Wow this has gotten my brain to working overtime. How small can you go with System on Chip like fully integrated Raspberry Pi modules? Could you fit this not just on an SO-DIMM but also maybe an SDXC sized memory card? Or a Micro-SDXC card? Imagine that. And if you want to see an even better write-up of this announcement, go over to Make magazines online website here:
They’ve got Vimeo video and other great analysis looking at this system on an SO-DIMM board. Very interesting stuff.
The $35 Raspberry Pi “Model B” is board of choice to ship out to consumers first. It contains two USB ports, 256 MB of RAM, an Ethernet port and a 700 MHz Broadcom BCM2835 SoC. The Videocore 4 GPU within the SoC is roughly the equivalent to the original Xboxs level of performance, providing Open GL ES 2.0, hardware-accelerated OpenVG, and 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode.
Raspberry Pi boards are on the way and the components list is still pretty impressive for $35 USD. Not bad, given they had a manufacturing delay. The re-worked boards should ship out as a second batch once they have been tested fully. It also appears all the other necessary infrastructure is slowly falling into place to help create a rich environment for curious and casually interested purchasers of the Raspberry Pi. For instance let’s look at the Fedora remixes for Raspberry Pi.
A remix in the Open source software community refers to a distribution of an OS that can run without compiling on a particular chip architecture whether it be the Raspberry Pi Broadcom chip or an Intel x86 variety. In addition to the OS a number of other pre-configured applications will be included so that you can start using the computer right away instead of having to download lots of apps. The best part of this is not only the time savings but the lowering of the threshold to less technical users. Also of note is the particular Fedora OS distributions chosen LXDE and XFCE both noted for being less resource intensive and smaller in physical size. The documentation on the Fedora website indicates these two distros are geared for older less capable, less powerful computers that you would still like to use around the house. And for a Raspberry Pi user, getting a tuned OS specifically compiled for your CPU and ready to go is a big boon.
What’s even more encouraging is the potential for a Raspberry Pi community to begin optimizing and developing a new range of apps specifically geared towards this new computer architecture. I know the Fedora Yum project is a great software package manager using the RPM format for adding and removing software components as things change. And having a Yum app geared specifically for Raspberry Pi users might give a more App store like experience for the more casual users interested in dabbling. Right now there’s a group at Seneca College in Toronto, CA doing work on an app store-like application that would facilitate the process off discovering, downloading and
trying out different software pre-compiled for the Raspberry Pi computer.
Early this year we got to see, through ARM-powered devices such as the Motorola Atrix, that it doesnt take even a netbook to run basic computing functions. At a live demonstration in New York City, FXI Technologies showed off the next evolution of that idea: an ARM-based computer on a USB stick without any of that extra smartphone or tablet baggage.
As time marches onward, the term we use ‘computer’ becomes more and more diffuse. Consider the cell phone, is no longer a phone but a computer connected to a network and can act like a phone. Or your TV is a computer that is also connected to a network and you can watch broadcasts or streamed videos or attach it to a game console. Now what if you could turn any bit of electronics with a usb connector and a video display into a bona fide computer? Size is no limit when using a mobile cpu like an ARM chip. As Android evolves I hope too that efforts like Raspberry Pi show what can be done in a wholly Open Source context. FXI Technologies is showing us the way, but so are other efforts like the Raspberry Pi computer too.
I attended a workshop this past Summer sponsored by RedHat covering a wide range of topics including Open Source communities. The main technical person leading the workshop also volunteers some of his time to Mozilla, specifically Mozilla target to ARM cpus, like the Raspberry Pi computer. He told us a little bit about how astoundingly cheap that device is as it was originally intended as the main board for the Sling Box time shifting TV controller. The first generation design was meant to be as low cost as possible but it didn’t quite make it to market. Succeeding generations of the original design did make it to market, as did the custom ARM CPU that Broadcom created to put in the original design. That CPU has now given birth to the Raspberry Pi project using the Broadcom BCM2835 System on a Chip (SOC). This is an ARM 11 based core which puts it just a bit ahead of Apple’s A4 and A5 iPhone/iPad cpus which have used ARM8 and now ARM9 cores for it’s central processing unit. Cost is of course cheap compared to anything else calling itself a computer, or a tablet and this is the reasoning behind making the board layout open source along with targeting a Linux distribution specifically for this computer.