If you thought the $35 Raspberry Pi was as cheap as computing could get, then think again. How about a board for just $9?
Launched on Kickstarter, CHIP will pack a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB Flash storage, 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity into a tiny machine measuring 4cm by 6cm, or 1.5 by 2.3 inches.
The US-based makers claim the board's low price stems from using an Allwinner A13-based chip, which is already used in large volumes in Android tablets, set-top boxes and Linux-based mini-PCs.
On paper, the board should be faster than a first-generation Raspberry Pi Model B+, due to the higher clock speed and more modern ARM-based architecture of its Allwinner R8 system on a chip.
The machine is being pitched as a general-purpose PC, suited to writing documents, browsing the web, playing simple games and learning to code.
However, reviews of the low-cost Android tablets based on the same Allwinner A13 core as the board complain about lag in apps, hitching when browsing heavy web pages and dropped frames in more demanding 3D games such as Raging Thunder. But video playback at 1080p was found to be flawless.
The board comes with the Linux-based Debian OS and Chromium browser, GIMP image editor, LibreOffice, Scratch programming tools and other software pre-installed.
Its designers are describing the board as "totally open source", saying the hardware design files, PCB layout and bill of materials are free to download, modify and use. However, the choice of an Allwinner chip is likely to be unpopular with some, due to Allwinner's run-ins with the open-source community over how it manages code for its boards.
CHIP can also be turned into a portable machine by fitting it inside a case with a small keyboard and touchscreen. The PocketCHIP case will include a 4.3-inch 470 x 272 resistive touchscreen, small QWERTY keyboard and a 3,000mAH battery. PocketCHIP is available for $49. If that's too expensive, for $19 the board can be ordered with a 3,000 mAH LiPo battery that CHIP's makers say supports hours of use
Peripherals can be connected to the single USB port and displays hooked up via the built-in composite port or using an adapter for VGA or HDMI. CHIP can be powered via battery, 5V DC wired input or the microUSB port. For hardware hackers the board has eight general-purpose input-output pins, one PWM pin, SPI, TWI, UART, USB, MIPI-CSI, Parallel LCD output, touchpanel input, and power rails in and out.
However there are several caveats. Like all Kickstarter projects, there is no guarantee of receiving a finished product and the board is not due to ship to most backers until one year from now.
Also, while the board might cost just $9 on its own, shipping outside America costs $20, compared with $5 within the US.
The project is currently funded almost three times over, having raised more than $140,000 against a $50,000 goal.
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.