Raspberry Pi plans new modular computer for maker audience

The new Pi board with circuitry from the famous $25 PC will ship later this year and likely be priced at $30 in lots of 100 units

Raspberry Pi logo

Raspberry Pi logo

Raspberry Pi -- popular for its US$25 PC -- plans later this year to ship new hardware in the form of a smaller board that plugs into a custom motherboard slot, which could appeal to a new audience of makers, enthusiasts and enterprise users.

The new computer has similar circuitry from the current Raspberry Pi design, which is an uncased board with key components on it. The smaller Raspberry Pi board can be plugged into SODIMM slots, which are typically found in small computers with custom motherboards. The new Pi will be more like a mini-computer inside a computer.

"The goal is to support industrial and embedded users of the Pi who are producing hundreds or thousands of products which embed the Pi and would prefer a smaller form factor," said Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton in an e-mail.

The Raspberry Pi computers have sold in the millions and have been used for applications such as media streaming, robotics, education and programming. At $25 or $35, many just have the computer lying around home for generic use. The Pi has also spawned the development of monitors, cameras, cases and also Arduino expansion boards, with many starting off as Kickstarter projects and getting fully funded.

But the new Raspberry Pi coming later this year is different. People who want to use it will need to produce a custom motherboard to connect the pins up appropriately, Upton said, adding that he hopes for a price of around $30 in batches of 100.

"It's not designed to plug into either an SDRAM or PCI-Express bus -- it just uses the JEDEC SODIMM form factor because SODIMM sockets are cheap, commodity parts which can carry high-speed signals reliably," Upton said.

The current Pi computer could be hard to plug directly into computers, but SODIMM modules are typically smaller, don't need a power outlet, and are easier to plug into connectors. This could open up new possibilities of using the board in industrial products, consumer electronics and sensor devices. Such boards could also be used in robots and other products in the so-called Internet of things category, which is emerging fast.

Companies like Atmel and Freescale also sell modules that plug into 200-pin SODIMM connectors. The boards are expensive, but have similar low-power ARM processors -- which function more like microcontroller units (MCUs) -- and are used for prototyping and testing of applications.

Raspberry Pi has changed the landscape of system-on-board computers. A mini-computer called Edison, which is slightly larger than an SD card, is being developed by Intel, while Chinese company Ingenic is selling a computer that size of an SD card based on the MIPS processor. Texas Instruments sells the $45 BeagleBone Black, which is considered closest competition to Raspberry Pi.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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