$35 computer enters production

A British charity is about to start manufacturing a $35 Linux-based computer aimed at the education market, and is promising an even cheaper model later on.

The Raspberry Pi is about the size of a credit card and plugs into a TV or touchscreen to make a low-cost tablet PC.

The device includes a 700MHz ARM11 processor, 128MB of memory and a Videocore 4 GPU. A USB port allows it to be connected to a keyboard and mouse via a hub, while there’s an HDMI port and an SD card slot at the other end.

The model now about to roll off the production lines includes 10/100 wired Ethernet; a version without will cost $10 less. There’s no word on when it will actually be available for sale, but it’s likely to be just a few weeks.

The aim of the scheme is to provide budding programmers with an inexpensive device on which to practise their craft. While the whole point is to produce something low-cost, there’s been so much interest in the product that prototypes have been going for thousands of dollars on eBay.

“When we started auctioning beta Raspberry Pis to raise money for the charity a few days ago, we imagined each one maybe raising a few hundred quid. Consider our gast well and truly flabbered,” says spokesperson Liz Upton on the Raspberry Pi Foundation blog.

“We are absolutely amazed by the generosity of the people bidding on the beta boards. Every penny from the auction goes straight to our charity, where it will fund the making of more Raspberry Pis to go into schools.”

The project’s been hailed by the UK government. Education Secretary Michael Gove recently called it ‘a great example of the cutting edge of education technology’.

“Initiatives like the Raspberry Pi scheme will give children the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of programming with their own credit card-sized, single-board computers,” he said.

However, the admiration isn’t mutual: the Foundation says it’s been forced to change plans to manufacture the device in the UK because of the country’s tax regime.

“If a British company imports components, it has to pay tax on those (and most components are not made in the UK). If, however, a completed device is made abroad and imported into the UK – with all of those components soldered onto it – it does not attract any import duty at all,” says Upton.

“Right now, the way things stand means that a company doing its manufacturing abroad, depriving the UK economy, gets a tax break. It’s an absolutely mad way for the Inland Revenue to be running things.”