Really Small Cheap Computer Rocks

There’s a demo of a Raspberry Pi here:

The device comes in two models. $25 gets you a small cheap computer without networking and $35 gets you a small cheap computer with networking. Once networked the uses are only limited by imagination.

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I think that when the cost of the computer is so much less than the cost of the peripheral devices attached to it, we are “there”, now. This should make IT available to a few billion more people and serve the stated purpose for that organization, inspiring innovation. I can see entrepreneurs all over the world running with things like this, making a little money per machine and closing the digital divide.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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20 Responses to Really Small Cheap Computer Rocks

  1. oiaohm says:

    Ray china also has regulations on items that can broadcast directly as well.

    Most locations where you can make stuff RF support will cause you hell.

    RaspberryPI does have quite a large market in US Australia and other places with RF rules as a training tool.

  2. Ray says:

    That is in the US, Australia and probably Canada, but in places where price matters the most people just ignore them, and build them anyways. And regulation only requires that it does not interfere with other equipment.

  3. There is a principle called “appropriate technology”. Unless a technology can be maintained locally it is doomed to fail in harsh environments. FLOSS is appropriate technology because it can be maintained anywhere by anyone for the cost of making some effort. That other OS and non-free applications for it make local maintenance legally impossible and therefor they are not appropriate technology. That’s why GNU/Linux works so well for schools.

  4. oiaohm says:

    Ray in fact shockly Australian and USA regs cover anything that broadcasting a radio frequency including in coaxial cable. Because an aerial that could transmit might be on the other and of the coaxial cable.

    Australia ACMA because anything in TV freq fall under telecommunications. So if they put a dialup modem in the device they would be looking at the same headache hear of certification. RF port has to be tested for lightning resistance if testing in a Australia to get A-tick from ACMA so the port can be used. Thank god FCC approve RF port does not have to go into Australian testing and the FCC approve required that your broadcast strength is under a particular level. Yes I know this insane one very well.

    So there is a up-limit your RF connector is allowed put out and there are freqs that they are ment to be on in some countries. Yes when you put a RF connector on you must pass certification that you are in the right freq and you output is right.

    “Selling frills like computers into societies that can lack basic survival goods let alone the fundamental infrastructures for supporting computers is fantasy”
    oldman its not a fantasy it is happen and why was a success. Because of something. Knowledge is power how many books and guides do you think you could fit into something like the humaneinfo.

    Of course due to the humaneinfo limitations people had to be able to read and work out what it was saying. Basic survival becomes a lot simpler when you know what you should be doing. is one hell of a upgrade for this.

    Same with a lot of third world countries like Kenya using cheap android mobile phones. 100 USD is you cap limit. The more knowledge is a usable form you can deliver the better.

    Think about it every TV in the country combind with a RaspberryPI could basically be a library for less than the cost of a few books.

    “fundamental infrastructures for supporting computers” Exactly they don’t have it. Reason why machine has to be simple and cheep. So when it fails its bin and replace failed part. RaspberryPI is better due to the fact it will be able to show graphics so a working RaspberryPI will be able to walk a person through recovering what they can from a broken RaspberryPI.

    Working in third world has some very adverse conditions you are working with.

    “As far as Microsoft is concerned, It is not my fault that the most comprehensive applications in terms of function and feature are created by commercial vendors to run on top of commercial OS’s from microsoft.” Problem here is what you said. How far are going to get running this without trained staff.

    SQL server 2008 its not a item high up the list in the third world. Books/Information/Howtos. Those are the top items in the third world.

    Means to write books locally and ship them locally is also another key thing. Basically Desktop Publishing.

    You are completely in the wrong techs. Meego interface, Android interface both designed not to need much training. Both can do what the third world need in tones. Books, video and audio to people.

    Simple fact is we need simple stuff. That can meet a simple list of requirements. Third world needs and first world needs are different.

    Microsoft has produced products for the First World needs. China and India are a mix of First World areas and Third World areas. Yes Linux has made inroads in China and India.

