The Raspberry Pi Story

An incredible 100,000 boards ordered on the first day.

Today more than 700,000 Raspberry Pi computers have been shipped to developers and modders who are fitting them to various robotic devices, surveillance systems, drones and similar, but also to coders looking to build their first programs.

So what, exactly, is the Raspberry Pi?

The Pi is a credit card-sized device. What type of device? A computer, one of the lowest-cost ones in fact. Oh, and it looks nothing more than a bare motherboard with a set of attached ports.

Raspberry Pi : Facts & Figures

  • Broadcom BCM 2835 chipset
  • ARM1176JZFS chip with a floating point co-processor, running at 700MHz
  • Videocore IV GPU, capable of BluRay quality playback, using H.264 at 40MBits/s
  • Ships with OpenGL ES2.0 and OpenVG libraries
  • HDMI out
  • Model B: 512MB of memory, two USB ports and a 10/100 BaseT Ethernet port
  • Model A: 256MB of memory, one USB port

Some factual figures now: the Pi is powerful enough to stream 1080p video, browse the web and write documents, and it mainly was designed to be ultra portable. As far OS are concerned, well, Linux runs on the Raspberry Pi, including ArchLinux, Debian “wheezy” and Raspbian — a Pi-optimised version of Debian.

Why the Pi? According to the company, the Pi is there to encourage a taste for experimenting with computers. You know, geeky handcrafting.

There are two versions of the board, the Model A and the Model B.

The $25 Model A Raspberry Pi will ship in the first quarter of this year. The board doesn’t include the ethernet port, has only has 256MB of RAM — half that of the Model B — and only one USB port. The board consumes less power than the Model B and so is suitable for use in battery-powered robotics devices.

The Origins and the Start

The Raspberry Pi Foundation was established with the goal of inspiring the young generation of IT enthusiasts, mainly programmers: provide a computer cheap enough for kids and easy enough for them to fiddle with. The bet was simple: It was about time that the young Tech population gets interested in playing with the underlying technology that makes smartphones and social networks work.

It would have been heartbreaking if it turned out that kids aren’t interested.

Meeting this unexpected huge demand was a real challenge. To meet it, Raspberry Pi struck a deal with electronics distributors Premier Farnell and RS Components and licensed them to manufacture and distribute the boards. This setup was simply great: it brought the buying power to keep component prices low and the global distribution network to handle the logistics.

The Raspberry Pi is sold at just above cost price, just enough to still maintain a minimal profit markup, used to fuel the foundations’ activities.

Sales of the Raspberry Pi board are split about one third in the UK, one third in North America and one third in the rest of the world (mostly Europe). This is where we can see that the Pi still has a long way to go, since it didn’t hit markets that may be totally adequate to the product’s low cost structure: Asian and African markets.

Early adopters of the Pi were in general not children with an interest in programming, but men with passion for computing. Weird, heh? :-)

The board is currently being used for tasks ranging from automating factory production lines to running consumer media player appliances.

The Pi: Other Alternatives?

One single example is Cubieboard, a 1GHz board based on the ARM Cortex A8 processor with 512MB or 1GB of memory.

The numbers might at first glance suggest this kind of boards is faster and more capable than the 700MHz Pi. However, while its chip carry out memory access operation tens of a percent faster than the Pi, floating point operation and multimedia performance is basically “worse”.

Filed under: Insights