Raspberry Pi: the teensy weensy $51 PC

PCs don’t come much cheaper than this. Or smaller. The Raspberry Pi is a tiny 45g PC that’s the size of a credit card but it can still run office programs games and even high-definition video. Composite and HDMI outputs on the PC’s tiny motherboard let you hook up the Raspberry Pi to a TV or DVI monitor while a USB port lets you connect a USB hub and devices such as a keyboard and mouse as well as external storage and network adapters.

The Raspberry’s performance has been rated as twice that of a current iPhone so that gives you an idea of what a punch this little PC packs for the astonishingly low price. It will run any software that works with the ARMv6 architecture. That rules out Windows but includes Debian Fedora and Arch Linux. Ubuntu is not yet ported. The makers of the Pi will be selling SD cards with the distros pre-loaded.

The Raspberry Pi’s board – or SoC for System on a Chip – is a Broadcom BCM2835 which contains an ARM1176JZFS processor with floating point running at 700MHz and a Videocore 4 GPU. The GPU is capable of Blu-ray quality playback using H.264 at 40MBits/s. There’s 256MB of memory and onboard storage is provided by an SD card. The power comes from a 5V micro-USB jack.

The idea for the Raspberry Pi came to Eben Upton a lecturer at Cambridge University in the UK who noticed a few years ago that the skills of students starting computer science were dropping. He decided he would build a PC everyone could afford so they could learn to program on it. He then left the university and in his spare time started the Raspberry Pi project to do this.

Pre-orders for first production range of the Raspberry Pi went live just at the end of last month with the Australian pricing starting at $50.95. For more information see the official web site here.