Linux

Why the Raspberry Pi is relevant

Jack Wallen offers up his take on just why the Raspberry Pi is of any signifigance in an age of bigger and faster. Open source has yet another notch to add to its +5 belt of success.

Recently, a tiny piece of hardware was released that will not re-invent the way you work, won't make you more social, won't crunch your numbers, doesn't handle multi-touch, and probably won't make you more popular or sexy. But the Raspberry Pi will serve a purpose -- and it's one I hope we can all learn from.

First, what is the Raspberry Pi? Simple -- it is a tiny Linux box that will set you back $25 to $35. This tiny Arm-based, Fedora-powered computer offers the following specs:

  • Broadcom BCM2835 700MHz ARM1176JZFS processor with FPU and Videocore 4 GPU
  • GPU provides Open GL ES 2.0, hardware-accelerated OpenVG, and 1080p3D
  • H.264 high-profile decode GPU is capable of 1Gpixel/s, 1.5Gtexel/s or 24GFLOPs with texture filtering and DMA infrastructure
  • 256MB RAM
  • Boots from SD card, running Raspberry Pi Fedora Linux Remix
  • 10/100-BaseT Ethernet port
  • HDMI port
  • USB 2.0 port
  • RCA video port
  • SD card slot
  • Powered from microUSB port
  • 3.5mm audio out jack
  • Header footprint for camera connection
  • Size: 85.6 x 53.98 x 17mm

So you have a tiny Linux-based computer that can be attached to a HDMI-connected monitor, offers an SD card slot for saved files, is networkable, and much more. The company even offers a version of Debian that can be loaded on an SD card for use.

This all came about, really, thanks to the mobile world. As the power of mobile hardware inversely grows in proportion to its size, it is becoming easier and easier to create smaller and more powerful systems.

But what exactly does this all mean? Why is this even remotely important? In a world where the power of home systems have far exceeded the needs of the user...

Oh wait, there's something to that. Right? Exactly. We live in a world where the consumerist market would insist the average user needs an i7 processor with 4GB of RAM and a solid state hard drive. These are the same average users who are using those systems to check Facebook, send an email or two, listen to some tunes, and maybe (just maybe) write a paper or create a slide show.

With a CPU containing 7 cores.

And yet, here we have a tiny Linux-based computer with a single core 700 MHz processor that can actually function and function well. No, this is not going to power NASA systems, run Wall Street, or play video games. But this tiny computer should serve as a reminder that need and want are two very different things.

But that's not the only importance I place on the Raspberry Pi.

These tiny systems could effectively be used to help impoverished nations, or place PCs in locations where a standard PC isn't feasible. Although the Raspberry Pi was intended for the educational environment, the broad scope of its use is pretty incredible. Even down to the DIY hobbyist, who would like to do things such as embed a PC into a desktop or power the next new invention that could bring about world peace... the Raspberry Pi has them covered as well.

I know, I'm really dreaming here. But seriously... this little device should prove as a powerful reminder of both the silliness of our desperate need for bigger and faster as well as just how diverse, inspiring, flexible, and useful open source software is.

Think about it this way -- if it were not for open source, projects like the Raspberry Pi probably wouldn't exist. Instead of having to not only create the hardware for their project, they'd also be building an OS from scratch.

I don't know about you, but I plan on purchasing a Pi or two -- if for no other reason than to see just what I can do with them. What about you? Does the Pi inspire you? If so, how?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

29 comments
kaypoh
kaypoh

$25-35 does not include HDMI cable. Mobile devices may have made the Pi inexpensive but to use HDMI instead of composite video (OK I agree we have to move from Apple II graphics) means dipping into HDTV territory where a digital HDMI cable will set you back just as much "becaue my HDMI cable is better than the competitors.'" Hello, HDMI cables carry digital signals. They work or don't work. No cable can be made better than others which work. What is needed is an inexpensive display. Mobile low prices can help. What we need is for every disused smart phone to have an ap to turn it into a portable display whilst powering the Pi through the microUSB port.

rodfarr
rodfarr

Concerns about power supply. Specs mention Powered from microUSB port which leads me to believe it must be connected to another computer to get power. There is no clear explanation as to how this is powered. If this it a portable computer it should have a battery and if it has a battery how long is the life of that battery. The price is too good to be true for it to be an independent computer that can stand on it's own.

ddalley
ddalley

If Linux did not exist, there are untold numbers of operating systems that _could_ be used. Linux should be just fine here. However, I'll wait and get one in a proper case.

brf531
brf531

I just build a "nettop" with an Intel 2700 (Intel d2700dc board) in a Morex case that has NO moving parts (except for the power switch). For about $240. It does EVERYTHING the average email-and-light-web-surfing home computer user needs. and more. At about ten watts. Leave it on 24x7, who cares? The Raspberry Pi may even fit into this niche at an even more affordable point. I think it is a major step forward for universal "personal" computing (That's what "PC" stands for, remember.) We'll see where this goes, but the potential is ENORMOUS. Love it.

brf531
brf531

He who dies with the most toys wins...

