Raspberry Pi: Tiny Computer That Runs Linux

700MHz processor, 256MB of RAM. It doesn't seem that long ago since I was running a desktop PC like that. However, these are the specs of a new keyring-sized computer to be released by a UK not for profit company. They hope to be able to sell it for $25 dollars a pop, and best of all, it runs Linux.

The idea is that this small unit can output 1080p video to a digital television. Permanent storage is provided via a memory card slot, and IO (keyboard and mouse) requires a USB hub. In other words, it's a small but functionally complete computer.

On the website and elsewhere, the designers are discussing deploying it as an Internet access terminal or some sort of set-up to encourage young people to take an interest in computer programming. One of the big names backing the project, David Braben, got started by experimenting with with the home computers of the early 80s, which typically came with a built-in programming language.

For the moment the specs are tentative, but the device will use a ARM based system-on-a-chip. ARM itself doesn't actually fabricate  CPUs, it develops technology and then licenses it, and the chip is a Broadcom BCM2763. The company website indicates that this chip was designed with mobile phones in mind.

As for simple MIPS/FLOPS performance, I doubt that this processor is competitive with say, a Pentium III running at 700MHz, as modern ARM processors in desktop applications tend to be power-saving rather than powerhouses. However, bear in mind that this thing was intended to be the heart of a modern phone with camcorder and mobile gaming features, and as such, it has some impressive video processing specs. The graphics facilities include OpenGL ES, a standard for rendering 3D graphics on mobile devices, and it can also decode H.264 video on the fly. So, the relatively low processing power need not hinder the usefulness of this device in its intended role. My guess is that KDE 4 wont be the go-to choice as a front end.

We've all seen low cost, low power projects like this come and go in the past. To achieve the price that the project is aiming for, it will have to achieve manufacturing volume. In its favor, although there will be a buy-one-give-one scheme of some sort, early indications are that it won't be the only way of getting one. I can think of one high profile project with similar aspirations that torpedoed itself by making it very difficult to buy a machine, despite the considerable demand. That project has subsequently never been able to hit its target unit cost due to to insufficient manufacturing volume.

It's clear that if a device like this could be brought to market for anything like the intended price, it could do a lot to attack the global digital divide. At the same time, I'm sure that lots of hobbyists who already have a computer, could find dozens of uses for a device like this. When they become available, I know I'll be getting one.

The Raspberry Pi website.

David Braben talks about the project.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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In Looove

John Knight's picture

Just got wind of this story again, and especially after seeing it run Quake III, I've fallen in love! Despite the seemingly modest size increase (a credit card, oh no, hehe!) I keep planning projects in my head for this thing: a Commodore 64 hollowed out with this on the inside, booting straight into an emulator with all the C64 games every made; a cyberpunk arm-band mounted mini-computer; a computer doing... something, mounted in my car's dash. The possibilities just keep coming!

John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.

Sweet! that is all I can come

JerryG's picture

Sweet! that is all I can come up with.

Raspberry Pi:

Hroth's picture

I want one!

Then, I'll take it out of its USB pendrive case (I suppose that is how it'll be delivered) and build it into a basic USB keyboard, together with a 4 port USB hub.

A C64/MTX512 replacement, and so retro too. However, I never ran my C64 on a 47" TV, though I suppose I can try...

I hope LJ does a follow up

Anonymous's picture

I hope LJ does a follow up when they actually become available.

BBC Click

Anonymuse's picture

Can a £15 computer solve the programming gap?

It's not $25, but

rabinnh's picture

It's not $25, but mini-box.com sells a 400Mhz ARM board with 256MB RAM and Ethernet running Linux or Android with a touchscreen interface for $69 for those that don't want to wait.


... Opps... did I mention it

Jerry McBride's picture

... Opps... did I mention it needs more Memory???

---- Jerry McBride

Yes, nice card. I would

Jerry McBride's picture

Yes, nice card. I would gladly trave the HDI video of the Raspberry.pi for better I/O ports and... Heck! What's wrong with vga or composite video? :')

---- Jerry McBride

Thanks for sharing :-)

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for sharing :-)

Thanks for sharing :-)

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for sharing :-)

"My guess is that KDE 4 wont

Alejandro Nova's picture

"My guess is that KDE 4 wont be the go-to choice as a front end."

You can't leave out so easily the only desktop-ready OpenGL2-ES window manager out there. Also, there has been some serious trimming in KDE 4.7.

I want one (+1)

djfake's picture

I want one (+1)

Can you say nano Bewolf

Anonymous's picture

Can you say nano Bewolf clusters? :)

or mass f@h even...

Anonymous's picture

that was my though when i 1st saw this.. but then i was "wheres the eth0?"

You found it!

Jerry McBride's picture

That's the rub, right there...

All I/O, except for video, goes through the one and only usb port. Talk about bottle neck!

Imagine what would it be like with ethernet, keyboard, mouse and additional storeage on the one onboard usb port? Yuk.

If I had a way to alter this project, it would be the addition of a usb hub, on the card and a pin header strip with a minimum of 4 port capacity. Better yet, add an ethernet chip and bring it out to the edge to a pin header...

And, yes, I would be willing to pay a bit more...

---- Jerry McBride

Raspberry Pi:

Michéal's picture

Great stuff! Really looking forward to it!

Raspberry Pi:

Anonymous's picture

You have got to be kidding me!!! great Job