The $9 computer

posted September 28, 2015 at 11:30 pm
by Chin Wong

WHAT can you buy for $9 (or about P420)? You could get a New York’s Finest pizza from Yellow Cab or two up-sized Whopper meals at Burger King. Or you could buy CHIP, the world’s first $9 computer, which began shipping this month.

To fund production of CHIP, the Next Thing Co. launched a Kickstarter campaign back in May with a modest goal to raise $50,000 in 30 days. By the time the funding period ended on June 6, almost 40,000 backers chipped in $9 or more to raise $2 million—more than 40 times the company’s original target.

This month, the first batch of CHIPS were shipped to Kickstarter backers, and a second batch is scheduled to go out in October.

The tiny (2.3-inch by 1.5-inch) computer comes with a 1GHz Allwinner A13-compatible system on a chip; a separate graphics processing unit (GPU); 512 megabytes of DDR3 RAM; 4 gigabytes of flash storage; and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. CHIP also has a Micro-USB and a standard USB port.

CHIP uses a built-in composite video port that enables you to connect it to a TV, but Next Thing has also designed adapters for VGA and HDMI monitors. It isn’t clear, however, when these adapters will be available or how much they will cost. It would certainly seem to defeat the purpose of designing a cheap computer if the adapters cost more than $9.

CHIP draws power from an attached lithium-ion polymer battery, runs on wired 5V DC input power, or can be powered through the same Micro-USB port that is used for battery charging.

To connect a keyboard and a mouse, Next Thing suggests attaching a USB keyboard with an accessory USB port on it for a wired mouse. Another option would be to use a wireless (Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) mouse.

The computer has its own tiny power or reset button and a status LED on the board itself.

CHIP comes installed with a fast-boot Debian-based Linux operating system with the latest Linux kernel, as well as dozens of open source applications and tools, including LibreOffice. Because CHIP is a fully functional Linux computer, you’ll also be able to download and install whatever else you need from the thousands of free applications, tools and games available from the open source community.

Designed without a case, CHIP is an exposed circuit board, much like the Raspberry Pi.

“Not having a case for CHIP is one of the ways were were able to keep our costs down,” Next Thing says on its Kickstarter page FAQ.

But the company is also making the effort to go beyond the Raspberry Pi’s geek following.

“As makers, we’re excited to introduce people to the physical components of computers and show them that electronics aren’t scary, they’re fun!” they write.

They also introduce CHIP as a tiny computer that’s versatile and easy to use.

“CHIP does computer things. Work in LibreOffice and save your documents to CHIP’s onboard storage. Surf the web and check your e-mail over Wi-fi. Play games with a Bluetooth controller. With dozens of applications and tools preinstalled, CHIP is ready to do computer things the moment you power it on.

“CHIP is a computer for students, teachers, grandparents, children, artists, makers, hackers, and inventors. Everyone really,” it adds.

CHIP is also more powerful than the Raspberry Pi.

“At 1Ghz and with 512MB of DDR3 RAM, CHIP. is powerful enough to run real software, and handle the demands of a full GUI just as well as it handles attached hardware. Best of all, CHIP runs mainline Linux, which means it’s easier than ever to keep teaching it new tricks without inheriting a pile of kernel patches,” the company says.

If you weren’t among the Kickstarter backers, you can reserve your own CHIP at the company’s website (http://nextthing.com). The company says it can ship anywhere in the world, but given CHIP’s low pricetag, its likely that shipping will cost more than the computer itself. On the upside, how much tax can Customs slap on a device that costs $9? Chin Wong

Column archives and blog at: http://www.chinwong.com

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