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Cheap computers for the hobbyist to make anything smart and connected

It looks like the Kickstarter project for a $9 computer is getting a lot of publicity and a lot of subscribers.(See C.H.I.P. Is a Tiny, Incredibly Powerful Mini $9 PC That Runs Linux at Softpedia). The plan is to take a System on a Chip (SoC) designed for cheap tablets and put it out in a small form factor for hobbyists.

The commercial product that stimulated this idea of a cheap computer is Alldaymall® 7-inch Capacitive Touch Screen Android 4.0 Tablet PC with Allwinner A13 1.0GHz 512MB/4GB WiFi Front-camera (Black) (affiliate link) for $52 (at this time). Take only the parts absolutely necessary, create a small form factor circuit board with appropriate I/O interfaces and power supply, and trim to a desired price point that will appeal to hobbyists to build a project. Note that the memory and radio for the tablet are the same as for the $9 computer project.

As a comparison, a Picaxe chip can be had (chip alone) for about the price of this board. The Rasberry Pi 2 and similar devices that have similar capabilities start at about $35. Wifi alone can cost $10 (see Hackaday). That is why an under $10 computer that can run Linux and provide WiFi connectivity is getting so much interest. 

In the last few months, there has been a lot of activity about opening up the capabilities of the cheap WiFi chip so it could serve as the basis for a project board. This C.H.I.P. project takes that effort a generation farther down the road. For most projects, you’ll still need interface circuitry but you’d need that for most micro controller projects, anyway. 

It will be interesting to see how this new project evolves over the next few years. It should be easy to replicate and the enthusiasm for the idea does indicate a potential market. The key will be in the development of a community of enthusiasts and whether it will be possible to borrow and adapt software from other projects. 

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