By Mark Long / CIO Today. Updated February 29, 2012.
Distributors of the new $35 Raspberry Pi PC were swamped with preorders from customers in Europe, the U.S. and Asia on Wednesday -- the diminutive computing device's first day of availability.
Created by a non-profit charity based in the United Kingdom, the credit-card-size PC is designed to run the ArchLinux, Debian and Fedora distributions of ARM GNU/Linux, which users can purchase on preloaded SD cards sold separately.
"This really came from an observation that people were coming to [university courses] perhaps with less skills than they used to have," said Raspberry Pi Foundation co-founder Robert Mullins. "The primary goal was to build a low-cost computer that every child could own, where programming it was the natural thing to do with it, and also something that could be built into larger projects."
Due to huge interest in the charity's new $35 PC, the Web sites of global distributor RS Components and the element14 community of Premier Farnell were overwhelmed with preorders on Wednesday -- even though preorders were limited to one per customer.
"With tens of thousands of customers looking to order on the RS Web site since the launch of Raspberry Pi earlier today, this is the greatest level of demand RS has ever received for a product at one time," said Chris Page, the general manager of electronics at RS Components.
A Great Opportunity
RS expects to receive the first batch of boards into warehouses at the end of next week, with the shipping of products on a first-come, first-served preorder basis.
"We clearly understand how excited customers are about this ground-breaking product and we are working closely with Raspberry Pi to satisfy this unprecedented demand," Page said.
Premier Farnell sees the Raspberry Pi as a great opportunity to engage a new generation of engineers and computer experts. "Through our element14 Community we will encourage everyone from developers, coders and programmers to discuss, share and develop their ideas and fully utilize the game-changing potential of the Raspberry Pi computer," said Premier Farnell CEO Harriet Green.
Al Hilwa, director of applications development software at IDC, said the device could spark a hobbyist movement to program such devices and do all kind of fun things with them. And it certainly pushes the boundary of price, but it appears to be primarily a circuit board.
Whether it develops into an ecosystem, Hilwa said, will depend "on how many people end up buying the device and how well it works."
"Certainly there is blank space to be won at the price level for education," Hilwa said. "If it helps mint more programmers, then it would definitely end up contributing in a positive way to the app economy."
The Raspberry Pi integrates Broadcom's dual-core Videocore IV multimedia co-processor and Videocore graphics processor unit, together with the chip maker's BCM2835 System on a Chip (SoC) based on a standard 700MHz ARM v6 core. The device also ships with the requisite hardware-accelerated graphics capabilities for supporting streaming media, 3D gaming and a video camcorder, and is fully capable of rendering Blu-ray-quality 1080p video playback.
Even better, the Raspberry Pi can be run off of a couple of AA batteries, Mullins said. "This means it can be built into a robot, used in some sort of home automation project [or in other] exciting projects that would perhaps broaden the interest in computer science among children," he said.
To reach the $35 price point, however, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is shipping the device sans case or peripherals. Still, a single HDMI slot and two USB ports are aboard the device, which will enable users to connect peripherals such as a monitor, keyboard, mouse and Wi-Fi radio dongle. Also on tap are 256 MB of RAM, an SD memory card slot and an Ethernet port.