Notes on setting up Raspbmc on a Raspberry Pi

A couple of days ago we published Notes on setting up OpenELEC on a Raspberry Pi. One thing we found a bit frustrating about OpenELEC was touched upon in that article:

OpenELEC is very fast but much of the file system is read only, and even if you SSH in as root you cannot edit many of the configuration files as you could on a normal Linux system. Sometimes there are ways around that.

Now if you are setting up a system for your grandparents, maybe not having a writable file system, nor access to tools like apt-get for installing additional software won’t bother you. But we found it did bother us. For example, we missed having access to Midnight Commander. While there is an unofficial way to install it on on OpenELEC, the developers apparently would prefer you don’t do that. Well, sorry, but that kind of thinking is not acceptable to us. It’s our system, and we want to be able to control it. In fact, it kind of goes against the whole spirit in which the Raspberry Pi was created to make an “untinkerable” distribution, although we can certainly understand why some people like it. Different strokes for different folks*, and all that.

So we decided to again try Raspbmc. We had tried it once before, but found the interface a bit slow and clunky. However, just a few days ago a new version was released, and reports were that it was faster. So, we decided to give it another try. This time, we installed it using the instructions found here, which are for users that will be writing to the SD card using an OS X or Linux system. If you were using Windows for this task, you’d use these instructions instead. This only writes an installer to the card, and when you place the card into the Raspberry Pi and boot it up it will complete the installation. You must have an active Internet connection for the installation to complete.

The interface in the new version of Raspbmc does seem faster than in the previous version we’d tried. Some things may still be a bit slower than in OpenELEC – we particularly noticed that it took a bit longer for fanart to appear after we’d made a selection.

One thing that had bothered us about OpenELEC was that you could not change the Samba password. In Raspbmc it is easy, you simply SSH into the device (as user pi, default password raspberry) and enter:

sudo smbpasswd -a pi

Also if you want to change the SSH password, which we highly recommend, you simply do:

sudo passwd pi

In either case you will be prompted for the new password.

You can install Midnight Commander in the normal way, using apt-get install mc and it seems to work fine. Another thing we had an issue with in OpenELEC was changing the Samba share name. It’s easier to do this in Raspbmc, but still perhaps a bit non-obvious. The easiest way to do it is simply edit /etc/hostname and change name in that file – this is also picked up by Samba, though you may need to reboot and wait some time before the new share name appears and the old one disappears – it took about 20 minutes on our systems.

One thing we noticed about Raspbmc is that XBMC’s RSS feed is turned off by default. This was a major contributor to high CPU usage in OpenELEC. Not that higher CPU usage is really all that bad, but some people like to see a lower figure. Note that you cannot get an accurate reading from the XBMC GUI – to see an accurate representation of CPU usage you must SSH into the system and use the top command.

Speaking of SSH, one weird thing about RaspBMC is that the first time you SSH into the device, you’ll be asked to select a language and timezone. Always select at least the UTF-8 version of your preferred language – that is probably the only one you need. That’s the first time we’ve ever seen this information requested on an initial SSH login to a system.

* A line from “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone (1968)

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