    Serousally Oldman open up ebooks on android meego and windows then wake up. NO internet connection kenya biggest problem with windows is virus spreed because they don’t get Windows updates or Anti-virus updates.

    Yes the third world need a way more secure computer than we do that must remain free of infection without an internet connection or anti-virus to protect it.

    The RaspberryPI alone is only half the problem. We need a secure OS for it. Something oldman if you are trueful Windows is not. Android has been hit by trojans but at this stage there has been no Android to Android spreading infections.

    System to System is third worlds worst nightmare.

    Basically oldman “function and feature” there are particular ones MS products are missing this is why they are third world incompatible.

    One of the big advantages of the old C64 was if it was infected just turn it off and back on and as long as you did not insert an infected disk it was still clean.

  5. Ray says:

    In the meantime, I should probably bring it up as a suggestion there.

  6. Ray says:

    When you said anything broadcasting in radio frequency, it means that it’s broadcasting wirelessly, not through a coaxial cable, or an RF connector, so it does not require a license. And no, broadcasting over composite isn’t mostly the same.

  7. oldman says:

    “Yes RaspberryPI and others are targeting the largest by number market. Makes the current super and desktop markets look small.”

    Selling frills like computers into societies that can lack basic survival goods let alone the fundamental infrastructures for supporting computers is fantasy, Mr. oiaohm, and for those countries like China and india that have the infrastructure, western commercial software is already well established and will hold its own so long as idealogy doesnt trump function feature and requirements.

    “This is why I hate oldman at time for that MS is the best solution. Largest possible market it don’t fit at all.”

    On the flip side I dislike people like you who seem think that they know what is good enough for people. For example, SQL server 2008 is miles easier to maintain than either MySql or Postgre or even Oracle for that matter, but if I am in the third world and I cant afford the local price for SQL server and windows( and I dont wish to pirate), I will be using FOSS on linux and counting myself lucky to have that.

    As far as Microsoft is concerned, It is not my fault that the most comprehensive applications in terms of function and feature are created by commercial vendors to run on top of commercial OS’s from microsoft. At the same time if microsoft does not wish to adjust its pricing to the realities of these markets, then it will pay the consequence of lost markets.

    Because in the end, business is business.

  8. oiaohm says:

    “Commodore 64” had different models for regions due to the RF port.

    Composite to RF connector sets the radio freq of the output. That radio freq is what is region dependent. Like if an area is using channel 1 and 0. You cannot have a RF output on those. External box makes it simple to correct where and when this happens.

    SECAM, PAL or NTSC encoding is not the major issue its the radio freq. Also anything broadcasting an radio freq has to be certified in many countries.

    This is about building a cheep device that can be shipped. Yes a RF port sounds nice but as soon as you start seeing the costs the idea seams really bad really quickly. Basically add 10 to 30 dollars to have RF output onboard. Most of that in certification charges that you are not broadcasting incorrectly.

    All early game consoles had the same mistake but they were expensive as well.

    So the board puts out composite that is mostly the same no matter the area. Same reason when producing it making it run from dc and not bundling an AC power feed. Region free design basically. So you can produce the most volume and do the least certification charges.

    Each of us will remember the first computer we cut our IT teeth on. Mine was a mircobee.

    Contrarian to a electronic class doing up robots a fixed case is a pain.

    Lets compare something in the same low cost market segment. vs

    I think I would take the RaspberryPI thank you. Do you not agree RaspberryPI is many times more functional than what is replacing.

    oldman on schools tight budgets the 35 dollar version that has on board ethernet and 256 megs of ram instead of the crappy 128meg. Could find a lot of uses. Younger classes running educational games for one. In store price display units. Advertising display units. At least that way if something bad happens to it its not costly. Of course type B brings up a new challenge to get memory usage of a lot of programs back under control. 256 is close to achievable.

    Contrarian I have a nasty one. You say you will pay for someone to take some old computers away. Will you pay for them to be shipped to Australia or a Third world country.

    Cheep equals small so you get volume shipped so reducing shipping. A free computer old x86 may cost more landed than many RaspberryPI once you add on shipping.

