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US$25 Raspberry Pi personal computer nears launch date

By

December 26, 2011

Top view of the US$25 Raspberry Pi computer

Top view of the US$25 Raspberry Pi computer

Image Gallery (7 images)

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

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

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:

About the Author
Randolph Jonsson A native San Franciscan, Randolph attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland before finding his way to the film business. Eventually, he landed a job at George Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, where he worked on many top-grossing films in both the camera and computer graphics departments. A proud member of MENSA, he's passionate about technology, optimal health, photography, marine biology, writing, world travel and the occasional, well-crafted gin and tonic!   All articles by Randolph Jonsson
31 Comments

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

Walter Costescu
27th December, 2011 @ 01:51 am PST

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.

Joris van den Heuvel
27th December, 2011 @ 05:00 am PST

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).

Wuahn
27th December, 2011 @ 05:05 am PST

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!!!

Bede Key
27th December, 2011 @ 06:04 am PST

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.

HerrDrPantagruel
27th December, 2011 @ 12:59 pm PST

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!

Alonzo Riley
27th December, 2011 @ 02:48 pm PST

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.

Mr Stiffy
27th December, 2011 @ 05:45 pm PST

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.

Mindbreaker
27th December, 2011 @ 06:33 pm PST

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.

mikewax
27th December, 2011 @ 07:39 pm PST

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.

Richard C. Edmonds
27th December, 2011 @ 09:47 pm PST

great post........keep it up. Gizmag is really an informative blog. I have bookmarked this for future resources. Thanks admin.

PC Support

Dennis Williamson
28th December, 2011 @ 12:59 am PST

HerrDrPantagruel has a good point. Where I come from, our internet is horribly slow and a friend of mine, despite having a computer with high end specs bought a netbook specifically for downloading large files with lower power consumption. He would be thrilled to use this in the same vein.

Richard Fernandes
28th December, 2011 @ 02:58 am PST

It has the capacity to work as a browser and do all that the Internet has to offer, which could mean hosting your website, always on and e-commerce, a RAM to sd card solution could help. It can carry out complete telephony and backup, it could be used in parallel computing, it can run home electrical solutions. It can carry out document creation, editing and printing. Even remote actions. Having 4 of these in parallel could challenge any mighty ARM processor. It will also have its own dedicated modding and hacking community, including over clockers and chillers.

Dawar Saify
28th December, 2011 @ 03:32 am PST

This would be cool to get XBMC or somesuch media centre up on. I'll let others do the hard work and do it, I'll just reap the rewards! :)

Bring it on.

Mark Thomas
28th December, 2011 @ 05:01 am PST

I wonder if this will be compatible with Android. I also wonder if it could play minecraft. I mean it has Open GL..

Michael Mantion
28th December, 2011 @ 06:11 am PST

There are 2 things it is missing to be a killer app: power over ethernet, and bluetooth. Actually 3, it needs to have infrared input/output. You know what, RIM's playbook's radio has WiFi, bluetooth, and FM all-in-one, so this should have FM also. Plus AM. And a FM transmitter. And the FM transmitter needs to be capable of broadcasting RDS. And I want a header to hook it up to a battery if I want. Plus I want a micro SDHC slot on it. It should have one SATA / eSATA port somewhere. Firewire? Well, for sure it needs to have RS-232. I don't think anybody cares about the parallel port anymore.

Grunchy
28th December, 2011 @ 08:48 am PST

With an LCD touch screen and the right operating software, this could be a great product. A stripped-down version like the one pictured might sell at a lower price for certain hobbyist applications, but in today's marketplace there is no demand for an under-equipped PC, at any price. The days of monitor and keyboard are over.

ralph.dratman
28th December, 2011 @ 08:51 am PST

This unit is pretty amazing considering what you get for the price. I think someone would be smart to supply some accessories aimed just at this device. Bluetooth would be one, although I guess you could get some sort of USB one. An abs or steel case that it mounts nicely into would be another.

