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David Braben's $25 PC


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#1 d000hg   Members   -  Reputation: 828

Posted 06 May 2011 - 04:01 AM

http://www.geek.com/articles/games/game-developer-david-braben-creates-a-usb-stick-pc-for-25-2011055/

Braben has developed a tiny USB stick PC that has a HDMI port in one end and a USB port on the other. You plug it into a HDMI socket and then connect a keyboard via the USB port giving you a fully functioning machine running a version of Linux. The cost? $25.The hardware being offered is no slouch either. It uses a 700MHz ARM11 processor coupled with 128MB of RAM and runs OpenGL ES 2.0 allowing for decent graphics performance with 1080p output confirmed. Storage is catered for by an SD card slot. It also looks as though modules can be attached such as the 12MP camera seen in the image above.


Pretty neat in my opinion.



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#2 GMuser   Members   -  Reputation: 211

Posted 06 May 2011 - 04:23 AM

I would like to buy one right now! Just chuck a case on it and sell it, forget 12 months from now.

#3 ChurchSkiz   Members   -  Reputation: 458

Posted 06 May 2011 - 04:53 AM

HDMI with 1080p. So you can play all your games from 1999 in high-def.

#4 Luckless   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1891

Posted 06 May 2011 - 10:36 AM

That is interesting. But I think it would be cooler if it were designed more as a super-high tech lego that would allow you to connect more parts together to customise it to do different things.

Rather than having a USB input port, and the HDMI, have four system interconnects that you could then plug a USB controller into, a graphics output chip, a memory system, or even a second main system card. Let the kids (or me) play around with dirt cheap hardware and really get a better understanding of how the hardware works.
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#5 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

Posted 06 May 2011 - 10:50 AM

That is interesting. But I think it would be cooler if it were designed more as a super-high tech lego that would allow you to connect more parts together to customise it to do different things.


For it's purpose though it is pretty groundbreaking. It appears to be a low cost/low power alternative for third world countries and impoverished people, and for that it is pretty awesome. It would be nice if there were a standard AV out and another USB port for a mouse, but as is it's a pretty phenomenal idea. Excited to see how well it is distributed.

#6 Luckless   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1891

Posted 06 May 2011 - 11:01 AM

HDMI TVs are readily available in third world countries? I thought this was geared more toward students in developed countries so they could have a computer that was simple and cheap enough that they could experiment with, and not worry about bricking it.
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#7 MrDaaark   Members   -  Reputation: 3555

Posted 06 May 2011 - 11:10 AM

HDMI TVs are readily available in third world countries? I thought this was geared more toward students in developed countries so they could have a computer that was simple and cheap enough that they could experiment with, and not worry about bricking it.

HDMI is standard on both TVs and Monitors. The other plugs, not so much.

#8 d000hg   Members   -  Reputation: 828

Posted 06 May 2011 - 11:21 AM


HDMI TVs are readily available in third world countries? I thought this was geared more toward students in developed countries so they could have a computer that was simple and cheap enough that they could experiment with, and not worry about bricking it.

HDMI is standard on both TVs and Monitors. The other plugs, not so much.

HDMI is standard on NEW TVs and monitors. Actually maybe not even monitors, unless you get good ones. In poor countries, and in fact in rich ones, people still have old TVs in use.
But, you can get an adapter anyway.




#9 Lode   Members   -  Reputation: 982

Posted 06 May 2011 - 11:23 AM

HDMI with 1080p. So you can play all your games from 1999 in high-def.


Exactly. Games were pretty good back then :) StarCraft, Unreal, HalfLife, Baldur's Gate, ...

It's pretty neat to have a full machine of the standards of that day, in this format. The only problem is you still need peripherals.

#10 MrDaaark   Members   -  Reputation: 3555

Posted 06 May 2011 - 11:26 AM

HDMI is standard on NEW TVs and monitors. Actually maybe not even monitors, unless you get good ones. In poor countries, and in fact in rich ones, people still have old TVs in use. But, you can get an adapter anyway.

Every new monitor for the last few years has an HDMI input. It's the universal connector now. It's also why it's hard to find anything bigger than 1920x1080 anymore, because that's the limit of an standard speed HDMI cable's bandwidth.

To keep it small and cheap, 1 outport port would have to be used, not 15. All other connector types are not universally compatible.






#11 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

Posted 06 May 2011 - 11:28 AM

HDMI TVs are readily available in third world countries? I thought this was geared more toward students in developed countries so they could have a computer that was simple and cheap enough that they could experiment with, and not worry about bricking it.

I'm guessing this is in reply to me.

It would be nice if there were a standard AV out...

And even then, if they are making them to donate to third world countries, they are probably going to be donating other peripherals which are probably HDMI ready, and almost every TV made in the last 2 years and HDMI adapters aren't THAT hard to find; especially if you are an electronics manufacturer.

