Best DIY computer kits
From Raspberry Pi to Arduino, there’s never been a better time to build a computer. MARTYN CASSERLY reveals the best kits
The Raspberry Pi reignited interest in the DIY home computer market. Thanks to the little marvel there are now a wide range of kits and platforms available for users to assemble their own machines, ranging from budget boards up to more expensive complete kits that include keyboards, cables, batteries, and even robotic arms.
Whether you’re looking for a project to tinker with, a chance to learn some coding skills, or just a gift for
a curious child, it can be hard to know where to begin, so we’ve done our best to break down what you can expect from the best DIY computer kits on the market.
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B Price: £26.69 from fave.co/2pb7HqB
Although it certainly wasn’t the first DIY computer kit, the Raspberry Pi has quickly become the most widely known platform thanks to a few key elements. Firstly, it’s cheap; second, it’s British (although production was moved from Wales to China in order to meet demand); and third, it was adopted by schools all over the UK as an excellent way to teach basic programming and encourage kids to invent their own technical solutions to problems.
The success of the Raspberry Pi has seen a huge range of projects spring up around the platform, with Raspberry Jams (user groups were people show off their ideas) occurring regularly around the country, and indeed the world.
There are dedicated magazines and books covering the kind of devices you can build, an excellent website that has a variety of fun projects laid out and explained, and even a recent initiative called AstroPi, which enabled code written on a Raspberry Pi to be taken into space and used on the International Space Station.
Raspberry Pi uses it’s own operating system, called Raspbian, but can also run with flavours of Linux and even a slimmed down edition of Windows 10.
There are several variants of the Raspberry Pi available. The latest is the unbelievably cheap Pi Zero
(under £10), but the most powerful – currently – is the Pi 3, which is around £30.
Of course, the Raspberry Pi is just a circuit board, so to do anything useful with it you’ll need a USB keyboard, mouse, monitor, and SD card to run the OS. While you can use any spares you have around the house, there are also full kits available.
As a starting point for DIY computing the Raspberry Pi, thanks to its widespread support and educational links, is an excellent place to begin.
Arduino Uno Price: £21 from fave.co/2FIpyLN
Long before Raspberry Pi was around Arduino was the place to go for do-it-yourself computing. The company began in 2005 when it released an open source
platform which people could use to build a whole number of impressive devices.
From robots to security cameras, Arduino has been used in pretty much anything you can turn your mind towards. Due to recent internal disputes Arduino boards sold outside the US are now known as Genuino, but retain the same components and design.
There is actually a wide range of boards available, such as the UNO (Rev3) that costs around £15 and contains 14 digital input/output pins (of which 6 can be used as PWM outputs), 6 analogue inputs, a 16MHz crystal oscillator, a USB connection, a power jack, an ICSP header, and a reset button.
You can buy more complex boards for advanced projects, such as the Mega 2560 (Rev 3) for £25, and there is even a board for wearable projects if you want to build the next smartwatch or intelligent T-shirt.
A huge community of enthusiasts surrounds Arduino/Genuino and meetups are found all around the world. It does have the feel of a more advanced product, with specialised uses catered for, so if you’re confident in your abilities then Arduino is the place to go.
Kano Computer Kit Price: £139 from fave.co/2tJkB3I
The Kano is a DIY kit that uses a Raspberry Pi at its centre, but surrounds the device with beautifully designed peripherals that fit together to make a complete, small, PC. The idea came from a challenge to build a simple computer that was as fun as Lego. Kano came up with the design, then released a Kickstarter project that became an instant success.
The pack costs £139 and features a Raspberry Pi 3, Bluetooth/USB RF keyboard with built in touchpad, external speaker, 8GB SD card, plastic case for the Pi, Wi-Fi dongle, cables, books, and stickers.
The software is also excellent – not only does it feature an extensive range of tools to teach real coding skills, it also wraps a lot of them up into a video game in which you explore the world inside the computer, which should help incentivize kids to keep on learning.
While you can put together your own set for less money, the friendly, easy construction, and child-sized keyboard make this an excellent kit for the younger people on your life. One of these under the Christmas tree will certainly be a welcome present for many children this year, and a few adults too.
The company also offers kits to make your own screen and interactive light board to expand the set.
BBC micro:bit go Price: £15 from fave.co/2tN4MJj
Those of a certain age will remember the BBC Micro B, one of the first home computers in the UK, and one that many people started their PC adventures upon. Now, 30 years on, the BBC is once again looking to bring computing into the classroom with its micro:bit.
This tiny circuit board packs some impressive specifications, with Bluetooth capabilities, an accelerometer, compass, two programmable buttons, and a grid of LEDs that are also controllable.
The micro:bit can be programmed by a range of devices, from PCs to mobile phones, making it open
to everyone that’s interested in making an electronic scoreboard, Bluetooth remote shutter button for a smartphone camera, or even a basic games machine.
You can buy the micro:bit board on its own, but we recommend the micro:bit go kit, which only costs a tiny amount more but includes batteries, a battery holder, and a USB cable to help you get started.
FUZE powered by Raspberry Pi Price: £129 from fave.co/2BOi6jQ
Another Raspberry Pi-based system is FUZE. This titanic unit is a fully metal construction, with a full size
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
Kano Computer Kit
BBC micro:bit go