Review: WD PiDrive Compute Centre


WDLabs (Western Digital’s internal team of innovators for emerging markets) has been hard at work these days, bringing more unique product innovations to the ever growing Raspberry Pi community. This time WDLabs has combined its series of PiDrive devices in an all-in-one, turn-key computing solution called the WD PiDrive Compute Centre. This product is the centerpiece of this blog post.

Overview

What It Is

According to WD, the WD PiDrive Compute Centre is everything you need to build a Raspberry Pi computer; simply add a HDMI monitor and you’re good to go. It’s great for exploring different Raspberry Pi applications, and the complete kit comes with easy to install starter software that will get you up in running in no time.

But what the WD PiDrive Compute Centre is really, is a turn-key solution for those that want a no-fuss, rapid introduction to the wonderful world of the Raspberry Pi; all this contained in a tiny 6″ x 6″ enclosure that practically takes up little to no desk space or can be hidden away behind an LCD/TV for no one to see.

Pi For All

 

Pi For Every Classroom

We now live in a digital age and children are thrust into the world of computers and handheld devices at such an early age (compared to when I was youngling). So much so, that many elementary schools are now adopting computer programming as part of their core curriculum to align themselves with the now popular STEM discipline of education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.)

More so, I think children simply want to learn how to code. They see and play with the cool Apps but most important, they have a genuine interest for the technology – a passion we should cultivate. And while “cool” is nice, what really matters are the lasting benefits of fostering these skill sets:

    Logical thinking
    Problem solving
    Persistence
    Collaboration
    Communication

I believe every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn Computer Science but the reality is that not all schools have the deep pockets to afford the latest-and-greatest tech. But enter the Raspberry Pi and the WD PiDrive Compute Centre. Suddenly, all that’s needed are inexpensive monitors and bam, a computer enriched classroom!

A kit like this would make the perfect companion computer for an elementary classroom level where students are encouraged to experiment with multiple projects in a multi-user environment. Coupled with an appropriate curriculum of projects that challenge their minds, and you’ve got a winning recipe for a computer literate (and capable) generation ready to tackle tomorrows’ problems (and boy, are we ever gonna need them…)

For those that are interested in finding out more about coding in the classroom, I suggest visiting code.org.

Pi For You Too!

Indeed, age shouldn’t be the limiting factor. I think anyone, of any age, can make use of the WD PiDrive Compute Centre. I think it comes down to zeroing in on what you want to do and then asking the almighty, infallible internet (yeah sure!) for a little guidance.

Computers in general can be intimating, it still can be intimidating to me. But every problem has a solution and you’re always one web search query away from finding it! When we leave our comfort zone and relinquish our fear, we really can do and learn some amazing things – the Raspberry Pi community with its plethora of projects it evidence of that. This kit, for close to $100 USD, gets you up and running with everything you need in no time and gets you one step closer to that goal.

All right, enough for the public service announcement, on with the tech specs.

Technical Specs

The WD PiDrive Compute Centre (coming in at a little over $100USD) comes with all you see below; some minor assembling is a required though. Nothing your 5-year-old can’t do…

WD PiDrive Compute Centre

WD PiDrive Compute Centre

The kit features the following:

  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • WD PiDrive 375GB
  • 4GB microSD card (preloaded with Foundation Edition software)
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse
  • Custom USB cable to chain the Pi and hard drive
  • Plastic enclosure (square 6″x 6″) for both the Raspberry and hard drive
  • 5V 3A power supply and USB cable

Putting It Together

Putting it all together is really a no-brainer. The included instructions map it out quite obviously.

With the Raspberry Pi 3 unwrapped, fit the included MicroSD in the MicroSD slot now. Place the Pi in the case and fasten it down with the included Torx screws, followed by the four Philips head screws to secure the drive from the underside. That custom cable is needed now to chain the drive (via its proprietary connector) and the Pi (via both a free USB slot and micro power) together. Take out the USB dongle from the USB mouse and plug it in an available slot in the Pi. The lid comes with a magnetic top, so it’s securely slotted to enclose the drive, but can be quickly removed to access the Pi and hook the GPIO pins up to electronic components. Finally hook a monitor in the HDMI port and done. Congratulations, assemblage complete!

