After a long downward trajectory, the price of a usable consumer computer has finally dropped below $10.
A new computer called CHIP costs $9 and is literally the size of a chip. It’s tearing up a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter right now and works as a BYOP – or Bring Your Own Peripherals – device.
How Does CHIP Work?
CHIP uses an Open Hardware design. This means anyone can study the device, learn how it works, and modify the design if they want. You can create your own tiny computer.
The computer itself runs a modified version of Debian Linux, which will be familiar and easy-to-use for most Windows users.
The Kickstarter Campaign
The creators of CHIP launched a Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of May, 2015. That Kickstarter campaign had a goal of raising $50,000 in order to buy bulk shipment components from China.
6 days into the project, that Kickstarter campaign has already achieved that goal 20 times over. That’s right: as of writing, the campaign has raised $1,049,230. There are still 24 days to go.
The Kickstarter will close on June 6, 2015. You can pledge $9 (or more, if you want) to buy your own CHIP computer. Other deluxe packages include:
-Pledge $19 or More: Get CHIP and a battery
-Pledge $19 or More: Get CHIP and a VGA adapter
-Pledge $24 or More: Get CHIP and an HDMI adapter
-Pledge $49 or More: Get CHIP and a mobile device called Pocket CHIP (which lets you take CHIP on the go)
Other packages let you get multiple pocket CHIPs or receive a kernel hackers version of the software.
The first copies of CHIP will be released in December 2015 to the first 5,000 backers (all of those fundraising packages are gone).
The remaining CHIP copies will be sent out in January 2016. They’re available to ship anywhere in the world and thousands of backing spots still remain.
What Can You Do With CHIP?
CHIP is surprisingly versatile for a computer the size of a playing card. Here are some of the basic computer tasks you can do with it:
-Connect to other devices over composite, VGA, or HDMI (adapter required)
-Play games with a Bluetooth controller
-Access the internet over Wi-Fi and browse the internet using Chromium
-Run LibreOffice and save documents to CHIP’s onboard storage
-Can be connected to any screen, big or small (provided that screen has a composite, VGA, or HDMI port, which it probably does)
-Specially designed to fit into customized hardware, because the team wants to see what kind of cool stuff the world can make with a $9 computer
-Comes preloaded with an easy-to-learn programming language called Scratch that lets new programmers make “stories, games, and animations” according to the Kickstarter description
-Play new and retro PC games, including DOS games from your childhood
-MIDI keyboard support
-Audio out port (hook it up to speakers to play music on-the-go)
-Surprising number of built-in apps, including the ones you see below and “thousands more”
-A mobile device called Pocket CHIP, which we’ll get into below
Pocket CHIP is a smartphone sized mobile device that comes with a QWERTY physical keyboard, 5 hour battery life, and a 4.3” touchscreen.
You can slide your CHIP computer into the back of the device to access the computer on-the-go.
It also has a 3,000mAh battery, 470×272 resolution screen, and a “rugged injection molded shell”
CHIP Technical Specifications
CHIP is surprisingly powerful. Here’s its main specs:
-512MB of RAM
-4GB of storage space
Sure, that’s far behind most average modern smartphones. But CHIP doesn’t cost $500.
Why is CHIP So Cheap?
The creators of CHIP aren’t the first people to realize that shipping parts from China and putting them together is a great way to make a cheap computer.
In response to this question on Kickstarter, the creators of CHIP offered the following explanation:
“QUANTITY. Our partners at Allwinner worked hard to help us find how to reduce costs, so that we could introduce C.H.I.P. to EVERYBODY. To sell C.H.I.P. for $9, we need to order tens of thousands of chips. By using common, available, and volume-produced processor, memory, and wifi chips, we are able to leverage the scales at which tablet manufacturers operate to get everyone the best price.”
So rest assured that there’s no big “catch” or secret weak spot behind CHIP. They’re not working with some child labor factory in North Korea. It’s just all about quantity, which is why the product needed a Kickstarter campaign to get off the ground.
Look for the first versions of CHIP to get into reviewer’s hands in December 2015.