The Raspberry Pi popularized the concept of the micro-PC with a compact, $US35 no-frills device that didn't even come with its own case. Now a new micro-PC threatens to make the Raspberry Pi look like a luxury model. Next Thing Co. recently announced a Kickstarter campaign for Chip, a $US9 micro-PC shipping in 2016.
The secret to Chip's low price is one part business plan and one part component costs. To cut down the price, Next Thing went with a ARM-based 1GHz processor from Allwinner, a low-cost producer of chips for smartphones and tablets. You've probably never heard of the company, but it's one of the world's largest suppliers of processors for low-cost devices. HP uses an Allwinner chip in the $US100 HP 7 G2 Android tablet.
To keep the price so ridiculously low, Next Thing also plans to order Chip components in large quantities and thus get discount pricing from suppliers. That desire to purchase components in large quantities is where the Kickstarter campaign comes in.
The company already has a working prototype with an earlier generation processor, according to Make. But Next Thing lacks the funds to place large enough orders with component makers. It appears a lot of people are excited about the prospect of a $US9 micro-PC, however, since at this writing the project had more than 13,000 backers contributing nearly $US700,000.
The Chip campaign launched on Thursday, May 7 and is already well above its original funding goal of $US50,000. However, Next Thing may have low-balled its goal to have a better shot at getting the project funded. Fifty thousand dollars just doesn't sound like enough to make the massive component purchases Next Thing says it needs.
This is Next Thing's second Kickstarter project. The company also crowd-funded the Raspberry Pi-based Otto GIF camera in 2014.
Why this matters: Although it's wise to be wary of crowd-funded projects Chip looks like a good bet. With a working prototype, a proven track record from Next Thing, and a massive funding injection, Chip should come to fruition around this time next year.
Chip comes with a 1GHz Allwinner R8 Cortex A8 processor with Mali-400 graphics, 512MB RAM, and 4GB storage. It also has built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. That's a better processor than the original Raspberry Pi model B+, and equivalent RAM; the beefier, quad-core Raspberry Pi 2 model B, meanwhile, doesn't come with onboard storage, built-in Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. Chip will come with a Raspbian-like Linux-based operating system pre-installed. Chip measures 2.3-inches by 1.5 inches.
To keep the price down, Next Thing did have to cut out many features you might expect from a board like this. It only has one USB port, a microUSB port for power, and camera sensor support. There's only a composite connection for video, but there are adapters available for HDMI and VGA.
In addition to the two video adapters, Chip also has its own portable peripheral called the Pocket Chip. The $40 device (Kickstarter price) includes a 4.3-inch touchscreen with 470-by-272 resolution, keyboard, a 3,000 mAH battery (with a 5-hour battery life claim), and GPIO breakouts for those times you need to prototype on the go. Pocket Chip is designed to just let you slap Chip into the back and be and running quickly.