The C.H.I.P Returns, Maybe

Remember the C.H.I.P? The little ARM-based and Linux-capable single board computer that was launched in 2015 at what was then a seemingly impossibly cheap price of $9, then took ages to arrive before fading away and the company behind it going under? Like a zombie, it has returned from the dead!

So, should we be reaching for the staples of zombie movies, and breaking out the long-playing records? Or should we be cautiously welcoming it back into the fold, a prodigal son to the wider family of boards? Before continuing, it’s best to take a closer look.

The C.H.I.P that has returned is a C.H.I.P Pro, the slightly more powerful upgraded model, and it has done so because unlike its sibling it was released under an open-source licence. Therefore this is a clone of the original, and it comes from an outfit called Source Parts, who have put their board up for sale via Amazon, but with what looks suspiciously like a photo of an original Next Thing Co board. We can’t raise Source Parts’ website as this is being written so we can’t tell you much about its originator and whether this is likely to be a reliable supplier that can provide continuity, so maybe we’d suggest a little caution until more information has emerged. We’re sure that community members will share their experiences.

It’s encouraging to see the C.H.I.P Pro return, but on balance we’d say that its price is not the most attractive given that the same money can buy you powerful boards that come with much better support. The SBC market has moved on since the original was a thing, and to make a splash this one will have to have some special sauce that we’re just not seeing. If they cloned the Pocket C.H.I.P all-in-one computer with keyboard and display, now that would catch our attention!

It all seemed so rosy for the C.H.I.P at launch, but even then its competitors doubted the $9 BoM, and boards such as the Raspberry Pi Zero took its market. The end came in March this year, but perhaps there might be more life in it yet.

Thanks [SlowBro] for the tip.

35 thoughts on “The C.H.I.P Returns, Maybe

  1. That’s odd. The C.H.I.P. Pro may have an open source PCB, but as far as I know next Thing Co were the only source for the GR8 chip at the heart of it. So I’m not sure how anyone else could build clones now they’ve gone under.

  2. They’re not manufacturing new modules. The NTC assets were auctioned off and all of the unsold PocketCHIPs are now being sold by somebody in Hong Kong. These CHIP Pro modules will be the same situation. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

    If you look up Source Parts Inc, you’ll find that they’re a 2 person company running a small part sourcing company based in California + Shenzhen. They’d have to be insane to pay for more GR8 chips to be made.

    1. This is exactly what I was thinking: the C.H.I.P. has definitely not returned from the dead, people are just selling off pieces of its corpse. Jenny should know better.

      1. I was the submitter of this tip and it occurred to me (only after submission, apologies) that possibly this is a seller with some old inventory trying to hype sales. They aren’t trying to start it up again, they just want to get rid of what they already have, at inflated prices.

        Smells scammy. Sorry I didn’t smell it sooner. We shall see in due time if my olfactory senses are accurate.

        1. There’s no reason to come and apologize, it wasn’t *that* big of a mistake, mate! Besides, we all do occasionally have various kinds of olfactory malfunctionery :)

        1. The managers must have known that their company was going under when they did the Voder Kickstarter. They stopped replying to queries about stock and order status around then.

      1. Yes. The Hong Kong seller and presumably this company are doing it legitimately though. They’ll have bought the remaining stock during the NTC asset liquidation and are now selling it. They don’t owe anything to the people who did order but never received anything.

          1. Sort of. They had completed their original Kickstarter and were selling CHIPs + PocketCHIPs on their online store though so these were regular orders. Their car dash bot Voder Kickstarter however that happened around the time they must have known their company was in trouble.

          1. Interesting,
            The Source Parts webpage (linked in the blog) states this right on top…
            ” is now actively producing CHIP Pro derivatives and has made them available on Amazon Prime. ”

            “[a]ctively producing” doesn’t sound like “selling off acquired stock”!

  3. It’s funny how it has castellated holes at the edge, like for SMD soldering the module, but still has parts on the bottom side so you’d have to make a hole for it in the main PCB.

    1. The Onion boards are neat but they’re lacking on processing power, memory and storage. They’re based on low end WiFi AP chips meant for running something like OpenWRT. Same situation with the VoCore modules.

  4. The pocketCHIP is the only interesting thing to come of that whole mess. Someone needs to clone or remake something similar and do all the things NTC couldn’t with it. Including deliver the product, natch…

    1. The pocketchip looked great all except that horrible looking keyboard, and the general “unfinished” look of the case.

      Compare it to the ESP32 based Odroid Go, which is only 32$ and has an amazingly professional and finished look. It doesn’t have QWERTY though, just Gameboy type controls and 4 function keys.

      1. That thing is kind of interesting, but not comparable. It’s not nearly as useful without a full keyboard or a real linux install. The keyboard is not great out of the box but with an overlaid plastic one it’s great. I could not care less about the case.

  5. I got a CHIP and pocketCHIP when all this madness happened. I actually really like them and set them both up to do silly stuff, but I’m not the greatest with linux on SBC and the lack of good documentation sometimes makes me wanna cry.

  6. Out of curiosity I checked their Facebook page, there is an interesting post about a pin-for-pin replacement for the Pro called the “Popcorn Computer.” Check it out:
    https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1445062565605804&id=1145053825606681&ref=page_internal&__tn__=-R

    https://popcorncomputer.com/

    Concerningly, the link on the Popcorn website to their Facebook page shows all kinds of posts not related to the Popcorn and only one post selling off their old Pro stock.

    https://m.facebook.com/popcorncomputerofficial/posts/?ref=page_internal&mt_nav=1

    So my gut still tells me there could be a scam. Grain of salt, caveat emptor and all that.

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