It’s Official! The Raspberry Pi Is Now 10!

In any given field there are epoch-defining moments, those events after which nothing was quite the same as it had been before. It’s been a decade since the launch of the first Raspberry Pi single board computer. This was by no means the first inexpensive computer board, nor was it the first to support the GNU/Linux operating system, but it was among the first to promise a combination of those two. Coupled with support from a crop of British 8-bit alumni meant that from when it first gained publicity in early 2011 it garnered a huge buildup of interest.

We were first teased with a USB stick style prototype, which morphed into a much larger Raspberry Pi alpha board and finally into pre-production boards much closer to the model launched at the end of February ten years ago.

How To Disappoint Every Single British Geek At 6 AM

An array of Pi prototype boards pictured on display at the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory.
An array of Pi prototype boards pictured on display at the Cambridge University Computer Laboratory.

Pedants will claim that the 10th birthday of the Pi is technically not yet upon us because those first Model B boards went on sale on the 29th of February 2012, a leap day. The two distributors, RS and Farnell, were both putting them on sale with the expectation of selling around 10,000 units — a prediction that proved woefully inadequate, with both websites collapsing under the weight of would-be Pi-purchasers within seconds of opening up at 6 AM.

I was ready to order at 6 AM, and was only able to order mine halfway through the day. That short wait would be just the beginning — because they received so many more orders than anticipated, the bulk of the orders weren’t fulfilled until May. Nobody had imagined how wildly successful the Pi boards would become. Continue reading “It’s Official! The Raspberry Pi Is Now 10!”

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Hackaday Links: February 27, 2022

If there’s one thing that can trigger people, it’s the printer racket. Printer manufacturers who put DRM-like features into their consumables are rightly viewed as Satan’s spawn, and while these monsters have been content so far to only put digital rights management features into their ink and toner cartridges, they appear to now have their rapacious gaze set on print media too. At least according to the good folks over at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who claim that Dymo’s latest generation of label printers will have RFID tags in the label cartridges, apparently to prevent consumers from buying non-Dymo media. The company doesn’t bill it as a way to lock you into their exorbitantly priced consumables, of course; rather, this is an exciting new feature that’s called “Automatic Label Recognition,” which keeps track of what labels are installed and how many are left. Of course, this is just red meat to people like us, and we fully expect to see workarounds in the not-to-distant future.

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Another Homebrew Linux Board Success Story

It’s truly incredible what the hobbyist is now capable of. While it would have seemed all but impossible a few years ago, we’re happy to report that yet another dedicated hardware hacker has managed to spin up their own custom Linux single-board computer. Creator [Ian Kilgore] tells us the only goal when developing CATFOOD (yes, that’s the name) was to gain confidence with at-home board production, so it looks like a success to us.

To those who’ve been keeping an eye on this sort of thing, it will probably come as no surprise to hear [Ian] was inspired by the work of [Jay Carlson], who arguably kicked off this whole trend when he put together a bevy of homebrew Linux boards in an effort to compare different System-in-Package ICs. His incredibly detailed write-up of the experience and lessons learned along the way has emboldened other brave souls to take up the challenge.

The USB-C powered board uses an ARM i.MX 6ULL processor and features DDR3, NAND flash, and an Ethernet interface. That last one was the biggest deviation from the reference design, which meant it took a little fiddling to get right. For anyone playing along at home, [Ian] collected up the lessons learned while developing CATFOOD, bringing the whole learning experience full circle.

If you’re interested in more homebrew Linux SBCs, we’d highly recommend reading up on the WiFiWart developed by [Walker]. Over the course of about six months, we got to watch the open hardware board go from concept to a diminutive first prototype.

New Raspberry Pi Zero 2 Upgrades To Quad-Core Processor

Over the years, we’ve seen a steady stream of updates for the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s flagship single-board computer (SBC), with each new release representing a significant boost in processing power and capability. But the slim Raspberry Pi Zero, released all the way back in 2015, hasn’t been quite so fortunate. Beyond the “W” revision that added WiFi and Bluetooth in 2017, the specs of the diminutive board have remained unchanged since its release.

That is, until now. With the introduction of the $15 USD Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W, the ultra-compact Linux board gets a much-needed performance bump thanks to the new RP3A0 system-in-package, which combines a Broadcom BCM2710A1 die with 512 MB of LPDDR2 SDRAM and a quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 CPU clocked at 1 GHz. In practical terms, the Raspberry Pi Foundation says the new Zero 2 is five times as fast as its predecessor with multi-threaded workloads, and offers a healthy 40% improvement in single-threaded performance. That puts it about on par with the Raspberry Pi 3, though with only half the RAM.

Otherwise, the new Zero 2 isn’t much different from the original. It’s the same size and shape, meaning existing cases or mounts should work fine. You’ll also find the micro SD slot, CSI camera connector, dual micro USB ports, and mini HDMI port in the same places they were in 2015.

Frankly we’re a little surprised they didn’t switch over to USB-C (at least for the power port) and micro HDMI to bring it in line with the Pi 4, but of course, they presumably didn’t want to break compatibility with existing Zero projects. At least we won’t have to wait for a second edition to add wireless, as the Zero 2 W offers 2.4 GHz 802.11 b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 out of the box.

We’ll have samples of the new Zero 2 W in hand shortly, so keep an eye out for a detailed overview of this highly anticipated new member of the Pi family. In the meantime, let us know what you think about the new hardware in the comments. Is it a worthy successor to the original $5 Pi Zero?

