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TIny PC Fits In The Palm Of Your Hand

David Gilbert



At the start of March we had a look a Sapphire Edge HD Mini PC which was a pretty compact PC, but an announcement today makes the Sapphire look like this in comparison.

David Braben, founder of games company Frontier Developments which brought us Rollercoaster Tycoon and Kinectimals, has announced a computer which is packed into a package about the size of a USB thumb drive. He wants to give one of these to all secondary school students in the UK following talks with the government. Costing between £10-£15 the computer, built by the Raspberry Pi Foundation has a HDMI port to connect to a monitor and a USB port to connect to a keyboard. The ultra-mini PC is based on a 700MHz ARM CPU with 128MB of SDRAM and there could even be a 12 megapixel camera module attached too. While the Raspberry Pi PC is still in the prototype stage, Braden hopes to roll them out in the coming 12 months.


Raspberry Pi device running Ubuntu 9.04

The driving force behind this is Braben’s belief that ICT teaching in UK secondary schools is killing-off interest in computing and computer sciences. “Of course ICT skills are very useful, but they are more of a life skill or a skill that is generally used in the office, learning about Word or PowerPoint and so on. And in fact many students are much more advanced than their teachers which leads to a great demotivation in the classroom.” The PC will run on a version of Linux and will have full access to the internet. There has been a drop off in interest in computer sciences at third level in recent years and Braben believes this device could nurture an interest in coding and programming in young people.

The Raspberry Pi PC will go through testing in the next 12 months as Braben tries to get investors on board to get it to commercial production. It is certainly an exciting development and one which could point the way for the future where you carry your PC with you wherever you went.

Source: Raspberry Pi Foundation


May 6, 2011, 6:13 pm

Wow, good on him. I've noted Braben complaining about the standard of programing teaching in this country before but I thought it was just an old guy complaining about 'kids today'.

But he's actually DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Good on him and the best of luck in this venture.

John Dann

May 6, 2011, 8:05 pm

I'm not 100% sure how this is news - maybe I'm missing something.

But how is this in different (in principle I mean - I know it's a distinct piece of hardware) from say a BifferBoard PC, see eg http://bifferos.bizhat.com/


May 6, 2011, 9:25 pm

The board you've linked is intended for use as an embedded device. It's running a 486-based 150MHz processor and has no video display to speak of. That's fine if you're trying to build your own router, print server or home automation controller.

This device is intended for use as something approximating a full desktop PC, GUI and all - hence it's running Ubuntu. The hardware appears to be similar to what you might find in a smartphone.


May 6, 2011, 9:26 pm

>> maybe I'm missing something.

Yes, that links to a very very dated 486 CPU, that you can't even connect to a TV, you would just have Serial communication, so ironically you would need another PC running Terminal software to use it, or at least some sort of Dumb terminal.

Although not core i7 material the RISC chip used here is much more modern and usable as a PC. As you can connect keyboard/mouse & tv. IOW: your not going to be getting many school children doing there homework on a BifferBoard PC.


May 7, 2011, 4:04 pm

I'm just going to state what I did on twitter, and Chris has kind of mentioned:
While the price is impressive, I don't see anything amazing about the size of the hardware. It's basically smartphone innards.


May 8, 2011, 5:58 pm

You should approach the price with a deal of skepticism. It sounds like a factory price, for 10,000 unit quantities, maybe it's with an educational discount. I think Joe Public will end up paying significantly more. That's cheaper than an Arduino, heck it's cheaper than an Arduino clone!

But aside from that, I don't think tiny embedded devices like this sit well with educational needs. How can you understand something when you can hardly see all the components? Why not go for something simpler, open-source and community-supported, e.g. LinuxStamp with some kind of CPLD display hardware added? Manufacture 10,000 of those and you'll do something for the community as a whole, and you can ride of the back of other peoples hardware and software design work to get there.

The IO possibilities look limited, I don't see much in the way of GPIO for controlling relays, buzzers, servos etc, which is the kind of thing that's going to get kids interest. IMHO It's lacking the BBC-like features that might make it successful in the educational arena.

Having said that, I'll be the first to buy one if it really is £15.


May 9, 2011, 12:00 pm

Critically Braben's board includes 3D graphics hardware. He'd like to see more kids understand games programming for the benefit of the economy.


May 9, 2011, 3:02 pm

>> The IO possibilities look limited,

Well it does have USB, so in theory it's not that limited. USB HUB, USB GPIO etc, yes it's more to spend etc.


May 9, 2011, 3:12 pm

>> I don't see anything amazing about the size

Correct!!, I think it's the price that's important.

If you want small computers, you don't have to look much further than your wallet. eg. Credit Cards, you can even buy smart cards you program yourself in Basic. Of course there not going to be running Linux or pushing out HDMI, but still I find it amazing.


May 9, 2011, 5:51 pm

Yes, this is true, however when you introduce this into a class assignment, you risk adding concepts you don't want like USB bus enumeration, disconnection events, USB IDs (maybe even udev rules?) not to mention USB hub compatibility issues: have you noticed how half the USB devices you buy these days suggest connecting directly to the host if you have problems going via a hub?

Picture this situation: student 'joggles' the USB connectors, either accidentally or on purpose, and at best[1] the kernel sees the device disconnect, then enumerates all the devices again on reconnect. Trouble is that udev leaves open /dev/usbGPIO0 because it's still in use by the student's software, and assigns instead /dev/usbGPIO1 next time around. Only when the software is halted and the device is unplugged again and reconnected will it again find /dev/usbGPIO0 and use that.

The student and/or teacher have to figure all this out. I can imagine stuff like this being somewhat distracting. On the one hand we like to encourage students to experiment. On the other hand, if they ski just a few feet off-piste they risk a fail in their assignment. I think they'll soon learn :-(.

Leaving aside the above issues you still have a performance problem - imagine a simple PWM in software to dim an externally connected LED. You can't easily do this via USB GPIO because of the latency.

[1] At worst the device driver gets itself into some unknown state and you have to reboot!


May 9, 2011, 7:57 pm

Your now confusing me, you mentioned -> relays, buzzers, servos etc, which is the kind of thing that's going to get kids interest.
In this case latency surely is not an issue, USB has plenty of bandwidth here. I mean people used to use Serial & Parallel that was much slower. Also I don't think this is the reason for the device in the first place.

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