Miniature PC packs a big punch


We are always looking out for smaller yet capable computers for our projects, and this newest offering by [David Braben] is looking mighty nice. [David] is the head of a UK-based games studio, but has recently been focusing on bringing small, affordable PCs to classrooms around the world.

The computer, called Raspberry Pi,  is about the size of your standard USB thumb drive and contains a 700 MHz ARM 11 processor as well as 128 MB of memory. It has an HDMI port which can display 1080p video on any compatible screen, along with a USB port for input peripherals. Mass storage is provided courtesy of an on-board SD card slot, and it looks like the ability to utilize add-on modules will be available as well.

There is sure to be no shortage of willing buyers if [David] is able to bring these computers to market within a reasonable timeframe. With a projected cost of about $25, this will certainly give the OLPC and others a run for their money.

Thanks to everyone who sent this story in… all of you. You can stop now… please. (don’t stop sending us tips, we’re just joking around)

106 thoughts on “Miniature PC packs a big punch

  1. I guess this is not CRT compatible, it would atleast need some extra analog circuitry, which takes a lot of space.
    so i think this will only have HDMI/DVI out.

    if he swaps the HDMI with a ethernetjack, i will buy them. (add serial, and you don’t need a monitor)

  2. @Eric

    It does in fact say 12mp on the site, but I really wonder if it was supposed to say 1.2mp. If I could get a 12mp board level camera like that it would be amazing.

  3. @John Bokma

    RISC OS – that’d be the GUId, anti-aliased, multitasking desktop OS complete with in-buit applications that ran from 4MB of ROM on a 30MHz ARM3 with 4MB of memory. And was inherently programmable by the user (BASIC in ROM too)

    And now we’ve got an ARM11, 128MB SRAM and 700MHZ to try and do the same?

    Hurrah for progress…

  4. Cmos cameras like that use 1.2Volt LVDS interface (and need 2-3 voltages to operate 1.2V 1.8V and 2.7V). You can get them from GSM spare parts vendors, Sony Ericsson used to use paraller interface ones, at lest the 2Mpix and 5Mpix models, they “only” needed 2 voltages to operate 1.8 and 2.7

  5. It amazes me how little processing power we really need to run a fully functional computer. Sure, it may not play call of doodie, but it will most certainly meet the needs of the community that buys it. If they do sell at the $25 pricepoint then I’m in for at least one if not more. This may be the start of a beautiful thing.

  6. This really is a beautiful thing. Anything sub $100 would have my money for at least a couple.
    And I would inlay my gold Elite badge into the case of the first one :-)

  7. This is great!! I was waiting for some tech like that to come along.

    The possibilities are huge. I can think of a few ideas to go with this thing.

    1) Completely modular laptop that is company independant. Ever had to fix a laptop? I hate the way they are built. I know I am preaching to the choir when I say that they are not like PC’s, and they suffer from propriatary hardware. The mobo is FUBAR? The average user has to buy a whole new unit, create e-waste gallore.

    With this little computer? A peripheral dies? Replace the Peripheral, not the whole mess, just like you do with a PC. Keeping it small reduces the e-waste and the low power usage (how many volts does this thing suck?) makes it even more friendly to mother nature.

    This would outdo the OpenPandora.

    2) Easy wearable computing customization. This form factor has MORE potential than it lets on. I hope that other companies actually ape this guy because of the mobile computing aspect. I see potential in it being the “leaner, meaner and hackable” version of the Xybernaut units (ever tried to get one of those? Pain in the ass).

    Throw that in your “Personal Area Network”. With the camera? You got the means to create your own HUD with augmented reality. You get a usb twiddler, a battery on your belt, the Raspberry and some HDMI-driven goggles and voila, you’re a cyborg now!

    3) Robotics and automation. Combine this with an arduino and an old HERO-1 frame, voila, instant robotic servant. With the usb and the fact you got Linux on that thing? Throw in wine and you can use the Microsoft robotic Developer Studio (Just saying).

    Toss that thing into a model airplane and you got your own “predator” drone. With the low voltage, combine that with a solar panel and some wireless USB and a host of sensors, and you got your poor’s man weather station.

    4) This would also work wonders to assist patients and the elderly as a means to monitor their health in real-time. the small computing form factor can assist doctors with a host of medical tools that are just as readily available as the ol’stethoscope.

    Imagine, more precise and human-like prostethics . With that kind of processing power you could build a better replacement limb for the amputees of the world. Or what about a better computer to assist people like Professor Stephen Hawkin?

    And this is just off the top of my head!!


  8. first and primarily, will have to get one for my parents, they are kinda scared of the beast that responds with a flicker of an led and a loud whirling of a fan on keystroke or mouse move.

  9. what is all excitement about ? Chinese make android tablets since ipad release for 100$ add power supply monitor and other hardware and you get from 25$ to much over 100$ and you get a toy anyways

  10. Actually, it sounds like they aren’t using the OLPC business model (only provide laptops to JUST the 3rd world), which is a VERY good thing (as I said, I’ll take 20. Why? BECAUSE! Don’t question my incompetence!)

    Also, while we are on the subject of the OLPC program: if the XO was a major part in making companies realize there was a demand for netbooks, what could market could this device inspire?

  11. A few more comments (TRIPLE POST FTW!):
    I like how they are planning on releasing it with an ACTUAL OS that is used in the real world. Sure, its Ubuntu (or as some like to call it, “Noob linux”), but have you seen the OLPC OS? Nothing like a normal OS! (at least, last time I checked which was several years ago…) Besides, some companies use Ubuntu. No one outside of the OLPC developers and XO users use the XO os.