#12 SteveDeFacto   Banned   -  Reputation: 109

Posted 06 May 2011 - 05:00 PM

Braben has developed a tiny USB stick PC that has a HDMI port in one end and a USB port on the other. You plug it into a HDMI socket and then connect a keyboard via the USB port giving you a fully functioning machine running a version of Linux. The cost? $25.The hardware being offered is no slouch either. It uses a 700MHz ARM11 processor coupled with 128MB of RAM and runs OpenGL ES 2.0 allowing for decent graphics performance with 1080p output confirmed. Storage is catered for by an SD card slot. It also looks as though modules can be attached such as the 12MP camera seen in the image above.


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#13 Ravyne   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 8193

Posted 06 May 2011 - 05:56 PM

Amazing the amount of technology that can be had in a ~$25 dollar chip these days.


Also interesting to note is the relevence of high-volume gaming technology that is applicable to this area of building cheap PCs for the third world -- The chip here, and many like it (that is, graphics and sound hardware + moderately fast, if simpple, CPU) that would be readily applicable to similar efforts often find their volume in handheld LCD games like the Canoo, GPX, etc -- and in even-cheaper chinese knockoff handheld emulators/media players. There was also an effort awhile back to produce a $10 PC based off commercial hardware that was available for not much more than that on the streets of India -- inside the keyboard was a SNES-on-a-chip.


Many great programmers came up through having a Commodore 64 when they were young, so you don't need much. Having a $10-$15 dollar computer of that caliber widely available, and able to plug into the old televisions that are all over the third-world is, I think, generally more important.

I like this device (already had read about it this morning) and I think it could really benefit *institutions* such as libraries and schools in the third world, but it won't go very far into the homes of the third world due to the HDMI/DVI interface.


If you want to get into the homes/hands of the third world, you really need to either use the existing technology they have around, such as old televisions, or integrate the device with everything it needs to function -- LCDs, battery/power/solar, input. I think we can do the latter for around $100 today using commercial technology, but we're a long way off from 10, 20 or even 50 bucks. The former, we can do today at incredibly low cost -- $20 or less.



I think a lot of these efforts, even including OLPC, fail at recognizing what is a need vs. what is a want (in as much as any computer is a *need* for someone who may not have clean, running water). They end up producing what is, essentially, a high-tech toy that may be wonderful for learning, but which is ultimately too expensive to deploy widely -- even at a price target of $100. I believe the best way to get these things out there is to make them something that the people, themselves, could afford, and not to price them where only governments can provide them.

If I were doing this today, I would use an arm or MIPS -based SOC, with inbuilt hardware to drive a TV, or a simple external circuit/encoder to drive it. It would also support analog VGA for higher-resolution, low-color graphics. It would be built into a keyboard shell -- something the size of one of those cut-down, slim keyboards with only the qwerty keys (no 10-key, no inverted T). It would have a 9-pin DSUB connector on each side for gamepads/mice/input devices, headphones/mic on the left, and an SD-card on the right. It would have a built-in MIC, and possibly small-builtin speakers. It could be run from the wall, using Micro-USB (cell-phone standard, widely available) to draw power and serve as an administration/service port, and possibly to network the devices. It would also run on simple AA batteries. I would expose any left-over GPIO pins on the back, possibly using some to impliment a parallel port. It might have only 128K-1MB of memory, so a full-blown OS is out -- but it would have a single-user OS in the firmware, including applications for basic tasks and for programming. Applications would be allowed to take over the entire device if needed, but would primarily run in a simple multi-tasking (possibly co-operative) kernel on a simple desktop environment.

#14 Matias Goldberg   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3723

Posted 06 May 2011 - 06:17 PM

HDMI TVs are readily available in third world countries?

Yup. Marketing manages to sell LCDs in "comfortable" monthly installments for everybody. Even if they don't have money to eat.

The difference with developed countries, is that you'll still find a lot of people with non-HDMI devices as well as shops selling non-HDMI.


But yes, it's not like just very few people have HDMI

Edit: Ok, just realized GDNet does no longer display where I'm from in the post. I live in a 3rd world country. HDMI LCDs were a big sell during last year's world soccer world cup. They were sold in 50 monthly installments. Seriously. And they sold a lot.

#15 GMuser   Members   -  Reputation: 211

Posted 06 May 2011 - 09:42 PM

Despite it's applicability into the third world, just keep in mind this isn't intended or marketed as a third world device. This would be brilliant for schools, for example here in Australia we have a laptop for every student program going on. In my opinion this could easily be a more viable alternative to that. Schools would only need to offer monitors and peripherals instead of work machines (although I suppose they would still opt for their own machines to ensure that they can control the software that is used at school).

As a few people have mentioned, you could use this as a media centre at home or a for fun programming device/work machine without the distractions you have on your personal laptop/pcs. And it's as cheap as chips.

#16 Ravyne   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 8193

Posted 06 May 2011 - 11:01 PM

Yeah, the original article I read did a poor job of a) explaining that this was intended to teach programming to children in the first world, and not competing with OLPC-like initiatives, and b) that the device actually does have composite video output as planned, negating most of my contention with the device for uses elsewhere.

For its intended target, its a pretty neat device and I think there's value in having a single, cheap device that schools can dedicate to programming classes -- I think doing anything much more than word processing scares a lot of people running schools, "programming" computers sounds dangerously close to "breaking" computers in their mind. These are cheap enough to be practically disposable, which should remove any remaining fears.

