The $35 Linux computer, the Raspberry Pi, went on sale today, with the first boards expected to ship in a couple of weeks.
Raspberry Pi is a credit card sized device and one of the lowest cost computers available. The board has been designed as a low-cost tool for teaching kids coding, but is also powerful enough to stream 1080p video, browse the web or write documents.
The version of the board initially on sale ships with a Linux Fedora OS and sports a 700Mhz ARM processor in a Broadcom BCM 2835 chipset and 256MB of memory. The board comes with two USB ports, 10/100 ethernet, a HDMI slot and an SD memory card slot. A $25 model with a single USB port and without ethernet will be available later in 2012.
Shipping of the first batch of 10,000 Raspberry Pi boards is expected to begin in the "next couple of weeks", according to Raspberry Pi Foundation director Eben Upton.
Upton told Tech Republic that he expected that the first batch of boards would sell out "almost immediately", saying that the organisation estimates initial demand for about 20,000 of the devices. Sure enough, the first batch of the boards to go on sale, through www.farnell.com, were gone within two hours of becoming available at 6am GMT. Raspberry Pi's will also be available for pre-order from www.rswww.com.
After the initial batch sells out boards are expected to begin shipping again in about April, and be available from that point onwards.
A deal between Cambridge-based Raspberry Pi Foundation and two major electronics distributors, RS Components and Premier Farnell, to manufacture, sell and ship the Raspberry Pi will allow the boards to be available all year round.
The continuous availability of the boards will help get the Raspberry Pi to everyone who wants one more quickly than would have been possible when the foundation was responsible for manufacturing and distribution, Upton said.
"Getting to the point where there are enough devices was always going to take us a long time, and getting to a point where we are demand-constrained rather than supply constrained is going to make an enormous difference to the amount of impact we have.
"For us this deal is a real vote of confidence, someone else has looked at our business plan, our cost models and materials analysis and said 'That's a business, we can be involved in that'.
"It provides us with a source of revenue which we can reinvest in educational material [to accompany the Raspberry Pi], and it provides us with time and headspace to think about how we are going to fulfil the foundation's primary goal, which is to get people programming."
The distribution deal should also reduce the cost of shipping the boards to people outside of the UK, thanks to the global logistics networks of the two distributors.
People have already dreamt up an array of other uses for the Raspberry Pi: controlling robots, automation applications, running home media centres, running dev platforms or turning it into a Sinclair QL emulator. Not bad for a device built with the modest aim of encouraging kids to code, by providing a low-cost device that can boot into programming environments for computer languages such as Python or C.
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.