Raspberry Pi makes the sub-$100 PC a reality

One of the biggest pieces of tech news last year was the development of a $25 PC by a charity in the UK known as the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Producing a fully-functional PC capable of running Linux, Quake III-quality games, and 1080p video is no small feat.

Even so, we have to put Raspberry Pi’s coming achievement in context, especially now that it has started being manufactured. Not only will it be the cheapest computer you can buy when it launches later this year (I’m predicting March), it will also achieve something the OLPC has failed to do for years: allow for a working PC setup without spending more than $100.

The OLPC’s aim was to produce a laptop (known as the XO) for $100 that could be distributed to children in developing countries who have no other means of gaining access to a computer. By making a machine so cheap, it would be possible for governments and charities to afford them. Unfortunately, the price of making the latest generation XO laptop has yet to fall below that $100 mark.

Raspberry Pi certainly changes that. If you consider it offers a computer for $25, that leaves $75 left to purchase a keyboard, mouse, SD card, and display. For a 17-inch display (it’s difficult to actually buy smaller displays now) you can pay anything from $75-$140, but that’s consumer pricing. Buy in bulk, say for a school, and the price for a basic display of that size should fall well below the $75 mark. Now add a wired keyboard and mouse, which can both be picked up for $5 each, and another $5 for an SD card (2GB), and $100 for a complete setup looks achievable. You could save even more money if you find a manufacturer willing to sell smaller displays, say 15-inch, or refurbished ones.

The XO laptop does go a step further by including a number of power options and remaining portable, so in that sense it still has an advantage. However, the Raspberry Pi offers up more flexibility, and therefore options for sourcing the display, storage, and input devices, meaning it may be easier to fill classrooms with working machines as long as there is electricity available to power them. Recycled and exists parts can be used where a laptop requires the full purchase, once again increasing flexibility.

There are several Raspberry Pi beta boards selling on eBay right now for thousands of dollars. That’s great news as it gives the foundation additional funding with which to make the final, $25 (and $35) versions beyond the 10,000 that have just been ordered. And the reality is, before 2012 is over, $100 complete PC solutions will be filling classrooms and homes around the world, made possible by this $25 credit card-size machine.

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