Small PCs are continuing to evolve to meet the varying needs of every consumer. There's no doubt that small PCs are becoming some of the most successful creations in the history of computing. Apart from their tiny size, their most compelling feature could just be their budget-friendly prices.
Two names in the small PC market have been getting a lot of attention from consumers and industry owners. The first, known simply as CHIP, is the latest addition to the thriving small PC industry. The second, Raspberry Pi, has been around since 2012.
Were price the only criterion, the stunningly cheap CHIP would be the superior model, as it is the world's first $9 computer. Raspberry Pi 2 can be priced as low as $33, almost 4 times the price of the CHIP — but nevertheless very frugal in its own right.
Looking at the price tag should of course only be just the preliminary stage in choosing the best option. Apart from cost, other criteria that should be considered include specs, performance and connectivity features.
CHIP was launched as a Kickstarter project with a goal of reaching $50,000. With over 13,000 backers, it more than surpassed its target — going on to collect more than $660,000. This number may rise even higher, for as of writing, there are still 26 days to go.
Some are calling the $9-CHIP a Raspberry Pi killer. Just like its competition, CHIP has all the functions of a full computer and yet it's only as "big" as a credit card.
CHIP is equipped with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and optional ports for HDMI and VGA. At such a tiny size, it's quite amazing to think that it packs 512MB of RAM, 1 GHz processor and 4GB of storage. It's also compatible with a light version of Debian.
Plugging into PocketCHIP hardware gives the user a type of PC that's reminiscent of the original Game Boy. PocketCHIP is designed with a 4.3-inch touchscreen, a QWERTY keyboard and a 5-hour battery.
Consumers can also pair their CHIP with a VGA adapter for the price of $19, and the HDMI for $24. The computer has an open source operating system that makes it easy to use and navigate.
Other features include dozens of pre-installed apps and tools. The computer is ready to do PC work as soon as the power is turned on, and it can work with any "age" and screen size. The CHIP comes with LibreOffice and Scratch, it can connect to a MIDI keyboard and with Bluetooth controllers for playing games including DOS versions.
Raspberry Pi 2
The original Raspberry Pi was launched in 2012, and went on to become the most popular single-board PC on the market. Like the CHIP, the size of the Raspberry Pi 2 is also comparable to that of a credit card. The new version features the added specs demanded by fans.
While it displays nothing but a piece of circuit board, this small PC offers tons of possibilities, and its unprecedented low price of $35 has catapulted its sales to over two million in the short period of 16 months. The latest records show that sales have now reached over five million.
The Raspberry Pi 2 is equipped with a quad-core Broadcom BCM2836 ARM7 which is clocked at 900MHz — higher than the original Raspberry Pi's 700MHz. It boasts 1GB of RAM, as compared with the 512MB RAM of its older sibling. Other notable specs include four USB ports, Ethernet, HDMI, a video and stereo audio jack, camera interface and microSD card slot, as well as 40 general-purpose input/output pins to plug in LEDs, resistors or anything else needed for a project.
The Raspberry Pi 2 picks up a network connection through its RJ-45 Ethernet port by default. Those who want to connect through Wi-Fi will require a separate Wi-Fi dongle that can plug into one of the USB ports. MicroSD cards of up to 128GB can be accommodated. Users who need more storage capacity can utilize an external USB hard drive.
As for the operating system, users are restricted to Linux and six other distros: RISC OS, Pidora, RaspBMC, Openelec, Snappy Ubuntu Core and Raspbian. All are available on the Raspberry Pi official site.
This type of small PC is best for adventurous users. The do-it-yourself setup and software can however make the Raspberry Pi a challenge for the impatient consumer.