The inventor does talk about the device as if it will bring back the glory-days of hacking "to the metal" however, which certainly will not be the case with such a relatively-powerful device running a modern(ish) linux. If you really wanted to go back to the glory days, you'd need something closer to like I described above, that can remove even the OS from the picture.

#17 zedz   Members   -  Reputation: 291

Posted 07 May 2011 - 02:54 AM

Commodore 64 when they were young, so you don't need much. Having a $10-$15 dollar computer of that caliber widely available

Mate this is 1 or 2 orders of magnitude more powerful than a c64

They end up producing what is, essentially, a high-tech toy that may be wonderful for learning, but which is ultimately too expensive to deploy widely -- even at a price target of $100. I believe the best way to get these things out there is to make them something that the people, themselves, could afford, and not to price them where only governments can

I think youll be shocked by the number of mobile phones you actually see in these places

Ive gotta say I like this device though

#18 MrDaaark   Members   -  Reputation: 3555

Posted 07 May 2011 - 03:46 AM

If the HDMI output was male, it'd almost be like plugging a keyboard into any TV and having a computer. Just attach a keyboard, and roll the little PC up with the cord when you are done. But it would be more of a hassle than a proper netbook.

#19 Ravyne   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 8193

Posted 07 May 2011 - 03:18 PM

Commodore 64 when they were young, so you don't need much. Having a $10-$15 dollar computer of that caliber widely available

Mate this is 1 or 2 orders of magnitude more powerful than a c64


What I said was:

Many great programmers came up through having a Commodore 64 when they were young, so you don't need much. Having a $10-$15 dollar computer of that caliber widely available, and able to plug into the old televisions that are all over the third-world is, I think, generally more important.




My assertion is that, inevitably, the cost of this and other cheap student computers creeps steadily upward and/or requires massive government orders to create an economy of scale which can deliver on the promised price. Particularly in a third-world scenario, many of these efforts have been overkill. The mentality that "If I spend just 10% more on this part, we can double performance!" has proven to be too enticing to for these efforts to avoid, and it adds up. Pretty soon, you're 60% over budget, a year late and with software that still hasn't been able to catch up to all the hardware changes -- much like the first OLPC. And once you've done that, all those big government orders start to dry up, making it even harder to deliver the promised price.


Now ask yourself, for all the great changes that were made, have you provided a substantially greater education to the kids you still managed to reach, and was it worth neglecting the kids you lost by running over schedule and budget? In other words, Is it better to deliver a "90%" solution to 5 million kids, or a 100% solution to 1 or 2 million kids? All for the same cost?


I know how powerful this device is, and like I said its amazing the technology that can be had so inexpensively these days. I'm glad we live in that world, and I'm glad that we also live in a world where that technology can be applied to education, not just entertainment. But, for a third-world device, this and many of the existing efforts tread well into unnecessary territory, to their detriment.


This device, as has been pointed out, isn't actually a third-world device at all. Its more about providing a cheap, essentially disposable device for first-world students to learn programming. I think this is great for reasons I pointed out above, it just seemed to have missed the point by having only HDMI, before realizing it wasn't something that was going to go to the third world.


My point is, there are amazing programmers today that came up with the commodore 64 -- they didn't have any more available to them. They aren't "broken" or at a disadvantage compared to kids who came up years later with fancier machines in their home -- in fact, it is often quite to the contrary. We have the ability to deliver a small, embedded computer today that is as powerful as an early Pentium PC, easily programmable in C and other high-level languages, for astonishingly cheap -- perhaps $15-$20 USD per unit, and even lower with large, government purchases. Instead, we spend a great deal of time trying to provide a relatively modern, first-world computer to relatively impoverished people and governments. Its a noble idea, it really is, but I think it misses the mark on practicality.

They end up producing what is, essentially, a high-tech toy that may be wonderful for learning, but which is ultimately too expensive to deploy widely -- even at a price target of $100. I believe the best way to get these things out there is to make them something that the people, themselves, could afford, and not to price them where only governments can

I think youll be shocked by the number of mobile phones you actually see in these places


Sure, because they can get them and because the infrastructure for landlines largely doesn't exist. It doesn't mean they have a surplus of HDMI-ready televisions and monitors lying around, or that they wouldn't get a great educational experience out of something that isn't entirely modern. Besides, we're probably talking years old feature phones at best, which were probably "recycled" from first-world countries and re-sold dirt cheap.


Again, we're not *actually* talking about a third-world device here, and I think it hits the mark for its intended audience, albeit the use of Linux or any other OS is questionable, given that the creator intends it to relive the glory days of the Commodore, Apple, IBM, and Atari computers where you wrote against the hardware and had to learn how the machine actually works.




#20 Krohm   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3261

Posted 08 May 2011 - 07:18 AM

This is close to be sexy. But 128 MiB of RAM? Perhaps this is still enough in the ARM ecosystem. It seems likely this is closer to an accessible smartphone experience rather than a full computing one.




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