Electronics

US$25 Raspberry Pi personal computer nears launch date

US$25 Raspberry Pi personal co...
Top view of the US$25 Raspberry Pi computer
Top view of the US$25 Raspberry Pi computer
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Schematic of the Raspberry Pi computer
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Schematic of the Raspberry Pi computer
Bottom view of the Raspberry Pi computerhttp://images.gizmag.com/gallery_tn/raspberry-3.jpg
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Bottom view of the Raspberry Pi computerhttp://images.gizmag.com/gallery_tn/raspberry-3.jpg
Top view of the bare Raspberry Pi board
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Top view of the bare Raspberry Pi board
Bottom view of the bare Raspberry Pi board
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Bottom view of the bare Raspberry Pi board
The Raspberry Pi is not much bigger than a credit card
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The Raspberry Pi is not much bigger than a credit card
Top view of the US$25 Raspberry Pi computer
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Top view of the US$25 Raspberry Pi computer
Top view of the US$25 Raspberry Pi bare-bones computer
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Top view of the US$25 Raspberry Pi bare-bones computer

Budding computer hackers/scientists are about to get a welcome gift, albeit a bit late for Christmas 2011. The non-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation (RPF) is nearing the release date of its surprisingly powerful and remarkably affordable Raspberry Pi line of bare-bones machines that have been developed in an effort to broaden kids' access to computers in the UK and abroad. How affordable? The figure above was no typo. Read on to learn just what US$25 will get you when these nifty, fully-assembled, credit-card sized computers go on sale next month (sorry, case, monitor, keyboard and mouse not included ... we did say bare bones).

Early models of the Pi will be offered in two versions. The first, Model A (US$25), will sport 128M of RAM but no Ethernet port. Presumably, most of these will end up in educational use. The second, Model B (US$35), will have a larger production run and offer 256M of RAM along with 10/100MBit networking capability. Both are powered by 700MHz ARM11 CPUs and include hardware support for OpenGL ES 2.0 and Blu-Ray caliber (1080p30 H.264) playback.

Schematic of the Raspberry Pi computer
Schematic of the Raspberry Pi computer

Video, HDMI and audio outputs, a USB port (the Model B has two), a Flash memory card reader and several I/O (input/output) pins all come mounted on a 3.34 inch (85.6mm) by 2.08 inch (53.98mm) board around .67 inch (17mm) high. The whole unit weighs about 1.6 ounces (45g) and runs on 5 volts supplied by a micro USB socket rather than an onboard power supply (PSU) - the A draws 2.5 watts, the B, 3.5 watts.

Once the system is configured with user-supplied peripherals, Pi will initially drive ArchLinux, Debian and Fedora ARM GNU/Linux distributions - RPF has plans to add others later on. When it's up and running, the operating system presents in typical Linux format with command-line and desktop interfaces. Once channeled through the ARM architecture, document editors, web browsers and numerous other packages will perform as they would on a typical PC.

The Raspberry Pi is not much bigger than a credit card
The Raspberry Pi is not much bigger than a credit card

The Raspberry Pi is not much bigger than a credit card

Unfortunately, Pi won't run Wine compatibility software, so Windows and other X86 apps aren't supported. Obviously, to keep the price so low, a number of desirable features had to be scaled down or eliminated entirely. But then, that also serves as incentive for creative hacking, which is what the Raspberry Pi is all about.

A major force behind the whole project has been Eben Upton, current director of RPF. Back in 2006, while in the admissions department of Cambridge University, he noticed a downward trend in the skill-sets of A Level Computer Science applicants. Along with several colleagues (now also RPF trustees), Upton identified several reasons for this declining computer savvy among students. Gone were the Amigas, Commodore 64s and other machines of that ilk upon which the previous generation learned to program, replaced with home PCs and game consoles. Overall, curriculum emphasis had begun to switch from programming to website design and the fading dot-com boom didn't help matters much, either.