Mr Stiffy-you crack me up!

Paul Anthony
28th December, 2011 @ 09:18 am PST

I dunno. My first thought was that it'd make a great computer for a kit car. I'm sure it could also be useful aboard a sailboat or for any number of small robotic or even prosthetic applications.

Larry Hooten
28th December, 2011 @ 09:18 am PST

"Ž"Raspberry!............There is only one man who would Dare! give me the raspberry, LONESTAR!!" ~ Dark Helmet

Gene Jordan
28th December, 2011 @ 10:57 am PST

I think some of you miss the point. This is aimed at educational needs, especially in the UK which gets limited educational funds. A sixth form college near me are really excited about this as it will enable more of their students to experiment and develop skills instead of either sharing limited resources or having to buy the kit themselves.

So, buy some, help make this revolutionary product a roaring success, allowing funds to be reinvested and assist the UK economy at the same time.

Jeff

Jnth
28th December, 2011 @ 11:01 am PST

If it goes on sale at Amazon I will buy one. I think it would be a great thing for robotic hobbyists.

ebastro
28th December, 2011 @ 11:12 am PST

You can get Droid tablets with ARM processors for under $90 at Geeks.com and other places so there is certainly a market for a board like this. Think about that. 7" color touchscreen GUI, 16GB of flash RAM, Droid OS, USB, WiFi, SDHC card slot & Apps. Pretty hard to buy all of the parts and make up a microcontroller project with the same hardware specs for under $400. And SparkFun has a great little USB module that allows you to take a Droid tablet or phone and have it interface to the physical world, reading sensors and controlling motors, solenoids and stuff. Awesome!

Christopher Erickson
28th December, 2011 @ 11:13 am PST

In reply to grunchy, wifi and USB ports cover most of these requirements. Also I would like to add that this could be used for remote sensing equipment and medical equipment like portable ultrasound.

Dawar Saify
28th December, 2011 @ 11:29 am PST

Drop the HDMI and price by 7-10 and I'll take 10.

Kris Lee
28th December, 2011 @ 12:22 pm PST

wearable! low power...oh the devices that will come from this populist product....sometimes we don't want don't need, can't use/allow for a screen.

Add gps and run a drone air force

add inertial sensors like Wi controllers and control a leaning scooter suspension

add chemical sensors and mechanize fish tank upkeep

I wonder what G-force it is rated for...I have these black ops apps too...

Walt Stawicki
28th December, 2011 @ 01:17 pm PST

To those in the know: How does this compare to the "Arduino" - any links would be appreciated.

agulesin
28th December, 2011 @ 10:44 pm PST

I'd definitely buy these to experiment with electronics' projects))

Renārs Grebežs
29th December, 2011 @ 02:08 am PST

I bought two MSP-EXP430G2 microprocessors from Texas Instruments much cheaper than Arduino (

Will, the tink
29th December, 2011 @ 04:41 pm PST

Jnth is right... The point is aimed at budgetary constraints and Student use. Consider this for a new computer lab and the sure potential of mounting these to the back of a monitor for secure small form factor uses. Take it a step further and look at lifecycle replacement costs of already existing Lab computers. Schools in the US would jump on this in a heart beat if a reseller would have the balls to put this product out front. But I doubt there is any money in having integrity and wanting to do the right thing for the kids.

I would buy one in a minute and test out the capabilities.

Kenneth Newman
29th December, 2011 @ 08:06 pm PST

Best thing about it? The cute reference to the old BBC micro - Model A and Model B. Back in the early 80s, the Model B was £299 and only 16k RAM, whereas the mighty Model B was £399 and had a whopping 32k of RAM......

Thing is, the reason we all tinkered with the first batch of micro's in the 80s, was that it was the only way to ensure you had a games machine! How many hours of my life did I waste typing in code form a magazine, just to play some awful game.... and after a few more hours trying to find out where all the typo's were.....

JPAR
17th April, 2012 @ 05:50 am PDT
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