Manufacturing begins for the Raspberry Pi microcomputer

January 11, 2012 | 11:08

Tags: #david-braben #eben-upton #manufacturing #microcomputer #tax

Companies: #arm #broadcom #raspberry-pi #uk

The Raspberry Pi $35 ARM-based microcomputer, designed by David Braben and Eben Upton to help boost computing education in the UK with an affordable and highly-hackable platform for experimentation, is nearly here, with manufacturing started on the first batch of 10,000 Model B units.

The size of a credit card, the Raspberry Pi has caught the imagination of hackers across the globe. Packing a Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip processor at its heart, the 700MHz ARM processor and VideoCore IV GPU won't exactly run Crysis; but they will run Quake III and play back Full HD video content, while providing plenty of scope to run a full Linux distribution from an SD card.

The initial production run will comprise, Liz Upton has explained, entirely Model B units. More expensive than the $25 Model As, the Model Bs - borrowing a naming convention first used by Acorn for the BBC Micro - double the memory to 256MB and add a wired Ethernet connection missing from the cheaper design.

With prices for early beta boards skyrocketing on eBay - with a charity auction for the Raspberry Pi with serial number #1 hitting a remarkable £3,300 so far - demand is sure to be high, as evidenced by the Raspberry Pi website falling down due to the traffic generated when manufacturing was announced late last night.

Not all news is good, however: both Braben and Upton were keen to make the Raspberry Pi a truly British venture, in the tradition of microcomputing pioneers like Acorn - which would later give birth to Acorn RISC Machines, or ARM - and Sinclair. However, high manufacturing costs and tax restrictions have meant the initial production will occur in the Far East instead.

'Simply put, if we build the Raspberry Pi in Britain, we have to pay a lot more tax. If a British company imports components, it has to pay tax on those - and most components are not made in the UK. If, however, a completed device is made abroad and imported into the UK – with all of those components soldered onto it – it does not attract any import duty at all,' Liz Upton explains of the decision. 'This means that it’s really, really tax inefficient for an electronics company to do its manufacturing in Britain, and it’s one of the reasons that so much of our manufacturing goes overseas.

'Right now, the way things stand means that a company doing its manufacturing abroad, depriving the UK economy, gets a tax break. It’s an absolutely mad way for the Inland Revenue to be running things, and it’s an issue we’ve taken up with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. So, we have had to make the pragmatic decision and look to Taiwan and China for our manufacturing, at least for this first batch.'

With production turn-around estimated at three to four weeks, it looks like the long-delayed Raspberry Pi could finally go on sale in February; although Upton is keen to stress that a firm date for sales to begin has not yet been picked.

Do you have any mods in mind for the ultra-tiny Raspberry Pi, or do you need something a little more powerful before you get excited? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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