TREND: Low cost boards – the professional little fruits

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Open-source hardware such as Raspberry Pi, Banana Pi, and Orange Pi have arrived in the professional world. Even the major players have been taking this digital fruit salad seriously recently.

Open-source hardware has already been one of the highlights at the electronica trade show. With a price tag of $20, the Raspberry Pi A+ was presented as the cheapest single-board computer in the world. No less a sensation was the professional version – the Raspberry Pi Compute Module. This is because these low-cost community boards are enjoying popularity not just among electronics enthusiasts, but also in the professional developer scene.

And the selection has grown immensely. In the meantime, Raspberry, the single-board veteran, has faced a lot of competition with equally exotic names, but not infrequently considerably higher performance.

These boards are mainly available through catalog distributors, for whom they were more of a marketing tool at the start than something that would have relevance for sales. They are bringing electronics to a wide public and fostering customer loyalty.

Low cost boards on the rise

According to IHS, sales of DIY boards will "visibly" increase from 2017. (Graphic: IHS).
According to IHS, sales of DIY boards like the Raspberry Pi will “visibly” increase from 2017. (Graphic: IHS).

But the figures speak for themselves. Only recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation twittered that the five millionth board was sold over the counter at the start of this year. According to their own data, that makes them the computer manufacturer with the highest sales in Great Britain.

And the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, a new model presented recently, should also have already racked up 500,000 sales. It has a quad-core ARM processor and 1 gigabyte of RAM. This should even please “mature” developers. The first model had to make do with a single-core 700-megahertz processor and 256 megabytes of RAM.

Just weeks ago, the British Secret Service showed that the mini computer has become more than just a toy by building a low-cost supercomputer using 66 Raspberry Pi Model B computers. While naturally what resulted from this Raspberry Pi Bramble project cannot be measured against real supercomputers, it works in principally the same way – a computing job is distributed over a large number of independent nodes. This isn’t a completely new idea, however. Back in 2013, scientists built a cluster using 120 Raspberry Pi computers.

Microsoft and Raspberry Pi

Even the giant from Redmond has discovered a passion for small computers. Or so one might think – since Microsoft is making Windows 10 IoT available free of charge for the Raspberry Pi 2. This is at the very least remarkable since the open-source community – the so-called maker community – and the software giant haven’t always been the best of friends. However, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has already been working a long time with Microsoft to bring Windows 10 also to the new Pi 2. And Microsoft also wants or needs to be part of it.

This is because the Internet of Things also thrives on creative start-up entrepreneurs who come from the maker culture and have long since stripped themselves of the hobbyist image. After all, single-board computers are tailor-made for smart IoT applications. This is where Microsoft wants to get its foot in the door with its “gift”. Intel made its move some time ago with its Galileo Gen hobbyist board. Incidentally, this was distributed to developers and programmers free of charge last year, together with Microsoft’s preinstalled Windows IoT.

Raspberry Pi

Recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation twittered that the five millionth board was sold over the counter at the start of this year. (Image: Raspberry Foundation).