It's been the most highly anticipated launch in the history of development boards, but one of the most problem-ridden too. Originally unveiled early last year with a suggested launch schedule of September 2011, the Raspberry Pi single-board computer has proven a beast to get out of the door - but the first retail models are finally landing in customers' hands this week.

The brainchild of Broadcom engineer Eben Upton and Elite-creator David Braben, the Raspberry Pi promises much: for the bargain-basement price of just $35, you get a powerful system with high-performance graphics, general-purpose input-output capabilities, HDMI video output with 1080p full HD support, and more.

Compared to rival development boards like the open-source Beagleboard or Samsung's Exynos-based Origen, the Pi has a clear advantage in its price. Sitting somewhere at between a third and a quarter the cost of its rivals - and, in some cases, a tenth or less - it's exquisitely affordable.

Raspberry Pi review Raspberry Pi - A Brief History
Manufacturing and compliance issues held up the Raspberry Pi's launch.

That, of course, is the point: the Pi is the product of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a not-for-profit charity which aims to further the cause of computing in education by providing low-cost and highly-hackable devices for experimentation. It's a noble goal, and one which will see a higher-profile launch later this year with supporting materials for educational establishments.

It's a launch the Foundation is hoping will prove smoother the second time around. Since its announcement, the Pi has been beset by delays thanks to last-minute board changes, a move to foreign manufacturing, a production error in the Ethernet jacks and the requirement for the board to go through compliance testing.

With the first boards now shipping to customers, the Pi is proving the preserve of hackers and tinkerers - albeit with a surprising number of people queuing up to buy the device simply to take advantage of its capabilities as a media server. But can the Pi live up to the hype?
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