5 great uses for the new Raspberry Pi 5

The Raspberry Pi 5 is here, and more importantly, it’s actually available to buy within a reasonable time frame. The classic single-board computer has spawned an entire ecosystem of products and projects since its introduction in 2012, with low-power consumption, features, and affordability, making it perfect for a wide array of projects. Announced back in September and available today, the new Raspberry Pi 5 features a new Arm Cortex A76, up to 8GBs of RAM (the same as the Pi 4), and a brand-new PCI Express bus for M.2 SSD compatibility.

The Pi 5 also has updated graphics processing and new flexible flat cable (FFC) connectors while keeping the same integrated support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 with Bluetooth Low Energy. It also retains the onboard gigabit Ethernet port introduced in the Pi4. The M.2 connector is arguably the most significant change here, allowing very fast storage (albeit with a specialized hat to support it), with previous Pi models relying either on external USB 3.0 SSDs or the onboard SD/MicroSD card slot.

1 Run a private cloud with NextCloud

A great option for those trying to escape endless cloud services

The Raspberry Pi doesn’t make a great NAS. There, I said it. It doesn’t have great drive expandability nor easy ways to set up ZFS/Raid. You’re limited to a single M.2 drive, or whatever you can connect over USB 3.0, and the limited processing power will quickly become an issue if you want to start encoding video or processing data. There are plenty of better options for a pure NAS. However, with the Pi’s new M.2. drive, it could be a perfect solution for a home cloud with NextCloudPi.

Nextcloud is an all-in-one home cloud, with support for everything from a Google Drive-esque syncing for photos and videos (including from your phone) to in-browser editors for common file types similar to Google Docs. You can also sync your contacts, calendar, and mail. The NextCloudPi project makes building images for the Pi easy, and the improved performance and disk speed with an M.2 SSD will make the experience better than ever. The focus here isn’t on mass media or data storage, but rather fast storage and syncing of your most important files.

It’s best to dedicate a whole Pi to this, as performance for syncing, video encoding, or processing will be impacted if you’re running multiple projects on one Pi. It’s also best to ensure that you’ve connected your Pi over ethernet and with its stock adapter to ensure the Pi is running with all its performance available. You can access your files in NextCloud using their clients, more general clients like Rsync, and directly over Samba or NFS.

2 Access your network externally with a local VPN

Works great with other home services

There are plenty of uses for a VPN. An external VPN might allow you to protect your internet traffic online or relocate yourself to a different country to access region-locked content. External companies with many servers worldwide normally host these kinds of VPNs. We’ll be using our Raspberry Pi to run a VPN locally, which will allow us to connect to a Raspberry Pi from outside our home network and tunnel our traffic through, allowing you to use services on your home network (like Nextcloud) as if you were in your own home while keeping them private.

There are several great options for a local Raspberry Pi VPN, but the most common are based on either OpenVPN or WireGuard. OpenVPN has been industry-standard for years with VPNs but has recently been disrupted by a new VPN protocol: WireGuard. WireGuard is a new VPN protocol designed to implement modern cryptography by default while being faster and more lightweight than its competitors.It’s designed to be general-purpose and cross-platform. We’d recommend using WireGuard if you don’t have a specific need for OpenVPN.

There are several great ways to set up a VPN on a Raspberry Pi, but we’d recommend PiVPN. PiVPN aims to provide a simple install process for OpenVPN or WireGuard VPN using a single bash script. This script sets up a local VPN and configures sensible, secure defaults for security and access. Once set up, you can connect to your home network as if you were in your house.

3 Harness the sun with a solar-powered crypto-miner

A more involved option for anyone looking to get their hands dirty

This one is a classic, and while crypto mining isn’t what it once was, it’s still a cool way to make a few dollars on the side while working on your own knowledge.

The Raspberry Pi has always been a low-power computer, and although the Pi 5 bumps up its power draw significantly (to 5v at 5A), it still sips power compared to most gaming PCs. There are several ways to solar power a Pi, but most break down into a charging and battery stage. You’ll want to power your Pi directly from a large (we’d recommend at least 10,000mAh) battery pack, preferably one from a reliable brand, as well as a solar panel charger to go with it. You’ll also need a DC/AC converter, as most solar panels will output DC current, normally at a wattage not supported by your battery pack. There are several great articles with specific setups for this online, and we’d recommend you follow one closely to get your Pi setup running on solar power with products available in your region.

Once your Pi runs on solar power, setting up a crypto miner is relatively simple. The process is a lot like setting up a miner on any other Linux machine, except that you’ll need specific ARM-based mining software. CPUMiner-Multi is a common choice for a supported mining client. If you’re into mining, or feeling like your projects need a stretch goal, it’s also possible to set up a cluster of Raspberry Pis to mine together. This could also be achieved using one central shared power source (or even a larger, more efficient solar cell).

4 Entrap intruders with a security honeypot

This one isn’t for newbies

An image of a Raspberry Pi overlayed with the OpenCanary and Raspberry Pi logos.

Source: Unsplash

One great use for a Pi is a simple SSH/RDP Honeypot. We need to preface this one with a warning. It’s extremely important that a honeypot is not directly exposed to the internet, so you should never forward ports or tunnel to a honeypot device.

A honeypot is a device on a network configured so that it looks vulnerable to hacking or infiltration. A simple example might be running a public SSH server with no root password or with a common password like ‘password.’ However, when a hacker connects to the device, all their actions are recorded. This generates an interesting dataset of hackers’ actions when they think they’ve infiltrated a new machine. Still, you can also use these actions (and the act of infiltration itself) as a warning of compromise if a hacker or malicious party has breached your network. This can be a great indicator of compromise, especially if you’re running other (potentially public-internet facing) services on your home network.

There are some great options for doing this on a Raspberry Pi, with Open Canary being a common choice. Open Canary has specific documentation on deploying a Raspberry Pi. Configuring notifications about possible compromise over email or as pushes to your phone is possible.

OpenCanary is a multi-protocol network honeypot. Its primary use case is to catch hackers after they’ve breached non-public networks. It has extremely low resource requirements and can be tweaked, modified, and extended.

5 Enhance your life with Home Assistant

Open source automation at its finest

Home assistants are the center of an entire community of open-source automation. Designed to be a central hub for all your home automations, Home Assistant has a wide range of integrations, from power monitors to doorbells. It’s truly a hub for all the smart devices in your house and has become the standard-bearer of home automation. Home Assistant has a tidy desktop UI and IOS/Android companion apps that provide notifications and actions, and they even have an online demo.

Home Assistant is bundled as an operating system you can install on your Raspberry Pi, and it already has easy-to-follow install guides specifically for the Pi. This is another great example of the Pi 5’s added performance (and M.2 expandability) coming in clutch, allowing for a smoother home assistant experience and greater headroom for integrations. In previous versions, the lower-powered Pis (especially those with lower RAM) have struggled to run Home Assistant well, but that should be no problem for the Pi 5.

There are plenty of projects to choose from

The Pi 5 is a great low-powered computer built on a legacy of fantastic Pis over the last decade. An entire ecosystem of accessories ranges from essential upgrades to the downright odd. But there’s also a huge range of potential for great low-power projects, whether you’re looking for an introduction to programming devices with GPIO or looking to Pis as a cheap way to run useful services in your home. Whatever the next project is, the Raspberry Pi 5 is a welcome upgrade to an already great product, with tons of potential for some really interesting and creative projects.