The launch of the Raspberry Pi – haven’t we been here before?
Yes. We have. But not for a long, long time and that’s why I’m looking forward to receiving mine, once production can keep up with demand. At £21.60 + VAT for a “model B”, you can’t really argue about value, even though you have to provide your own keyboard, monitor, SD cards and a case.
According to the charitable foundation behind the Raspberry Pi, it has come into being because:
Eben [Upton, a Cambridge University lecturer] had noticed a distinct drop in the skills levels of the A Level students applying to read Computer Science in each academic year when he came to interview them. From a situation in the 1990s where most of the kids applying were coming to interview as hobbyist programmers, the landscape in the 2000s was very different; a typical applicant now had experience only with web design, and sometimes not even with that.
A number of problems were identified: the colonisation of the ICT curriculum with lessons on using Word and Excel, or writing webpages; the end of the dot-com boom; and the rise of the home PC and games console to replace the Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX and Commodore 64 machines that people of an earlier generation learned to program on.
Single board computers were all the rage amongst hobbyists in the late 1970s / early 1980s. I have my own rare example, purchased from an internet auction site a few years ago when I was feeling nostalgic – a 1979 Compukit UK101.
The UK101 wasn’t the first single board machine (the Science of Cambridge MK14 and the Ohio Superboard II – of which the UK101 was a pretty close clone – predated it) and it wasn’t the last either. How I wish I’d invested a few pounds in a Sinclair ZX80 – good examples sell for hundreds these days!
Comparisons are odious – but that’s what I’m going to do anyway.
|1979 Compukit UK101||2012 Raspberry Pi ‘B’|
|Clock speed||1MHz – stepped down from an 8MHz crystal||700MHz|
|Graphics Processor||No dedicated processor, but 1Kbyte VDU RAM||Videocore 4 GPU|
|RAM||4Kbytes – expandable to 8Kbytes on board using 0.5 Kbyte 2114 RAM packages||256Mbytes – included in package with CPU and GPU. A “system on a chip”. No expansion capability|
|Operating System||Machine code monitor and I/O utilities in ROM||Fedora Linux on SD card – other ARM11 compatible distributions should be possible|
|Programming Language||Microsoft BASIC (8K in ROM)||Python – but presumably any other language capable of running on Fedora Linux (Wikipedia is suggesting that an implementation of BBC BASIC is already available, along with C and Perl – I am sure there are other languages that will run too)|
|Monitor output||UHF to TV||RCA video and HDMI|
|Power supply||240V AC mains transformer – 9V DC||Micro power 5V USB|
|Interfaces||Cassette interface (CUTS) – 300 baud (often modified to run at 600 baud), RS232 possible as an enhancement, as was an 8” floppy disk controller||USB 2.0 and Ethernet|
|Audio||None||Via HDMI or 3.5mm jack socket|
|Supplied as||PCB and kit of parts – assembly required||Pre-assembled board|
|Launch Price||£219 + VAT from Compshop Ltd.||£21.60 + VAT from RS Components or Premier Farnell.|
I really hope that the Raspberry Pi succeeds in its aim of reintroducing the fun of programming to novices. One potential mark of success would be the return of the “listings magazine” – which provided not only source code, but also useful articles on how to program and reviews of new hardware.
I get all misty-eyed when I think of the hours I spent typing in programs from the long gone “Computing Today” and learning how modify code written for a different BASIC dialect to work on either the Sharp MZ80K I had, or the RM 380Z and Commodore PETs the school acquired when I was in sixth form.
It’s unlikely that a listings magazine would work in print form today, but I look forward to seeing some novice-friendly web equivalents appear.
In the meantime, I’ve just rescued my UK101 from the attic. Now, where did I put my computing magazines?