Pi-topCEED Review and first experiences
I often get quite excited writing reviews for a products and use words like awesome and amazing but as you will see these words are fully justified for the Pi-topCEED.
I have been running Raspberry Pi workshops and activities since a few months after getting my first Pi so my thoughts here are based on first hand experiences.
I saw the Pi-topCEED back in March at the Raspberry Pi birthday party and fell in love with it after helping at a GPIO / Physical computing workshop using them. I knew at that point that they would be perfect for my Pi based outreach work at school. Up to this point I have been loading the boot of my car with 15 monitors and all the other gear to convert a classroom into a Pi lab. I love running the workshops but getting the equipment in and out of a venue can sometimes be back breaking! I could see straight away that with the Pi-topCEED many of my issues around storage, transportation and temporary setting up of spaces would be resolved.
I persuaded my school to buy 16 of them at around the $150 per unit (with Pi 3) price point which I still feel is an excellent price. Last week they arrived in two large crates and I set about the setup and installation process which was relatively simple. The modular design and very clever use of magnetic fixtures meant I put together the 16 Pi-topCEEDs within a couple of hours. Each kit contains and SD card with their software pi-topOS which is very simple and intuitive to use.
When ordering the Pi-TopCEEDs I knew that I would want to run GPIO based projects using them so I also got 16 pi-topPROTO board which very neatly give you full access to the GPIO pins and a board for prototyping onto.
To connect the Raspberry Pi to the rest of the unit you simply attach a connector to the GPIO pins and insert the HDMI lead. USB connections then face outwards towards the right hand side of the case.
Knowing that I also wanted to do SonicPi workshops I also got 6 speakers for some of the Pi-topCEEDs. These also fit onto the rail system with magnets and connect through connection pins on the side of the Pt-topPROTO board. These do allow multiple configurations as they can be connected in any order.
Other accessories will be developed as time goes on.
The sliding front panel is able to hide all the electronics if you want the clean look of a normal desktop computer but it is quite fun seeing the ‘guts inside it’. The GPIO pins on the Pt-topPROTO board are easily accessible for simple (or much more complex) projects.
So why am I so pleased and excited about buying these? Well, the obvious answer is that it works. The design is excellent, they are so light but still feel sturdy. They also stack down into a box very easily making transport and storage very simple.
Since getting the kits last week I have run 3 workshops in two very contrasting locations and the Pi-topCEEDs have been really well received by both adults and children alike.
To put it into context the two photos below show the same resource needed for a workshop i.e. 16 lots of Raspberry Pi and all the accessories. The photo on the left was before I bought the Pi-topCEED and the photo on the right was today!
Setting up a space to deliver workshops is very much easier and it is the silly things which make an impact such as only needed 1 power socket per workstation rather than two. The following photos show a workshop set up in two very different locations.
The first photo is at the Learning Hub at Birmingham Airport and the second was at a Prep-school in Northampton. In both spaces the room was setup and ready to be used in under forty minutes which is fantastic when you are very pressed for time.
In conclusion, these are great devices which I see having a massive potential in both the home market and in an Educational setting.
I whole heartedly recommend them for home use as well as school / club / outreach / workshop environment and would be more than happy to chat about my experiences.