It’s a Tuesday morning and I’ve just started on my first cup of joe when my boss approaches with a bundle of electronics under his arm and says, “Look what came in the mail today.” Laying it all out on my desk there’s a monitor, keyboard, mouse, a few cables, and a small plastic package with something square-ish and green inside. Underneath the plastic, I can faintly see the outline of a familiar logo and then recognize it as the one and only, Raspberry Pi.
The publicity and anticipation surrounding the launch of this $35 pocket-sized PC with an ARM1176JZF-S processor has been colossal (go ahead, Google it!), thanks in part to its humanitarian cause and ultra-low price point. Designed by a non-profit UK organization with full intentions of sparking the next generation’s imagination in computer programming and engineering, the ambitious little ARM-based board is well on its way with the first 10,000 sold out in the blink of an eye and hundreds of thousands more already ordered.
After a few moments of organizing my desk and connecting some cables, the Raspberry Pi is up and running. In just under 30 seconds, the speedy device has booted up and the smoothness of the desktop background alone is enough to make you lean back in your chair and smile at the future. When you get your own and plug it in for the first time, hopefully you’ll understand what I mean. Once it’s all hooked up, it’s easy to compare the size to your desktop PC or laptop, and some of the purpose behind the Pi becomes obvious: filling that niche for a portable, low-cost board with a high level of connectivity. I’m probably not old enough to fully appreciate this apparent evolution of technology, but it’s truly amazing to see a board one-hundredth the size of my desktop PC efficiently streaming HD videos from the web and available at a fraction of the cost. Did I mention it runs Quake 3 no problem?
Barely wider than a can of Altoids, the Model B version has been shipped first and comes ready for action with 2 USB ports, Ethernet, HDMI, RCA video, 3.5mm audio jack, SD card slot, and some extra General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) pins for expansion. The potential of all this technology is realized through 256MB RAM, a Broadcom BCM2835 System-on-Chip (SoC) using a 700MHz ARM1176JZF-S processor and boasting 1080p video playback. The Model A will cost $25 and have the same RAM and processor, but will be a bit slimmer with no Ethernet port, and 1 USB port instead of 2.
Of all the glowing attributes the Pi brings to the table, the most impactful could be its plasticity. In the hands of techies and children around the world, playing and coding on the Pi is intended to be as fun as a tub full of Play-Doh. The SD card provided from the distributor is packed full of treats and does a good job opening the door for youngsters to begin seeing creative possibilities in programming. Among the many desktop demos included is a lightweight web browser called Midori, as well as two programming environments to help get the ball rolling: Scratch for beginners and Python for slightly older students. There’s also some nice eye candy among the graphics demos with a short 3D animation called “Big Buck Bunny”, as well as the aforementioned Quake 3. I was never addicted to the fast-paced, first-person shooter myself, but I have plenty of sympathy for those who were. It’s definitely fun. XBMC, an open-source software media player and entertainment hub for digital media, is another useful tool preloaded on the SD card.
The bottom line is the Raspberry Pi is an incredible steal at $35 and could have an enormously positive influence on students, robotics, hobbyist projects, and the next generation of computer programmers in general. We’re delighted that it has ARM technology inside and encourage you to order 1 or 10 or 100 of these tasty little guys and share the joy around with everyone. They are currently available internationally for order from distributors RS Components and Element 14/Premier Farnell, but be warned, you’ll have to wait in line.
- Raspberry Pi website: http://www.raspberrypi.org/
- Raspberry Pi free online magazine: http://www.themagpi.com/
About the ARM University Program: The ARM University Program provides a variety of starting points, tools, and materials to both students and faculty, including development systems, core and physical IP components, OS's, system-level tools, training materials, as well as a variety of lab samples, example curricula, and student application notes. Guest lectures are available as well upon request.
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George W Lattimore, Marketing Specialist, ARM University Program. Fresh out of college, he’s eager to bridge the gap between academia and the expanding array of ARM technologies embedded in everyone’s pockets, automobiles, and almost every other electronic device. These days he thrives on sharing and discussing ARM-related academic news with students and professors alike through various social media outlets, ARM University Program Newsletters, and a variety of other channels.
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