January 24, 2016


Tiny Computers

Just a couple years ago a charitable organization was formed in the UK with the goal of creating small, affordable computers, to make hardware more accessible for those interested in learning to build/code. This movement just happens to coincide nicely with the development of smaller processors and electronic components needed for smart phones and all of the increasingly smaller devices in our lives, and with that comes a convenient surplus of available tiny hardware.

Their creation, the Raspberry Pi, is a credit card-sized circuit board with a CPU, RAM, and multiple ports for accessories – basically a computer the size of a deck of cards that costs under $30.

Since the original Raspberry Pi there have been several new releases with updated specifications. The Pi 2 includes a gig of RAM, and faster quad-core CPU. It's actually more powerful than the first computer I ever purchased, which ran windows 98, despite the fact that I could fit the Pi 2 in my pocket. Even at it's tiny size, the Pi can run older Windows, as this video demonstrates,. But it's much better suited for operating systems tailored to its configurations, such as the version of Linux released by the Raspberry Pi foundation.

There is a free slimmed-down version of Windows 10 (Windows 10 IoT Core) available for the Raspberry Pi 2, and paired with the Microsoft Hololens Augmented Reality headset allows you create some pretty amazing things. Learn more about Windows 10 IoT Core here, and get it here.

The Raspbery Pi Zero is a smaller version of the Pi with only the bare essentials, and not much larger than the circuit board itself. It's about the size of a thick business card and could easily fit in a wallet, yet it has the same computing power of the original Pi.

Initially intended as an educational device, the affordability and extensibility of the Raspberry Pi make it a device with nearly limitless possibilities. And with the ever growing Internet of Things (IoT) there will be increasingly more and more ways a Pi, or similar small computer, can enhance our lives.

Other folks have taken notice, and there is an increasing number of Raspberry Pi competitors out there, including C.H.I.P. which is basically a slimmed down Raspberry Pi that costs only $9. And just yessterday I read about a Kickstarter campaign for the Pine64, a more powerful competitor to the Raspberry Pi that runs on a 64 processor, has 4K video output, and can run Android OS, all on a board slightly bigger than the Pi 2, and only costing $15. It blew it's Kickstarter goal out of the water. So it's likely we'll continue to see an explosion of small computers supporting the IoT.

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