Will the Raspberry Take A Slice Out Of Apple's Pie?

March 16, 2012
Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized piece of ingenuity. The bargain-basement technology could spawn future generations of computer programmers—for just £22 ($35), it can provoke a whole load of computing fun and functionality.
Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized piece of ingenuity. The bargain-basement technology could spawn future generations of computer programmers—for just £22 ($35), it can provoke a whole load of computing fun and functionality.

This British developed single-board computer (SBC) was launched by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK charity based in Cambridge, England. It’s supported by the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory and communication semiconductor specialist Broadcom.

Premier Farnell Element 14 and RS Components are distributing the SBC, but you'll be lucky to get your hands on one quickly. Initial stocks of 10,000 units sold in hours—it’s rumoured that there are already 2 million pre-orders or expressions of interest for the SBC, and that Element14 has already logged 30,000 downloads of the Raspberry Pi operating-system software.

It's All About The Learning Curve

The Foundation behind the device’s development wants to see Raspberry Pi going into UK schools by September. Judging by the reaction of school children who have tested the device, as well as their teachers and Education Authorities, the only problem will be supplying the demand. The long-term plan is that every child in every school in the UK will have one.

This educational aspect to Raspberry Pi, and the way it will encourage youngsters to get involved in computing and electronics studies, makes it so important.

When it comes to today’s computing education, pupils learn about hardware and software from a “how-do-we-use-it” perspective. Not that it’s a negative situation, because it means the younger generation is devoid of techno-fear, instilling a relaxed approach toward using existing and future IT related products. But the weakness in this educational method is that kids don't get to play around with software codes and discover the fun of programming. The Pi can change all that. 

What's All The Excitement About?

Raspberry Pi is a circuit board measuring 85.60mm by 53.98mm by 17mm, and weighing 45g (a transparent casing is planned for future productions). It features two USB ports for a keyboard and mouse, an Ethernet port to connect to the internet, an HDMI port for high-definition video, an SD memory-card slot, and a power port. Users connect it to a keyboard, mouse, and screen.

The system runs a version of the Linux operating system (Fedora, Debian, and ArchLinux will be supported from the start) and uses Scratch, a programming aid for children designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s based on a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC, which includes an ARM1176JZF-S 700 MHz processor, VideoCore IV GPU, and 256 Mbytes of RAM.

The design doesn’t contain integral memory; rather, it uses an SD card for booting and data storage. Extra memory can’t be added—the RAM is a PoP package on top of the SoC, so it’s not removable.

The graphics processing unit provides Open GL ES 2.0, hardware-accelerated OpenVG, and 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode. It’s capable of 1Gpixel/s, 1.5Gtexels/s or 24 GFLOPS of general-purpose compute, and features a texture filtering and direct-memory-access infrastructure. Graphics performance is similar to Xbox 1. The Raspberry Pi doesn’t come with a real-time clock, but one (such as the DS1307) with battery backup can be added via the I2C interface.

On the networking front, the Model B version of the device includes 10/100 wired Ethernet. There’s no Ethernet on the Model A version, but Wi-Fi will be available via a standard USB dongle.

The device is powered by 5V micro-USB, and power supplies will be available at launch. However, it also can be run from a wall plug or on AA batteries. Power over Ethernet isn’t an option at this point, but the developers are looking into it.

Should Apple Be Worried?

Not at all. In fact, just the opposite is true. Raspberry Pi provides computing opportunities to the masses at a price that’s unbelievably cheap. It will encourage people, particularly the young, to experiment with programming and develop their computer and electronics skills. Ultimately, the Raspberry Pi could nurture the future computer experts who turn into the developers of tomorrow’s electronic innovations, including those paraded out by Apple. 

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