Upton eventually left Cambridge and became a SoC (system-on-a-chip) architect at US Fortune 500 semiconductor giant Broadcom. In his spare time, he began designing prototype machines with the aim of restoring computer literacy via affordable access to the hardware. By 2008, multimedia capable CPUs, originally designed for mobile devices, became inexpensive enough that Upton's dream had a real promise of coming to fruition.

Over the next three years, Upton and his Pi team scoured the world in a quest for low-cost quality components that would meet their design and price-point goals. Now, finally, the results of all their hard work are about to pay off. Evidently, good things still do come in small packages.

"I'd say that I very much hope that 2012 will be the year that Raspberry Pi, and other cheap, open devices like it, begin to change the way that people, and in particular children, interact with technology," Upton told Gizmag. "The future of our economy depends on our producing a new generation who have the skills and understanding to create new technologies rather than merely using them. Hopefully initiatives like ours can make a small contribution to this goal."

For specs and information on availability, go to the RFP website.

Check out the video below to see the Raspberry Pi in operation:

Raspberry Pi Beta Board Bring up

32 comments
Walter Costescu
Why is this Neat? I don\'t get it, by the time you buy a monitor, case, keyboard and mouse you\'ll be well over a few hundred dollars. You can buy a solid Netbook for as low as $150 now. This seems like a whole mess of trouble to go through for nothing
Joris van den Heuvel
Walter, you are obviously not the target market. This is not about building a complete consumer computer, this is about thinking outside the box. Stick one to the backside of a low budget TV to make a phone controlled media server, hook up 16 of these to experiment with parallel computing, build an ultragreen web server inside an Altoids mint box, use one in every room of the house to make an (inter)connected surveillance system with $5 webcams and bluetooth notification, build an autonomous network backup server in your fire safe, etc. etc. etc.
Wuahn
Re: Walter - Your comment is shortsighted. We all use dozens of devices in a typical day that are technically computers but don\'t necessarily have screens, keyboards, etc. If nothing else, it\'s a very inexpensive media player add-on for your television (think Western Digital or Roku).
Bede Key
You don\'t need a monitor, it plugs into your TV... and you can get a budget USB mouse and keyboard for less than USD 10.00 or a wireless combined keyboard-touch pad for USD 30.00... most people in developed countries who don\'t have a computer at home have a TV and in developing countries there are a growing number of people with access to one... it is neat and I do get it!!!
HerrDrPantagruel
The other day I was researching cheap tiny computers to run an always on web server. Tired of leaving my 300 watt computer on just to have my music available on Subsonic server. This could do that and draw only a few watts. So that\'s just one person\'s little pet application where you need a small amount of pc power but don\'t want to dedicate a whole expensive electricity hogging computer to it. And of course if you actually had such hardware I\'m sure people would develop a lot more applications for them.
Alonzo Riley
I would love to figure out how to use this to control a whole lot of lighting! You could build this into some sophisticated chandeliers!
Mr Stiffy
Hmmmmmmmmmm creates a terrible itch, one just has to scratch, does. Just after I invented the wheel, the internal combustion engine, powered flight, the atom bombs, space flight and the time machine and taught Einstein everything he knew, I also created the first lines of home PC\'s that people actually had to buy in bits and solder the parts onto. \"Oooooooooo 68Kb of RAM! Awesome!\" These are brilliant things.... And it\'s value enough to do great things with, and nothing to suicide over if you get it seriously wrong in the process.
Mindbreaker
Seems like it could be good for robot projects as well. The usual PIC microcontroller chips are not very fast and in other ways limited. This, with software could make it so you can program it without using another computer and without paying a fortune or being limited because of power requirements.
mikewax
devices like this can bridge the digital divide. parents can go to a thrift shop and get the peripheral stuff. they can use shared wifi to get basic internet, and in third world countries it would be a great educational tool.
Richard Edmonds
Kids don't want to become hackers or learn to use Linux, kids want instant gratification, easy game consoles, Apple computers, iPads and iPods/iPhones.