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Raspberry Pi Announces  Computer: Model Zero
”https://youtu.be/o5vQGd-jZSQ”

Today, Raspberry Pi announced its newest model, the Zero. Costing just $5, it represents a vast decrease in price that should afford more people the opportunity to use computers than ever before. Considerably smaller than the common Raspberry Pi model B, Pi Zero operates at 1GHz with 512MB of RAM, making it about 40–60% faster according to Raspberry Pi Foundation CEO Eben Upton.

[What can you do with a computer this small and cheap? We made Pirate Radio Throwies out of ours.]

Photo: Hep Svadja
Photography by Hep Svadja

Until now the Raspberry Pi Foundation did not have an ultra low cost board that delivered competitive specifications. Instead, the foundation has relied on an enormous user community, supported by millions of users who contribute software development skills, generate original Pi projects, and help educate others on how to use the boards. With self-reported sales of 250,000 Pi boards per month, adding the Pi Zero to the lineup will only increase the foundation’s popularity.

Photo: Hep Svadja

Specifications Cheat Sheet

  • Processor: 1GHz Broadcomm BCM2835
  • Memory: 512MB of RAM
  • Storage: a user-supplied microSD
  • GPIO: 26/40 unpopulated through-holes
  • USB ports:
    • USB On-the-Go (OTG)
    • Micro USB
  • Vido Output:
    • Composite video is available from 2 unpopulated pins labeled TV
    • HDMI video is available from a mini HDMI port

Design Changes

Smaller than any previous Raspberry Pi at 30mm×65mm and only 6mm tall — the new form factor designed by Pi Foundation engineer Mike Stimson is in part due to the reduction of components. The board lacks both ethernet and composite video ports, the HDMI connector shrank from a standard size to an HDMI micro connector, and two micro USB connectors replace the standard size USB ports on the original Pi. Gone too are plastic CSI and DSI connectors for camera and display wiring. Fewer components means lower cost.

The Pi Zero has no components on one side. Photo: Hep Svadja
The Pi Zero has no components on one side.

Further helping to reduce cost is the single-side board design. This means that components are only installed on one side of the board, which lessens the cost of manufacturing each unit.

Direction of Innovation

Upton credits a 2013 conversation with Google’s Eric Schmidt for changing the Foundation’s approach to hardware development. At the time, Upton and team were working on a more powerful Pi that would cost between $50 and $60. Upon learning this, Schmidt argued that it was the wrong approach. Instead, he believed the Foundation ought to work on making cheaper solutions, and focus on getting more boards in the hands of more people.

“The temptation for a technologist if you’re designing for yourself is to push the price up and push the features up,” Upton admits. But ultimately Schmidt’s advice won him over. The Foundation scrapped the idea of the expensive board and set out to design the $35 Raspberry Pi 2, and eventually, the $5 Zero.

Photo: Hep Svadja

Lineage of Affordable Pis

The Raspberry Pi A+ was the first example of this new approach to building lower cost hardware. By reducing the feature set on the board, the foundation lowered the price from $35 to $20. And with the lower cost, more people could try out the product.

Building the $35 more powerful Raspberry Pi 2 proved to be more challenging. The team took a little more than two years to develop the board Schmidt encouraged. The result, though, was certainly worth it. The Pi 2 was the first multicore board from the foundation, and provides users with a much faster, more powerful system. While the board took longer to develop than the more expensive design, reorienting their engineering to lower cost was a worthwhile endeavor.

Open Source Community

Upton also acknowledges the enormous work done by the open source software community, which has made the Raspberry Pi an attractive platform. He estimates that the community has given around 1,000 years of software development time improving the software experience. The community is sure to expand thanks to the new, inexpensive, powerful Pi Zero.

Here at Make: we’ve already started to work on new projects using the Pi Zero. And since the hardware is nearly 100% compatible with previous Pi boards, it only took a bit of command line hacking to get our Pirate Radio project ported to the Zero. (Stay tuned for our full project build, and see the original here.) Most importantly, we want to know what you will make with the new, smaller, and cheaper Raspberry Pi Zero: Tell us in the comments below.

68 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi Announces $5 Computer: Model Zero

      1. Oh wow, I didn’t know about that one. I won’t say it’s the most straightforward, but a very useful one for sure!

        1. We used to download Slackware over far less than that. It’s plenty enough for a lot of applications.

        1. WiFi dongle is much cheaper from eBay. And delivery of CHIP to many EU countries is prohibitively expensive. The only good thing about CHIP is mainline Allwinner support in Debian.

        1. I agree with you that it’s not for 1 USB device, but it’s fairly standard for any server-like use of RPi (you need to add a hub just to be able to plug the 2.5″ HDD).

  1. I would like to see a version of raspberry pi with wifi and pmic integrated to the board, especially if this version is intended to be used in wearable projects.