    Remember the vs is 12 months. So the generation after RaspberryPI most likely will be the same price range but a quite decent machine.

    Now the RaspberryPI itself is quite a upgrade. The annoying part is due to cost Ram has been cut light. The processor chip does support a 512 meg or 1G ram chip stacked on top as well. With 512 it would have been able to run almost everything from the Linux world inside reason. No heavy windows manager don’t try running too many applications at once. Basically a 50 dollar version would have been a very decent machine for a lot of users.

    The type A does not have a network card. Target is robotics and other scary items where the board might end up in bits if things go wrong. Price here is also important no one is going to allow kids to risk expensive hardware. Also no network card kids cannot plug computer they have been messing with into school network.

    Yes type A and type B both target two slightly different markets. Type B is more the all rounder.

    Really if you think most people over 30 there first machines were crappy compared to what could be got at the time. Yet it did not hurt us. Like a C64 could not do what an XT computer selling at the same time could. Yet a lot of us got a lot done on C64 Mirobees and others.

    Basically we are spoiled these days. So we see the RaspberryPI since it cannot do X we are failing to think what can it do. What will it do well.

    The RaspberryPI really will be able todo a lot of different things very well. Particularly remembering under full load it only pulls 1W. So having screens in store displaying product information or other display items.

    Thin/thick terminal in remote areas. Where power is a major factor. Remember the use laptops as servers to get power usage down. So the 256 meg version able todo a bit more without requiring server will extend there time of operation.

    Yes in cities most places we can think of its just educational quality. Third world and remote areas is very suitable. The graphic there shows the issue. Were we are computers out number tvs. Most of the world tvs out number computers. Cost is a factor. So we are dealing with people who will not pay top dollar for computers. They don’t see the value in them the way we do.

    Also remember the third world has more population than the developed and it multiples of people to one of us in developed. The third world market has not been tapped fully yet. This is why the game of Linux vs Windows for the desktop is not over. You cannot declare victory when most key territory has not been fort over yet. Large sections of the third world is not profitable to Microsoft either. Since people simply cannot pay for an OS they can barely pay for the hardware.

    This is why I hate oldman at time for that MS is the best solution. Largest possible market it don’t fit at all.

    Issues to battle in the largest market area is cost and power usage since power is not cheep for them. 100 dollar USA is about your upper limit anything above that is no affordable. Over a few watts charging batteries and the like to run the device can be an issue. Replacing batteries can be a major issue.

    Yes RaspberryPI and others are targeting the largest by number market. Makes the current super and desktop markets look small.

  9. Nope. There are very few jobs advertised these days for teaching. I have applied for many and had some very good interviews but no luck. My age is against me. Teachers are paid by their years of experience and I cost twice as much as a wet-behind-the-ears novice. I was looking at getting into business for myself but the training programme was subsidized by unemployment insurance and my twit former employer took six months to do the paperwork… It looks like it’s retirement for me. Once I get my landscaping caught up and set up my workshop, I may do volunteer work next year.

  10. Contrarian says:

    Back when PCs were several thousand dollars even at an entry level, I succumbed to the lure of the Sinclair Z80 kit for $99. I was a little surprised when it arrived to see the miniature size, which the ads didn’t adequately stress, but it did work after I soldered all the parts into the baseboard. It was, as you say, educational rather than functional.

    This Raspberry is a bit more than that, but with no housing or other means of constraining the parts and supplying power, it is even less of a device.

  11. oldman says:

    I recently fired up my first computer – a Motorola 68K based single board computer with 128K of RAM. I seem to recall that I got quite a bit of work done with that beast, at least after I had created a version of Forth to run on top of a simple monitor program I wrote. It was indeed great fun and very educational to work with.

    If one treats this as an educational rather than functional system, I think its a win. But I think that its much too small for anything else than Pog,s dumb terminal.

  12. oldman says:


    As an aside, have you had any luck finding a job for this coming school year?

  13. Contrarian says:

    “BTW, you can still buy an 8-bit computer in developing countries for a mere 10 dollars.”

