Whilst the rest of the world builds ever faster computers (partly to meet the increasingly hefty demands of Windows 7 and Microsoft Office!) boffins in the UK are taking a different approach – and nearing a final production date for the Raspberry Pi bare bones PC – expected to go on sale in the next month or two.
Make no mistake, this is not a multi-core gaming powerhouse! It is due to cost just $25 for the Model A (128MB RAM without a network connector) or $35 for the Model B (256MB RAM with onboard Ethernet network socket) – and both models come without a case, or a power supply, or an operating system…
Raspberry Pi uses a 700 Mhz ARM processor (similar to that found in some mobile phones) and it is intended to run a version of the free open source Linux operating system. Per the developers: “The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming“.
There is no case for the initial version, but there will be a case available later – or you could create your own. Mice, keyboards, wireless network adapters and external storage will all have to connect via a USB hub (which you need to supply, but they only cost a few dollars).
There is composite and HDMI out on the board, so you can hook it up to a digital or analogue television or to a DVI monitor. There is no VGA support, but adaptors are available and cheap. For audio, there’s a standard 3.5mm jack, or you can use HDMI. You can add any supported USB microphone via a USB hub and storage is by SD card.
The device will be powered by a 5v micro USB charger (commonly used by many mobile phones) which you need to supply. Model B owners using networking and high-current USB peripherals will require a supply which can source 700mA (many phone chargers meet this requirement). Model A owners with powered USB devices may be able to get away with a much lower current capacity (e.g. 300mA).
Debian, Fedora and ArchLinux operating systems will be supported from the start with hopefully other distros to come later. The developers of Raspberry Pi will be selling SD cards with the distros preloaded if required.
As you have probably figured out by now, this is not a PC for a novice and you may need to spend a few dollars on a charger, memory card and USB hub if you don’t already have them. In fact, Raspberry Pi was designed as a way to inspire young people to start a career in technology – but I can see it gaining widespread adoption by tech addicts as an incredibly small media center PC for video streaming and internet TV :-)
As the Raspberry Pi can play full HD video, has ultra low power requirements and creates virtually no heat (or noise) it could be ideal for hooking up to a big screen HDTV. It may even find a home amongst people who just want a very cheap basic computer for internet and webmail – without all the security problems, updates and antivirus rigmarole of the Windows world.
I love the developer’s suggestion of what to do if you ‘brick’ the device i.e. manage to screw up Linux somehow – ‘you can restore the device by reflashing the SD card’ i.e. just copy the Linux distro back onto the card which should only take a minute – if only Windows was that simple to reinstall…
If you’re interested, keep an eye on the developer’s site here for a video of Raspberry Pi in action, more info and updates on the date when it will be released for sale.