The Raspberry Pi has announced that more than a million of them have been sold since orders started being accepted on 29 February 2012.In the same way that people buy a smartphone to browse on the move, if they want to try their hand at coding, they opt for the Raspberry Pi or one of its rivals.
The prices of these small form factor machines varies widely but all these gadgets can, with a little help from a few add-ons and peripherals, do anything that used to require the services of a fully functioning, and quite hefty, desktop PC. They start at just £23.
There were two main reasons for the emergence of small PCs- one aesthetic and one technical.
The aesthetic reason was that computers had begun emerging from spare rooms and box-rooms and were taking up residence in living rooms. In some of those cases, people did not want a “beige box” squatting on their carpet, he said. Far better to have something small and unobtrusive.
Those machines being used in front rooms and other places were not “replacements” for the family PC but “were going where the need was felt”.
The technical trend is linked to the driving force of the computer world: Moore’s Law.
Coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, this economic law states that the number of transistors that can be placed on a chip for the same cost will double roughly every two years. More transistors in a smaller space typically translates to more power.
Chip development, memory density and a host of other technological innovations meant that now small does not mean puny.
It’s matured thanks to the growing move to portable computing, which emphasised low power components.
Less power going in means less heat coming out and removes the need for fans and other devices to cool the hot chips and other components doing all the hard work.
Many of the components found in small form factor PCs were more commonly found in phones, tablets or laptops.
For instance, the chip at the heart of the Raspberry Pi is more usually found in a handset. Similarly, hard drives and other components used in small machines from Dell, Apple and many others were initially developed for use in laptops.
Increasingly, PC box shifters relied on Intel and other component makers to do the innovation for them. This reduced their risk and left them less exposed should they back a trend that did not catch on with consumers.