Welcome to GRIT, or should I say G-R-I-T (Getting-Raspberry Pi-In-Tune). My adventures in tuning my Raspberry Pi for what I need/want it to do.
The Raspberry Pi is a small inexpensive computer that runs a version of Linux. You run it headless (no display or keyboard) from another computer - for less than $50. The Raspberry Pi itself is $35, but you'll need a 10 watt USB power pack, and a 8 gig (or more) micro SD memory card. If you want (and have) an HDMI monitor and a USB keyboard you can plug them into the Raspberry PI and have a 'desktop' computer. I recommend you go the headless route. You can use ssh and vnc to access it from your current laptop or desktop.
I have both a Raspberry Pi B+ and a Raspberry Pi 2. If you decide to get a Raspberry Pi get the 2. I use Raspbian for my OS. There are other flavors of Linux you can use on the Raspberry Pi. I'll skip the setting up of the Raspberry Pi since there are tons of other references you can use. To find an install by searching on:
raspberry pi headless install ????Where ???? is your OS (Windows, Mac, Ubuntu etc) of your current laptop or desktop.
- The Raspberry Pi does not come with WiFi. You'll either have to use an Ethernet cable to connect it to your router, or buy a USB WiFi adapter (~$10). I'd start by just plugging it into the router. One of the advantages of headless (remote) access to the Raspberry Pi is that it can be placed near enough to plug into the router, and you can access it from anywhere in your WiFi network. You don't have to touch the Raspberry Pi unless you are doing hardware hacks.
- Get a case for your Raspberry Pi. They are cheap (<$5), and will protect your Raspberry Pi from damaging itself or something else.