    I can do better than that, #ray. If you want to come over to my house, I will pay you to haul a couple of 32 bit computers away. They are rather heavy, I must warn you, and located on an upstairs floor, but they work just fine. One even has the latest Ubuntu server version installed. If you will lug the 19″ Trinitron monitor down, too, there is something extra in it for you.

  14. Ray says:

    oiahom, I was just saying, even if you used the composite connector, you still had to unscramble for SECAM, PAL or NTSC. And for the RCA to RF connector, it’s much simpler to stick with an RF connector. Like the Commodore 64, it’s closest repleacement.

    BTW, you can still buy an 8-bit computer in developing countries for a mere 10 dollars.

  15. “Thin client” frees you from any restrictions except perhaps network load on the server. Last year, I had 8 year old PCs working faster than new thick clients because the processes the users ran were on a fast server with tons of RAM and RAIDed SCSI drives. Expect to see more ARMed thin clients as competition in thin clients increases. I would love it if HP got out of that market because HP likes to sell thin clients at high prices. Wyse took first place in thin clients from HP because of that.

    Here’s an ARMed thin client they sell for £ 200 Ex. VAT (CAD 320).

    Boots PXE and will run with a GNU/Linux server but needs that other OS for configuration… not cool. A basic PXE-booting thin client normally costs less than $100.

  16. oiaohm says:

    Phenom depends on what version of Firefox. Firefox mobile will run. Standard firefox built with a few particular options. No flash of any form or you will be out of ram. Yes there are build options for firefox that alter the amount of ram it eats up per tab on caching and the like. Does have performance effects like having to render again when tab is changed instead referring to cached image of render and link location data so on. But doing this reduces tab memory usage to the amount you downloaded that is processed to produce what you see. Yes 128 is enough with the firefox built with all its lightest memory usage options. Question is cpu is it fast enough to cope with having to rerender each tab change. CPU vs RAM balancing act.

    Libreoffice min is 256 mostly due to Java parts and the requirements if JVM. OO is in fact higher it is doa at this stage for something this light on with memory even the B model. Yes the libreoffice will turn over on the B model badly but it will. Sane operational min for Libreoffice is 512 meg. Yes even that Libreoffice ships with more extensions it has removed so much internal java that its memory print has reduced.

    Basically I am 100 percent sure OO is not going to work at least at point of release. Down the track libreoffice might work ok as java requirements are reduced so its foot print reduced.

    KWord and most of Koffice will work in 128 without swapfile. Same with abiword and other solutions. So you will not be without office programs. Just not the most common.

    128 megs is perfectly fine for a thin client.

    Also grab yourself a copy of and tinycore Linux Phenom. There is a lot you can do in 128 megs. Yes there is also a lot that don’t even think about it.

    Yes the 128 megs will provide a challenge the challenge will be good for Linux long term. Same as a C64 32 kb of usable memory did.

    128 megs is the Linux/X11 and Unix/X11 server traditional min. Yes the normal min for the year 2000 when running Linux. So Linux is in for a huge challenge working in that value. Possible but tricky and limiting.

    Yes they got quake 3 working. Lot of other games will also work. So its not useless.

    Also forget mono/.net at the same time forgoting anything that uses java applications because the issue is the way both of those use more memory kernel has to send to swap file and cannot directly free. They are not low memory environment friendly.

    Yes for a system like this systemd is a god send because it will mean more memory usable.

    I don’t see Windows 8 standing a snowball chance in hell. Maybe Reactos that thing can work under 128 megs.

    Training tool you don’t need it to be easy. Phenom its getting the students to problem solve. Yes 128 megs of memory running as much as able is one hell of a challenge.

  17. Phenom says:

    Oiao, with 128 megs of RAM you won’t be able to run even a modern browser – both Firefox and Chrome have kinda high memory requirements, once you open more than one tab.

    Hell, I am not sure that even OO will work on that.

  18. oiaohm says:

    Contrarian and Ray. Think for a min what the is meant to replace.

    The old c64 and equal. Lot of us broke out baby coding teeth in on them.

    35/25 dollars a seat for an education tool that kids can play with. At that price if they break it not that bad to replace.

