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Raspberry Pi Turning Students Into Comp Programmers

By Tony Ibrahim | Wednesday | 16/05/2012

A US$35 pocket sized computer designed for students is sparking an interest in computer programming.

Click to enlarge

The Raspberry Pi is a computer marginally bigger than a credit card and has amassed a large following, with over 300,000 people scattered across the globe waiting for delivery.

It is an exposed piece of circuitry, housing a 700MHz ARM 11 chip with 256MB of RAM and a SD memory card slot which acts as its hard drive. But instead of mainstream Windows and OS X, its makers recommend the open source Linux operating system.

Despite its chic proportions, the undressed computer manages to house an auxiliary (3.5mm) port, two USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI out port, RCA video, SD slot, an Ethernet port and a micro USB power port.

The small computer was developed by Eben Upton, the Technical Director of Broadcom whose previous employment includes stints from IBM and Intel. He wanted to create a device that would inspire kids to program software and experiment with computing hardware. The Raspberry Pi then is a jigsaw puzzle for aspiring computer programmers.

Out of the box, proud Pi owners will have to install the recommended Linux operating system from scratch. The installation process itself will serve as an educational exercise, but tutorials can be found online at DesignSpark.com, a website that acts as a Linux library. As the Raspberry Pi matures, distributors RS Components claim Pi's will come preloaded with its OS.

Click to enlarge
Raspberry's Pi plugged into its USB power source
The standard software is capable of viewing Full HD videos, browsing files, playing music and surfing the internet; however, its media management is handicapped by support from few codecs. It is a bare operating system that owners with the desire to learn computer programming will build upon.

Through experimentation and online tutelage, Pi owners will be able to develop custom software, which can then be shared with other Pi family members. According to Jeremy Edwards, A&NZ Country Manager of RC Components, the Raspberry Pi will cultivate "a forum for engineers to share ideas and develop new ones."

Developers aren't limited to the Linux operating system as the Pi uses a processor from ARM; hardware that potentially be compatible with Google's Android operating system.

Lim Cheng Mong, Head of Electronics Marketing for the Asia Pacific at RS components believes the Raspberry Pi will spark the development of 'revolutionary products.'

"The Raspberry Pi, together with the RS Components DesignSpark community and our free PCB design software, will enable engineers of the future to create revolutionary products throughout their academic and professional careers," said Mong.

Budding developers can download the Pi's schematic capture and PCB layout tool from DesignSparks.com.

In the United States the Raspberry Pi sells for US$35, but Jeremy Edward estimates it will be sold for $41 in Australia. That is, once its 300,000 customers on back order receive theirs and by August, it's expected only 70,000 orders will be fulfilled. At present, there's only 53 Raspberry Pi's in Australia.

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