Friday, 2 September 2016

Review: ModMyPi Starter Kit

The Raspberri Pi 3 is a small microcomputer, fantastic on its own, and goes hand-in-hand with RTL-SDR dongles.
Only a small board, so needs accessories, and the best solution is to buy a starter kit, as recommended in my Raspberry Pi 3 book.
I needed two identical Pi 3 computers for ADS-B testing, so got in touch with the company I bought my Pi 3 from, asking for sponsoring this blog with equipment.
Several days later, DHL delivered a huge box with two Starter kits, the subject of this review.
Costs around 60 dollars, available by clicking here. ModMyPi played ball and gave a blank check, so I asked for one of the new anodized heat sinks as well - not strictly necessary, but it looks cool, and I love heatsinking.
Note: read the Manifesto for my approach to testing free equipment, and know that I'm not affiliated with ModMyPi in any way. I ordered my first Pi3 from them, and got good customer service. All stuff will be sent back to ModMyPi when I finished testing, or bought. I already have a Pi 2 and Pi 3, but needed identical gear to eliminate possible issues.


In the kit



Deliberately asked for this kit, because all I need is in the kit (and for RTL-SDR use you don't really need any more).


From top left to bottom right:
- Red ethernet cable, to connect Pi to router directly.
- Charger with adapters,
- Heatsinks
- Case
- Green USB to MicroUSB flat cable,
- Pi 3 board, this bag contains supplied microSD card and card adapter,
- HDMI cable.
A Pi 3 on its own costs around 40 dollars, so all this extra equipment for 20 bucks is a good deal. A keyboard, mouse and screen is required for use as a standalone computer, but if you need them, or any other item such as jumper cables or sensors, various other kits are also available.
The pull of this ModMyPi kit is the case, and the quality feel of supplied accessories.


Power supply



100 to 240 Volts, works anywhere in the world.
Delivers 2.5 Amps, which is more than enough - Pi 3s with any RTL-SDR dongle, or with a FlightAwareProStick, or an rtl-sdr.com Bias-T enabled dongle with LNA4ALL happily ticked along on a 1A smart phone charger, but a healthy overhead never hurts, especially when you realize the vast amount of Raspberry projects out there.
Slide-on plugs are also supplied, won't be used for this project, but the option to plug in the charger in the States or in the Far East is priceless; especially that my smartphones/tablet/preamp uses the same connector standard, called micro USB.
Cable is non-removable, 5 ft / 1.5 m long, thinner than Samsung supplied cord.


Separate USB Micro cable



To be used with existing USB chargers (like the white one in the image, which is not part of the kit). Flat, less likely to kink than a round cable, packs better into a carry-on, and long: 6.5 ft / 2m.
If you ever ended up in a B&B with one wall socket, you'll appreciate the extra length vs a conventional shorter cable.
Solid click into Samsung smartphones and tablets, battery banks, PS4 controller etc.


Ethernet cable, HDMI, Pi 3 Board, CF card



Ethernet cable is 6.5 ft / 2 m long, red and round, two issues: should be much longer for easier reach from router to Pi, and flat for hassle-free routing, or for PoE.
HDMI cable in the package to connect to a recent flat TV or monitor, worked with Pi 2 and Pi 3s, and with three laptops, and with smart TV and Playstation 4.
Pi 3 board is the same Pi 3 you get for forty dollars.
Sandisk Ultra 8 GB microSD card supplied with preinstalled NOOBS, so Raspberry Pi 3 works out of the box, no downloads/Internet connection required.
Bricked one of the cards the first night, ModMyPi immediately replied to email with guide how to bring it back to life. Support: A+.


Case



ModMyPi made their name by making excellent cases; rightly so, because nothing comes close on plastic quality, features, ease of use and design. I bought lots of 2-3 dollars cases off ebay, but they usually ended up in the junk box. Personal note: I'm very fussy on what I touch.
Tactile feel is welcoming, smooth with just the right amount of grippiness, four self-adhesive plastic dots in the bag, grips surface below so no sliding.
Easiest case ever to assemble: bottom and top, two sides, then top cover. No screws, literally child's play, resounding snap you hear and feel when part is home.



And it is a Pi 3 case: got space to remove MicroSD card. Pi 2 has a spring-loaded mechanism, so ejects card, but a Pi 3 is push-in and stay, needs fingernails / knife / utensils to get the card out, and whilst an ebay wonder will say Pi 3 compatible, you'll repeatedly regret the moment clicking on "Pay" if you change cards on a regular basis.


Why a starter kit and alternatives



Unless you have spares, you'll be spending nearly the same amount as a starter kit for a power supply and microSD card,
For a remotely operated setup, like an ADS-B station, only board, power, and microSD card is required (and ethernet cable if not using WiFi), so spending extra for stuff you won't use is pointless.
Alternative starter kits, from Vilros, Canakit and many other manufacturers are in the same price range, with nearly identical components. I've bought a Vilros kit earlier, and the case was nowhere near ModMyPi quality.


Is it worth it?



Yeah, because buying all accessories separately costs more, takes time and hassle. The fact that supplied accessories are top-notch is just the icing on the cake, especially that similar starter kits cost the same.

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