Raspberry Pi, anyone?
The Raspberry Pi, with the capital P and missing E, is as sweet for gadget freaks as the homophonic dish is for foodies. This low-cost machine has sold about a million units worldwide, has shown exponentially increasing consumer interest and has the potential to redefine the assembled PC experience.
This story began in 2006, when Eben Upton and his fellow faculty members at the University of Cambridge had to find a way to provide high-tech facilities to their computer science students, most of whom were skilled web designers just out of high school who liked cutting open the clunky desktop CPU. With an initial sales target of 1000-5000 units to hobbyists, the enormous popularity among technically competent adults was certainly unexpected. This device is now available in the A and (more powerful) B versions with an absolutely marginal price difference.
With (3X2X1) inch dimensions and ports to connect plug-and-play and driver-installed peripheral devices and running Linux, the Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, pocket-sized boon to many computer centres that involve teaching students programming languages or basic Internet usage. The official website offers for download Raspbian, a version of the Debian OS that includes novice-friendly tools and a familiar interface. Compatible with an RCA or HDMI-compatible monitor, 3.5 mm jack and USB keyboard and mouse, this device just needs to be unplugged from the power socket for ‘shutting down’. Memory is external-USB only, with the various available alternatives to the in-built disk drive, including memory cards, flash drives or external hard drives. The Model B also has a 10/100 Ethernet port for onboard networking. Further add-ons can be equipped for WiFi support, and hardware controllers for sensors and motors. One important thing to remember while connecting the Raspberry Pi is that a 700 mA, 5 V micro-USB adapter (usually available with smartphones) is required to supply power to the board.
Adventurous computer wizards can go ahead and turn the Raspberry Pi into a small media centre, using the reasonably powerful graphics card (256 for A or 512 MB RAM for B) to view images and watch videos on big screen TVs, aided by the Linux program RaspbMC. Upton has stressed the importance of software contributing to the success of his device, while maintaining affordable hardware.
It costs $25 or $35 respectively for the A and B versions of this bare circuit board, which can prudently be protected by plastic casing that costs $15-17 on its own. On the whole, this is a boon for computer centers, school computer labs and as your kid’s first PC. Its small size also ups its usability quotient, with Dave Akerman of Brightwalton, England using it to capture images from the upper atmosphere, in a weather balloon at an altitude of 40 km. In a similar development to this processing unit, there is now a camera module available for $25 that supports HD video recording, albeit missing physical features such as lens mods or zooming. It hopes to match the image quality of cameras on devices such as the iPhone and create a new niche in peripherals on skeletal processing units.
The Raspberry Pi sure is all set to revolutionize the PC sector, and it can only get better with time. Woot!