Over on Kickstarter, the credit-card sized CHIP computer blew through its target in a couple of hours as more than 14,000 people lined up for what's being called "the world's first $9 computer." Many reviewers are comparing it to the Raspberry Pi. The usually reputable Tom's Hardware even titles its post CHIP is a $9 PC that could crush Raspberry Pi.
The specifications for the CHIP are intriguing. It has everything you need built right in, including a 1 GHz ARM chip, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It only has one USB port but has WiFi and Bluetooth so you can connect wireless keyboards and mice. It's preloaded with an operating system and office software as well as "dozens of preinstalled useful applications." The makers get to the guts of what a computer is: "a processor, a way to exchange data, and a way to power everything."
It really isn't a $9 computer though; you can't get it without paying $20 for shipping, and if you want decent video, you have to buy an adapter ($10 for VGA and $15 for HDMI), which brings it up to more than the Raspberry Pi's $35. But the main difference between the two computers is not price or specifications, it's philosophy.
It really is a whole computer on a CHIP. (Photo: CHIP)
The CHIP computer is being made for Next Thing Co, an established company with $1 million in venture capital funding. According to the Next Thing website, the concept started as "hardware people who love hacking and prototyping on Raspberry Pi. We know how much work it can be to get a Pi set up the way you want: fast, clean, and flexible."
There was no real need for them to go to Kickstarter to raise $50,000 but being so successful there certainly creates hype. They are a for-profit company. CEO Dave Rauchwerk tells Ars Technica how they were looking for a cheap computer to run some of their other product ideas:
We didn’t want to compromise anything, but [we realized] the computer that powers it is really expensive," he said. "So we went to China and had conversations and knew how much it needed to cost — we ended up with a $9 computer.
So what's the difference between CHIP and Raspberry Pi?
The Pi was designed at Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory to teach kids how to program computers; it's an educational tool. It's a registered charity with a mission. The makers of Pi explain: "we felt that we could try to do something about the situation where computers had become so expensive and arcane that programming experimentation on them had to be forbidden by parents; and to find a platform that, like those old home computers, could boot into a programming environment." The Pi is probably not as cheap as it could be, as they made the decision to on-shore their manufacturing to Wales instead of leaving it in China.
There are 4.5 million Raspberry Pi computers now, and a vast community sharing information, developing applications and building an ecosystem around a device that from the bottom up was designed for the public good. Now along comes the CHIP, from a company that was built on the back of the Raspberry Pi, to compete on the basis of price achieved through off-shoring and economies of scale. I wouldn't have thought that you could Walmart-ize a $35 computer, but there you go.
Specifications and price are important, but mission and purpose matter too. On that basis, Raspberry Pi wins hands down.
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