    If you’re going to give kids computers, give them a computer with an OS which is or is similar to the ones used outside of education. Sure, it might be harder for them to learn initially, but kids tend to have an easier time learning. (Also, I’m talking about the interface, not the inner workings. Educators just care that it WORKS and that they can understand how to use it and teach it to their kids)

    From my experience, it seems that people have a harder time to learn something foreign to them, but if it resembles something they already know, they are more likely to want and be able to learn it. (Trust me, while some can claim they have built their own computers, I can claim that I taught my 90 year old grandma how to use email and do word processing and middle schoolers how to use Photoshop.)

    Besides, the kids who find they are into programming and computers are usually going to fool around with them and find the more advanced stuff on their own. If anything, just make the software harder to kill and recoverable if something DOES go horribly wrong.

    Despite all that, the hardware on the XO is very nice.

    Finally: how much power does this $25 computer use?

    Could I power it with a potato battery?

  12. This is going to be very popular, I’m sure.

    If you look around on that page the top post links to you’ll also find Braben’s REMAKE of “Frontier”, which will be open source (“Pioneer space sim”). That should get a hackaday thread too!

  13. According to David’s twitter:
    “Device has full internet access (wirelessly) and a MicroSD slot (up to 32Gb) so loading/saving/sharing is fine.”

    And sound output is “Dolby 5.1 via HDMI”

  14. People are getting so excited over this while bifferboard has been available for quite some time and has gathered quite a community already. Admittedly it has less ram and the processor is clocked at 150Mhz, but on the pros side it supports x86 instruction set, has built-in ethernet, SD, serial console and GPIO available. Unless you need that video decoding, this is a great deal.

  15. I saw a lot of people challenging the $25 price tag as not profitable. Not everyone is in it for profit. I contacted them with the idea of giving them away for free, all cost paid by me and my wife. No we are not rich, both of us are disabled in fact, but that doesn’t mean we are unable to make a difference. And yes, I know I will have to add to it on my end to make it viable, but even adding a bluetooth device and keyboard/mouse still brings the price down to very manageable. Will it play games? Not too well maybe, but for a computer to study with? It looks good if you have nothing, a problem the builder an I see as a major plus. As I plan on giving these away to school children, I also plan on giving the teachers lessons on how to use it so they can teach the kids. And any system not Microsoft is a plus as far as I am concerned.

  16. This makes my mouth water with the possibilities. As I don’t do much in the way of PC gaming, I could feasibly replace every PC on my network with one of these. A cluster would definitely be in the works. I’d get me a few of the lilliput touchscreen USB monitors to go with them and make my own tablet(s).

    A couple generations of this device could push them into the realm of multi-core processors even.

  17. @Richard Ballard
    No offense intended, but that’s great up to the point when you become too bored/infirm/skint to continue!

    Consider this: You’re getting a punter to expend a considerable effort becoming familiar with the hardware. I’ll wager even Linux gurus will have a few things to learn in this case. That effort, even if paid at minimum wage will considerably exceed the cost of the item.

    So what happens when the community and supply chain disappear because people up-stream decide they want to work on something new? Clever people have a habit of getting bored real quick.

    The best intentions aren’t as powerful as a business model that works and is making someone money. Never underestimate that. I think in this case you could have the best of both worlds, many people are saying they’d pay a lot more for such a device, so why go so low? I think it’s downright irresponsible to advertise the price as £10-15. Anyone can advertise a loss-leader at knock-down price. It’s OK for the lucky ones but what about everyone else?

    Finally, I just don’t ‘get’ why this can be considered an educational device. If the idea is to teach 3d games programming it’s pretty insane not to use Windows + DirectX (and that’s coming from a Linux bigot). It should have way more IO possibilities if it wants to become the next ‘BBC micro’ for schools, and hate to be a cynic but it looks highly nickable!

  18. @bifferos
    The idea isn’t to teach 3d gaming programming. It’s to allow the student (mainly younger students)to use the computer for regular school projects, like writing a paper, using the Internet for basic research, etc., and lets them keep up with the ones that have computers at home.
    Again, you are only looking at it as a cash cow. I am looking at it as a way to better someone who might not have an opportunity. If the builder decides to quit, so what? I can use it while is available. I see it as a way to spread the $500 plus dollars I am going to spend anyway further and help more people, which is my end goal. If the main thing you are doing is writing papers and searching the web, Ubuntu works just fine and there isn’t that much of a learning curve. Open office has the word processor and there are several Linux web browsers available. I am not suggesting it will be the end all of computers or that it will do everything, but it will do what the basic student needs to do.

  19. I dunno. Short of video, flash (and similar), and 3d-gaming, I think the “educational market” would be better served by using the “two generations old” computers that lots of people are throwing away. Two birds with one stone, that way. We don’t really need cheap hardware (they’re burning otherwise usable computers to extract the copper, right?), we need software that lets makes those basic tasks easy on slower, smaller systems. Unfortunately, this is NOT the way things are going.
    (and it’s largely a usability issue. An aging geek can put freebsd on a Pentium 2, add X windows (mostly xterms), prepare their papers using laTeX, and surf the web in B&W. But that won’t do for most people. The more education you need, the more computer you need. Sigh.

  20. I already rebuild/repair older computers and give them away to school children. The biggest problem is the OS at the moment. A lot of people are afraid to use Linux (in my case I install Ubuntu), the only OS that I can afford to install on them. Once I get them on it and using Open Office and Firefox, They are OK with it. The biggest problem is when they decide to add programs the install is a bit difficult. I agree that the more education you have the more you need. That is why the cheap device is a good starter for smaller school children. Our plan is to give newer computers to those in high school and college. At that point the need really out weighs the availability of what we can provide.

  21. @Richard Ballard Puppy linux is great for reviving older hardware does everything I need a modern pc to do(i dont need high end gaming)very fast very small os.
    Also go David Braben!

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