Slayer_
Slayer_

Though I'd dump the OS if I could. I'm sure the Linux community will make some installs for some of the other distros.

toodevastate
toodevastate

We all should not miss the point here. Not only are these guys offering an affordable entry for kids into the world of computors; that's programming, building and networking: they are also providing the experience of bringing the kids up from just being users to possible manufacturers. I can visual some interested, brilliant young, Bardwell producing little pcs for the neighborhood, like lemon aid concessions of old.

dold
dold

I remember a single board system called tiny blue or something that was a 5-1/4" form factor, to screw directly to your choice of a floppy or hard drive. It probably ran MSDOS, but I don't see any amazing difference about this new PC, other than marketing. A google search of single board computer certainly finds plenty.

reggaethecat
reggaethecat

The primary aim of the company is education - these computers are very cheap & very small - ideal for kids learning how a computer works. If you can capture kids' imaginations like mine was when I had my Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ back in the 80s then you'll get a new generation of developers & IT experts who actually understand about how and why a computer works, rather than just how to use it. The price is amazing: I think a 48K Spectrum was over ??100 back in about 1984 so to get this thing for ??22 now is incredible and basically removes any bar to the computing experience, even for the poorest kids. It really is a great idea.

lupin109
lupin109

I can think about a few dozen things that can be done with it. The one I am thinking right off the bat? A true modular laptop. The tech is out there, all you need is to build a frame around it. And for Robotics? That thing will kick ass. Imagine that thing inside an old HERO-1 Shell.

rick
rick

Core i7 is just a name; it has nothing to do with how many cores the CPU has.

sabiticus
sabiticus

I could see enterprise level operations using these as thin clients to access virtual desktops.

panelshop
panelshop

Reminds me of the Sinclaire Z80/81 as well, I can see great things coming from this little giant. Waiting for our first one, will be ordering a half dozen or so to see if we can run SCADA on a few small pump systems. Cheers all

be80be
be80be

I think this could be great.Don't really no how good the video output will be but I think it should do games real well. I ran Linux on pc that couldn't run at the spec. that this thing can. Just can't wait to try one

paul.ob.tech
paul.ob.tech

put in a keyboard with a 4 port USB hub(1 for keyboard), power it from a 5V 2A wallwart , include a HDMI to DVI cable and it is all I need for 95% of my days work.

adornoe
adornoe

Those devices may have some future use, but, as of now, they're pretty basic. If a type of computer were to lead to "world peace", why wasn't it what we've had already for decades, which are a lot more powerful, like the laptops and desktops and mainframes and supercomputers. However, it's not the hardware/software computer that will lead to world peace. The only "computer" that will lead to world peace, is the one we're all born with inside our heads.

a.portman
a.portman

I should have one in a few days. The first test for it will be to be a thin client for a virtual PC. We are a school, My plan is for a complete TC for under $150, CPU, Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse. Consider that in my daughter's classroom in a public school (that's tax money, guys) there is a $700 CPU that gets used an embarrassingly small amount of time. Now toss in the other stuff. Now pay the tech to keep it all running. Now insure it. I can see big uses for Raspberry. I will be writing about it, look for the link.

Regulus
Regulus

My first box was a Sinclair zx81. 'Playboy' evaluated it as, 'Now you can be intelligent for less that $100'. (This was significantly pre-IBM-PC) This should challenge and encourage many young folks without a few hundred available for a cheap tablet or otherwise. Great !

bboyd
bboyd

I can do all kinds of cool/stupid things with them. As soon as they stop selling out in 2hours maybe I'll have one.

Craig_B
Craig_B

Having started my career in electronics and knowing how a cpu worked long before I had a computer or touched software, I find this very interesting. I think it would be cool to play around with this, once they get productions numbers up so I can get one.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

First, as part Network Attached Storage. My second idea is a Beowulf cluster, essentially throw computers at a problem. I promise that I'd only use that kind of computing power for good!

hellof
hellof

1st the raspberry pi (RBPI)is not a fedora based arm pc. it will run any am linux variant that can run with these spec. the fedora version for the RBPI isn't even out yet. yes there is a debian version but there is also now an arch version as of yesterday (march 4th). 2 Raspberry pi is not a company its a nonprofit foundation. 3 intels core i7 doesn't have 7 core at most there are 6 core variants as well as 4 and i think 2 core versions.

Realvdude
Realvdude

or the kids these were designed for, just pulls their HDMI cable from the game system and plugs it into their Rsberry Pi to do some programming. FYI - Why I agree with you on inflated cable costs, there can be a difference among cables. Though it is digital information, it is still subject to noise and thus data lose, which can effect video and audio with really bad cables or with a large amount of data being transferred.

DNSB
DNSB

Given that the micro-USB port seems to have been mandated as a standard for the common External Power Supply in the EU, finding one should not be that big an issue. Looking around here, I have one for a Voyager Pro earpiece, two for Blackberry phones and one that is unknown origin but rated at 2A. Even Apple is shipping the iPhone 4S in the EU with a Micro USB adapter to allow use of those standard power supplies or you can order one for your older Apple iPhone. http://store.apple.com/uk/product/MD099ZM/A

toodevastate
toodevastate

dold@ You forgot to make the price comparison. Affordability is very appealing.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Exaggeration isn't actually necessary, either. Giving computer power to people who would otherwise not be able to get it can have some benefits, and let's hope this actually succeeds in that. A lot of factors are involved in that though. Developers will have to make it do the right things.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

well, if the little computer doesn't encourage them, they still have the playboy. :D Couldn't resisit. seriously though, the Pi is very interesting. I'm glad to see them manage to bring it to production. Luckily, they dodged much of the dramatic hype that OLPC got beaten down with so good on them for that too. Now, what I can I use a few little linux machines for.. let's see how long it takes for a Backtrack Pi edition to turn up.

janitorman
janitorman

Current core i7's have 4 "cores" on a single processor, with "hyperthreading" allowing each to have two separate "threads" which will make the processor able to have 8 threads running at once. If HP ever develops the memristor project, this will be meaningless, as, this would allow, basically, a 3 dimensional "core" with unlimited threads, potentially 100s of times as fast as any current processor. Why? As always "because it can be done." (That doesn't mean you need a Mercedes tandem axle tractor-trailer to drive to work if you can ride a bicycle, but it might be useful for someone.)

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

That'd make a fun challenge, I think.