As you see, the WD PiDrive Compute Centre is easy to assemble and takes little to no space on your desktop. Here’s the setup guide if you actually need it.

WD PiDrive Computer Centre Assembled

WD PiDrive Computer Centre Assembled

Software

Like the WD PiDrive Node Zero, the WD PiDrive Compute Centre comes with a customized version of the popular NOOBS (New Out of Box Software). For the unintiated, NOOBS is designed to make it easy to select and install operating systems for the Raspberry Pi without having to worry about manually imaging your SD card. There’s a lot of useful info about NOOBS here:
https://github.com/raspberrypi/noobs.

OS & Project Spaces

A “Project Space” is essentially a clean (untampered) install of Raspbian Jessie Lite in its own partition – what they commonly refer to as a vanilla install. The brilliance of this is that you can have many versions of the OS living in parallel on the disk – isolated from one another and in separate environments. Your projects co-exist independently and will not conflict with one another – great idea!

More so, each project space will have its very own /boot and /root partitions, thus allowing you to customize your startup for each project space independently.

If you check all the boxes and hit install (don’t forget to set the destination drive to the 375GB disk: sda,) you’ll get a single full blown version of the official Raspberry Pi OS; Raspbian (with a Graphical User Interface). In addition to that, you’ll get a partition for storage (in essence a shared area for files across multiple installations) and five instances of Raspbian Lite; which is a slimmed down command line only version of Raspbian.

The initial installation screen is presented to you as a one-time process on boot-up and requires a special keystroke to get back into it afterwards. If you skipped over this setup or would like to make future changes, you can hold down shift when you boot up and it will show you the setup screen once more.

On every subsequent boot-up you’ll be shown a similar menu to select which OS to boot into. If you do nothing, then the previously selected OS will boot by default.

Post Install

I opted to install the main Raspbian OS, Data Partition and the first project space. Installation was relatively quick. Once completed you are greeted with the Raspbian Pixel UI environment. Whereas the Raspberry Pi Zero is slow and sluggish, the Raspberry Pi 3 blasts through the UI due to its four processing cores. Apps open quickly and browsing the web is refreshingly fun compared to the Zero. Most will no doubt opt to use the full blown UI and yet nothing provents you from rebooting into a project space running Raspbian Lite with only the command line interface.

Raspbian Pixel OS

Raspbian Pixel OS

BTW, these are the default credentials needed for login:

username: pi
password: raspberry

Rundown

Ok, so here’s the rundown…

Pros:

  • Great for “Computers in the Classroom” initiatives; a great learning tool for all
  • Foundation Edition software (NOOBS) with multiple instances of Raspbian Lite as “Project Spaces”
  • Enclosure is cleverly designed with magnets
  • Customized NOOBS card which makes installing a breeze
  • Comes with all your need to quickly get started with the fastest Raspberry Pi available
  • Mechanical disk: lots of disk space; micro SD corruption less of an issue
  • Affordable & complete kit

Cons:

  • Not available as a 1TB disk option

Conclusion

For just over $100 (USD), you get a 375GB WD HDD, a Raspberry Pi 3 (Model B), a microSD card pre-loaded with the NOOB software, a mouse, keyboard, USB cables, power adapter, and a black plastic case to hold the system. All that’s needed to get going is just to plug in a monitor and voilà, you’re ready to create!

The WD PiCompute Computre Centre is a nice little kit. The inclusion of the WD PiDrive with its added disk space really adds another dimension to projects previously needing some form of storage beyond that of regular microSDs (not to mention the reliability that’s gained from using mechanical disks instead of cheap microSD cards.) It’s simple to assemble and is engineered with modularity in mind with the hardware and software components coming together for a seamless and fun user experience.

You can buy the WDLabs WD PiDrive Compute Centre from the WDC site via this link.

Thank you to WDC Public Relations for sending in this product for review. The content above represents my own opinion and not that of the WDC company.

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