MC68k SBC with a monitor, keyboard and mouse

Motorola 68000 SBC Runs Again With A Raspberry Pi On Top

Single-board computers have been around a long time: today you might be using a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino, or an ESP32, but three decades ago you might find yourself programming a KIM-1, an Intel SDK-85, or a Motorola 68000 Educational Computer Board. These kind of boards were usually made by processor manufacturers to show off their latest chips and to train engineers who might use these chips in their designs.

[Adam PodstawczyƄski] found himself trying to operate one of these Motorola ECBs from 1981. This board contains a 68000 CPU (as used in several Macintoshes and Amigas), 32 kB of RAM, and a ROM program called TUTOR. Lacking any keyboard or monitor connections, the only way to communicate with this system is a pair of serial ports. [Adam] decided to make the board more accessible by adding a Raspberry Pi extended with an RS232 Hat. This add-on board comes with two serial ports supporting the +/- 12 V signal levels used in older equipment.

It took several hours of experimenting, debugging, and reading the extensive ECB documentation to set up a reliable connection; as it turns out, the serial ports can operate in different modes depending on the state of the handshake lines. When the Pi’s serial ports were finally set up in the right mode, the old computer started to respond to commands entered in the terminal window. The audio interface, meant for recording programs on tape, proved more difficult to operate reliably, possibly due to deteriorating capacitors. This was not a great issue, because the ECB’s second serial port could also be used to save and load programs directly into its memory.

With the serial connections working, [Adam] then turned to the aesthetics of his setup and decided to make a simple case out of laser-cut acrylic and metal spacers. Custom ribbon cables for the serial ports and an ATX break-out board for power connections completed the project, and the 40-year-old educational computer is now ready to educate its new owner on all the finer points of 68000 programming. In the video (embedded after the break) he shows the whole process of getting the ECB up and running.

[Adam] made a similarly clever setup with a Commodore 64 and an Arduino earlier. [Jeff Tranter] recreated a similar 68000 development board from scratch. And a few years ago we even featured our own custom-built 68k computer.

Continue reading “Motorola 68000 SBC Runs Again With A Raspberry Pi On Top”

WiFiWart Boots Linux, Moves To Next Design Phase

Over the last few months we’ve been keeping an eye on WiFiWart, an ambitious project to develop a Linux single-board computer (SBC) small enough to fit inside a USB wall charger. Developer [Walker] says the goal is to create an easily concealable “drop box” for penetration testing, giving security researchers a valuable foothold inside a target network from which to preform reconnaissance or launch attacks. Of course, we don’t need to tell Hackaday readers that there’s plenty of other things you can do with such a tiny open hardware Linux SBC.

Today we’re happy to report that [Walker] has gotten the first version of the board booted into Linux, though as you might expect given a project of this complexity, there were a few bumps along the way. From the single missing resistor that caused U-Boot to throw up an error to the finer points of compiling the kernel for an embedded board, the latest blog post he’s written up about his progress provides fascinating insight into the little gotchas of bringing up a SBC from scratch.

Once the board was booted into Linux, [Walker] started testing out different aspects of the system. A memory benchmark confirmed the finicky DDR3 RAM was working as expected, and he was able to load the kernel modules for the dual RTL8188 interfaces and connect to a network. While the two WiFi modules are currently hanging off the board’s full-sized USB ports, they will eventually be integrated into the PCB.

Critically, this prototype board is also allowing [Walker] to get an idea of what the energy consumption of the final hardware might be. Even at full tilt, this larger board doesn’t go over 500 mA at 5 VDC; so if he designs the power supply with a maximum output of 1 A, he should have a nice safety margin. As mentioned in the previous post, the plan is currently to put the PSU on its own board, which will allow more effective use of the charger’s internal volume.

With the software and hardware now largely locked in, [Walker] says his attention will be turned towards getting everything small enough to fit into the final form factor. This will certainly be the most challenging aspect of the project, but with a growing community of hackers and engineers lending their expertise to the cause, we’re confident the WiFiWart will soon be a reality.

Putting An Ultra-Tiny Linux Board In A Phone Charger…Eventually

Among security professionals, a “drop box” is a device that can be covertly installed at a target location and phone home over the Internet, providing a back door into what might be an otherwise secure network. We’ve seen both commercial and DIY versions of this concept, and as you might expect, one of the main goals is to make the device look as inconspicuous as possible. Which is why [Walker] is hoping to build one into a standard USB wall charger.

This project is still in the early stages, but we like what we see so far. [Walker] aims to make this a 100% free and open source device, starting from the tools he’s using to produce the CAD files all the way up to the firmware the final hardware will run. With none of the currently available single-board computers (SBCs) meeting his list of requirements, the first step is to build a miniature Linux machine that’s got enough processing power to run useful security tools locally. Obviously such a board would be of great interest to the larger hacker and maker community.

The RTL8188CUS is likely to get integrated later on.

So far, [Walker] has decided on his primary components and is working on a larger development board before really going all-in on the miniaturization process. As of right now he’s planning on using the Allwinner A33 to power the board, a sub-$10 USD chipset most commonly seen in low-cost Android tablets.

The A33 boasts a quad-core Cortex-A7 clocked at 1.2 GHz, and offers USB, I2C, and SPI interfaces for expansion. It will be paired with 1 GB of DDR3 RAM, and an SD card to hold the operating system. Naturally a device like this will need WiFi, but until [Walker] can decide on which chip to use, the plan is to just use a USB wireless adapter. The Realtek RTL8188CUS is a strong contender, as the fact that it comes in both USB and module versions should make its eventual integration seamless.

Even if you’re not interested in the idea of hiding security appliances inside of everyday objects, this project is a fascinating glimpse into the process of creating your own custom Linux board. Whether you’re looking to put into a wall wart or a drone, it’s pretty incredible to think we’ve reached the point where an individual can spin up their own miniature SBC.