grades
  • General handling of the Pi, electrostatic discharge, and using an enclosure
  • Best pratices for connection and disconnection of peripherals
  • Pi shutdown and SD card handling

It is important to note that the Raspberry Pi was designed from the outset to be a system for learning about all aspects of computing; as such it doesn’t come housed in a bullet-proof case, it doesn’t come with a power supply that is guaranteed to work, nor does it come with a compatible SD card (which acts as the system’s hard disk, or more accurately, like a contemporary desktop or laptop’s SSD).

Like all consumer grade electronics, it is possible to physically break the Raspberry Pi, and to do so in a manner in which the damage is impossible to discern (such as by electrostatic discharge).

It is much more likely, however, that any damage the Pi suffers is in the form of corrupted configuration or data files (which can be resolved by restoring from a backup – not a problem as everybody takes regular backups of their system… don’t they?). I’ll be covering problems caused by configuration errors and data corruption in a later post

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Retro Gaming Emulation on the Raspberry Pi with RetroPie

Where possible I’ll attempt to publish blog posts covering topics in a logical order, progressing through my experiences during the setup of my Raspberry Pi RetroPie installation.

RetroPie Splashscreen
RetroPie Splashscreen

In setting up my installation I have followed a great many of the very useful step-by-step instructions provided elsewhere on the internet; sometimes these answered many questions, but raised others. I often found that I had to go Beyond the Basics, as I’d invariably run into a situation where a step in a chain of instructions didn’t work for me, or I wanted my system to do something which wasn’t directly covered in the guides I was following.

I’m planning that this blog will serve as a reference work for the most part, so that I can keep the notes on what I’ve experienced and learned in a single place, rather than scattered across posts and comments on multiple forums, blogs, and YouTube threads.

I’ll try to produce self-contained posts targeting specific issues (such as configuration of the Pi’s resolution, or the set-up of an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller).

At the time of writing the version of RetroPie I’ve used is 2.6; I’ll be updating to a 3.x build at some stage, but will stick with the older release for now. It’s likely that some (perhaps many) of the issues covered here will be no longer relevant with the ongoing enhancements to RetroPie, however many other topics will still be relevant to older, current (and future) builds.

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Overview of Raspberry Pi and retro-gaming system hardware

The Raspberry Pi installation to which all of the current blog posts (at time of writing) relate is as follows:

image

Core System Components

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (RS Components)

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B - Image: RS Components
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B – Image: RS Components

Raspberry Pi 2 Model B
Raspberry Pi 2 Model B (RS Components)

image
Raspberry Pi 2 Model 2

The Pi 2 has been overclocked to extract the maximum performance possible, as many video game system emulators push the hardware to the limits. Please see the series of posts on overclocking and stability testing, beginning with part one, for further details.

Power supply: 5 volt, 2 amp micro usb
Official Raspberry Pi Power Unit (RS Components)

Micro SD memory card
SanDisk SDSDQUN-032G-FFP-A Ultra microSDHC UHS-I Class 10 Memory Card
SanDisk 32GB micro SD (Amazon)
I’ve had mixed success with compatibility of cards in the Pi 2 – most have worked; one 16Gb card was unstable under Noobs and Raspbian, but fine with the RetroPie image

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What is the Raspberry Pi?

A brief overview of the Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi 3 within Camac Case, with PiHut Heatsink
Raspberry Pi 3 within Camac Case, with PiHut Heatsink

The Raspberry Pi is a surprisingly powerful, incredibly inexpensive, credit-card sized computer, capable of true 1080p HD video playback and boasting enough horsepower to emulate a wide variety of classic retro gaming systems.

When using the Raspberry Pi as a games emulation platform, personally I’d urge the purchase of the Pi 3; released at the end of February 2016 this is the most powerful variant, at time of writing, with features including 1 GB ram, four USB ports, a quad-core processor, and HDMI output.

I should note that the Raspberry Pi 2, released a year previously, is certainly a credible alternative, and capable of running the majority of emulators at full speed; the posts written prior to March 2016 on this site were based around the Pi 2.

Whilst many of the emulators for older systems will function perfectly on earlier Pi systems, those wishing to run PlayStation 1, and (a selection of) N64 games definitely require the added capabilities of the newer models.

Unlike the predecessor Model A, B, and B+ versions, both the Pi 2 and 3 have an ARM 7 chipset which enables a wider range of Linux software to be run without being modified and compiled specifically for the older ARM 6 chipset (which does not provide hard-float support).

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