    Contrarian you really need to go to hong kong some time and go by the cheapest welder. Yep its a coil of wire around a wood core without any casing. with a few bolts to connect wires to. Yet people using them in massive amounts. That works insanely good.

    So for a lot of the world 25 and 35 dollar Raspberry Pi is a computer ready for use for its targeted market. Because they don’t have the expect for a device to be cased. For a training tool cased kind undermines why you have it in the first place.

    Ray there is a reason to go no where near the RF connector. Any screen/tv with decent quality will have better than RF. Also RF requirements between countries are messy. 4 versions of Pal 3 just to start off with and some have different frequency alignments. Yes there is a reason why game consoles have the RF part in a independent box stops you from having to make as many different boxes.

    The General Purpose Input/Output contains analogue feeds in and out on the broadcoms. So over voltage protection circuit and basic amp and a 3.5 plugs and some settings and you will have a 3.5 audio in and out. Hardware for a proper sound card is 90 percent there. Protection circuits for a few extra plugs is missing. And those protection circuits can mess up using those pins a digital inputs and outputs. So for a generalize tool you cannot do it out box.

    Same inputs and outputs of analog could be used for Oscilloscope protection board.

    Functional Oscilloscope for under 200 dollars include a cheap screen.

    Please remember the is targeted as a training tool that students might stuff. So not having the 3.5 onboard but the analog feeds provides the first basic project. Connect mic and speakers or make an Oscilloscope with testing feeds. Also RaspberryPI is targeted for robotics usage. Bad news is that 3.5 plugs and robotics usage are not exactly dependable. So you don’t want to take up too many analog feeds with them.

    Yes some of its flaws are in fact some of its strengths as a teaching tool. If it was perfect out the box what would you have for the student todo that was simple to cut there teeth on.

    The equal to the RaspberryPI type B with case and not as customizable is the HP 50 dollar thin client boxs. I do mean equal they are basically the same cpu and network card. So yes the price tag is about right.

    Everyone remember this is a training tool. For electronics/robotics classes. Than happens to have a side usage as thin terminal/computer. It has other side usages with a few expand boards like cheap Oscilloscopes and robot control and so on.

    There is a reason why the devices OS storage is on a replaceable memory card. So you can have expand board and memory card for expand board so convert the item from 1 item to a different one in a few mins. Ie shutdown unplug plug new bits in fire up.

    By the way ray don’t worry there is one 3.5 by default that is basically a line in or line out or partner to the composite out. Yes full specs are kinda hidden. But as with all secrets information leaks. But for a head set and microphone you want 2 more so you can have a line in doing something else. Ie first project can be this to cut teeth on. Since circuits required are not complex. Yes replaceable memory card also means students don’t have todo the software straight away either.

    Its possible to use the composite + audio to RF boxs that some game consoles and other items have left out there to connect to old screens. Even that you will not want to due to lower video quality RF provides. Or even using old deadish VCR as converters. There are a lot of composite to RF converters out there to be used.

    The next big thing is remember what this machine will do at its release the next one 12 months latter most likely will do more for the same money. Let the games begin. Under 50 dollar computers means for windows to come to the 10 percent target they say. Windows 8 has to ship less 5 dollars for arm to be Raspberry Pi compatible.

    Fun seeing Windows 8 try to get into 128 or 256 megs of ram. Some how I don’t think its going to fit.

    Really these machines will be good for Linux. New reason to reduce memory usage and resource usage.

  19. Ray says:

    I can already see one big flaw with this: It requires an HDMI, or a composite output, and for the sound, a 3.5mm speaker is required. I believe that replacing it with an RF connector solves it, as you can just hook it up to a TV, which most newly industrialized countries (like BRIC) uses anyways.

  20. Contrarian says:

    “$35 gets you a small cheap computer with networking.”

    Just a few parts in a bag, #pogson. When you add the costs of putting them into something that people could use and getting that device distributed and sold to a billion people and add the costs of educating people in how to use them, they become the run of the mill $400 mobile computer, if you add some sort of display, or a $300 system unit if not.

    Good luck on getting all that done.

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