Run a node on a Raspberry Pi

Thursday 17 March 2016

The Rasberry Pi 3 has just launched - a small, cheap computer on which it’s possible to do all kinds of fun stuff, including running a full bitcoin node.

I love the idea of the Raspberry Pi: a cheap, accessible computer that has sold millions of units since its launch four years ago. Back in the day I played extensively on and with the ZX Spectrum 48k, another cheap computer that introduced many children to programming (and infuriating text adventure games like The Hobbit).

The Pi 3 has just been released. It costs just $35 or £30. This one has built-in wi-fi and bluetooth, and a 1.2 GHz 64-bit processor that gives it around 50% more muscle than the last version and a 10x performance boost over the original.

Earlier iterations of the Pi have been used as the basis for mining rigs and farms (coupled to ASIC chips - they won’t do the job on their own), because they are simple and low-powered and can be left to run 24/7 very cheaply. Lots of other enthusiasts use them to run nodes for crypto clients - again, a low-cost way of securing the network and gaining staking rewards.

Despite the size of the bitcoin blockchain (over 50 GB), you can run a full bitcoin node on a Pi 2. The Pi 3 should make that even easier. I’ll be picking one up in due course to play with, but if you’re interested in having a go and are concerned about the state of the network, then there’s a handy guide to getting set up as a full node here

You will need a Pi 3 (or B, B+, or 2 - you’ll need at least 512 BM of RAM), a 64 GB micro-SD card with a fresh install of Rasbian Linux, plus a keyboard, monitor and mouse for the install - after which you can unplug them. The SD card will probably cost about as much as the Pi itself, and you might want to go for a larger one to futureproof your node.


Pi: small computer, but packs a punch

If you’re not used to Linux then there’s a bit of a learning curve, but this isn’t too complicated. It will take a few hours to compile the Bitcoin Core client (or you might like to dabble with Classic, or...), and of course you’ll need to download the blockchain, which could take a while - think days. But that’s the beauty of the Pi, you just leave it running and forget about it. You can access it remotely from your regular computer to find out what’s going on.

It’s neat stuff, and a darn site cheaper than the $400 computer from 21, which is and does much the same thing. 

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