$25 Raspberry Pi PC nears launch

2011 was a remarkable year for technology. The rise of Android helped spread the adoption of smartphones; the iPad continued to dominate the tablet space, amid rumblings that we were entering a new post-PC era; and the cost of devices continued to fall, with Amazon launching its Kindle Fire tablet in the US for $199, and India seeing the launch of an Android tablet for just $35.

One of this year’s most intriguing prospects for computing was the Raspberry Pi, a computer in a package around the size of a credit card, with an equally miniature price tag, capable of HD video playback.

We first reported on it back in May; the lack of headlines since then might have led you to believe that the project had died. But the British organisation behind the Pi has been working tirelessly on its development, and BBC News reports that – subject to final testing – the device will go into full production next month.

The Raspberry Pi. Actually a lot more interesting than it looks.

The Pi has an ARM11 processor – Broadcom’s 700MHz BCM2835 – which offers standard processing capabilities, along with multimedia and gaming through Broadcom’s integrated Videocore IV GPU, providing the ability to play games and watch video at Full HD (1920x1080px) resolution without the cooling demands of a standalone graphics card.

There’s no onboard storage; there’s a ROM that manages boot functions, and can determine whether to load up an operating system from the integrated storage card slot, or from a USB stick/drive, or via a network (assuming your Pi is configured with a network connector). The Pi will come in two different flavours – the Model A will sell for $25 USD (£16 GBP / €19 EUR) with 128MB of RAM and no network connectivity; the Model B includes 256MB of RAM plus an Ethernet socket for $35 (£22.50 / €27); neither model offers wireless connection options.

Unsurprisingly, the two Pi configurations also exclude elements such as a monitor, keyboard or mouse. Don’t expect the diminutive price to include a costly Windows 7 licence either; these little computers are designed for Linux – The Register explains that Fedora and Debian are supported; currently, Ubuntu is not. Work is ongoing with various distro groups to make OS builds available for the Pi.

It's the next small thing in computing.

If all of this sounds somewhat laughable and backward, in a world of multi-core processors in smartphones and tablets, you’re perhaps not thinking about this in the right context. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has no delusions of crushing the Apples and Microsofts of the world; the Pi is initially designed to appeal to developers, the casual hacking community and even home users who fancy a computing project on the side.

In the longer term, the Foundation hopes to extend its appeal to students. The British Government, among others, has become increasingly vocal about the importance of young people becoming properly educated in IT and development. The Foundation believes that, as governments and industry increase their commitment to developing skills in technology and sciences, devices such as the Pi will naturally find a place in the teaching of these subjects, obviating the need to spend hundreds of dollars more on devices with broadly similar capabilities.

The first devices are expected to go on sale in the next few weeks.

Images via The Raspberry Pi Foundation

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