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Raspberry Pi - the $25 Computer

David Gilbert

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Raspberry Pi

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Back in the early days of the personal computer in the 1980s, the first commercial models were a lot more accessible and programmable than today's machines. And out of this era grew a generation of people who knew how to programme computers.

Flash forward 25 years and the cohort of young people who are able program PCs and understand how they actually work is dwindling as a result of the emergence of games consoles, as well as the less-programmable and more expensive desktop PCs and laptops we are all using these days.

With the supply of young people who understand the inner workings of the computer shrinking rapidly, and the need for such people from technology companies seeking to establish bases in Europe growing, a solution was need. And that is why a group of people from Cambridge University got together to produce the Raspberry Pi.

What is Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer that will cost from as little as $25 when it goes on sale at the end of the month. It is a bare-bones PC to which you can connect to a TV, keyboard and mouse, and on which you will be able to surf the web, play Full-HD movies and do almost anything you would want to on a "normal PC".

Who’s Behind the Raspberry Pi?

Back in 2006, Eben Upton was lecturing in Cambridge University when he spotted the drop off in the skill levels of A-level students applying to the Computer Science course. Compared to the 1990s, when those applying had been hobbyist programmers who honed their skills on the likes of Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX and Commodore 64 machines, the current crop of applicants had little or no programming skills.

Along with a number of colleagues, Upton came up with the idea of a cheap computer that could easily be installed in schools and universities across the country, giving students access to a computer on which they could learn how to program.

Over the next three years a wide range of colleagues and friends from within the computer industry came on board to help Upton develop the Raspberry Pi and get it to the point it is at today.

How powerful will the Raspberry Pi be?

The Raspberry Pi is powered by a Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip (SoC) featuring an ARM1176JZFS CPU running at 700Mhz. The SoC will also support Blu-ray quality playback, using H.264 at 40Mbits/s. In other words, not exactly a powerhouse, but with that video support it can have genuine practical applications for things such as being a multimedia PC to plug into your telly.

The BRCM2835 (right) and its accompanying memory.

The graphical capabilities of the pocket-sized computers will be roughly equivalent to an original Microsoft Xbox levels of performance, which isn’t too bad considering it will only cost you $25.

Jedibeeftrix

February 23, 2012, 1:58 pm

i will get one.

but i want a v2 in short order with a dual-core arm cpu and a gig of memory, as it will make running modern linux distro's easier.

JonDavid

February 23, 2012, 5:41 pm

I am highly likely to get the Model B, although will still be looking to see if Apple replace the ATV with something interesting. Two key applications for me are going to be OnLive and XBMC, but I see quite a bit of potential here.

ElectricSheep

February 23, 2012, 7:26 pm

I'll be trying to hack one into an old VGA 19" Acer LCD and running XBMC. Wifi dongle in one USB and Mouse/KB in the other. Nice little media streamer.

PaulM

June 6, 2012, 4:10 pm

I may be stating the obvious but there is no need to buy a Raspberry Pi to experience the Raspberry Pi programming experience. If you want to teach children to program in Python under Linux then all you need to do is to install Linux on some old PC that you have hanging around. If you dual boot from Linux then you can also continue to run Windows on that PC. The programs will also run around 10 times as fast as they would on a Raspberry Pi. What the Raspberry Pi is very good for is to allow children to write programs which interface with electronic hardware such as motors and lights. For anything else you probably have all the hardware needed to teach children to program already.

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