    1. In my view, a more appropriate technology for wearables than WiFi would be Zigbee – or any mesh network technology. Much lower power requirements. Which really goes to show – you need to separate that aspect so you can add whichever one appeals to you.

      1. For what reason you want to use a mesh on a personal area network? For me the biggest problem on use a zigbee device on wearables is there is no customer devices which support to this network, maybe ble it’s a better choice

        1. Mesh for multiple devices – or for multiple people in a space wearing the same device (organized sports). My understanding of the latest BT spec is that the same devices can support zigbee and ble.

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  2. This is dumb without wifi. It isn’t a computer without WiFi. It’s useless. You can’t use this without adding a wifi adapter which is inevitably needed. It really is a Zero.

    1. I expect lots of tasks don’t need any sort of wifi and since it has 2 USB ports you could still wire it up to wifi, or LAN, or bluetooth, or IR if you wanted. And for $5 it’s hardly worth the complaining.

      1. The problem is it’s practically useless without extra peripherals. It badly needs *some* kind of network connectivity – Ethernet, Wifi, Bluetooth even old-fashioned RS232 would work. You want to connect? Need micro->A USB converter and the dongle, you occupy your only USB port and you just about doubled the size of your device. Want to add something else over USB? Even an RS232 converter to even log into the console to configure the network? Need a powered USB hub, and a power supply for it, the RPi becoming small in comparison with the “infrastructure”.

        I agree; HDMI should have been left as pads on the board to solder it in if you need it, but give two genuine USB ports (with nominal power output), or a Wifi, or Ethernet.

        BTW, I absolutely won’t complain about lack of SD card. I can get them locally without shipping costs, and I can get one of the size I need, instead of depending on what Adafruit sends me; preparing a boot card is trivial anyway.

        1. I think this baby’s niche is not what you are looking for. If you want networking, go with the B, B+ or 2. Or any of them for other peripherals.

          I see the zero as fantastic for embedded headless control – drones, balloons, rockets etc, where weight and power are crucial, and networking is esoteric.

          1. Outdoors any wifi works to about 100m .. but that aside .. you are telling me that HDMI is more important than WiFi? Your drone has a LCD duct taped to it?

          2. I don’t think the HDMI port will draw much in the way of power, especially if my code never draws anything. I suspect it is needed because it would be hard to do some initialization to initially purpose the Pi without it. And I could always desolder that it I wanted to save the weight.

            For radio, the ranges I would want are really in the kilometer range, even 10s of km. But there are a great variety of radios that could be considered, and WiFi is only really suitable to purpose this as a PC or similar high bandwidth short range function, which I think is better covered by any of the other Pis than the zero.

          3. Then why HDMI?? And Arduino is really a better fit for these. You really don’t want the control software on your amateur rocket to stumble for half a second because a Cron job of cleanup of the man database started and stalled all SD access. RPiZ has a schizophrenia problem. In one hand it tries very hard to jump into Arduino place. On the other hand it still tries to remain a tiny PC and sacrifices functionalities useful for a “big, clever microcontroller” it tries to be, in favor of ones of a “media center PC”. It would do much better if it gave up on all its audio/video hardware and tried harder at headless functionality.

          4. I am thinking fm antenna and whspr net for rocket or balloon. And the Pi would be for video recording and transmitting and other applications specifically suited to pi.

            Anyone who runs cron (or any other unnecessary background process) would of course be looking for trouble.

            This is not an either or situation. The small footprint makes possible combinations such as a teensie plus pi0.

          1. When you add WiFi to this thing it will cost way more than $9 assuming it could even power the wifi without experiencing reliability issues.

        1. C.H.I.P. is $24 with an HDMI adapter. Also, if you read the article you see that being more powerful isn’t the goal of the model zero.

      1. Yes, you’right. But given that a PC nowadays is not a PC unless it has at least a hard disk and wireless connection …saying that this is a 5$ PC …but then you have a to buy sd and wireless is like saying that a car is 500$ but it’s sold without engine ;)

        1. I’ve purchased brand-new PCs without hard drives. Then I added the one I already had.

          I’m sure you have a spare SD card laying around…

        2. You are missing the point entirely. The Raspberry Pi was never marketed as a “PC”. It has always been sold as a single board computer (SBC). If you want for former, go to PC World. Please dont spread misinformation about things you clearly dont understand.

          The Raspberry Pi, in any of its forms, is for hobbyists, programmers and people that just want to learn. The way computing used to be before Windows took over.

          Who cares if it doesnt have wifi on board? You adapt it to fit your particular project. Need wifi? Plug in a dongle. Want a bigger hard drive, insert a larger micro sd card.

          The point of the raspberry pi is that it is cheap enough for anyone to buy and learn from. Start adding other things to the board, just because you dont like that they are not included, and the price shoots up to “normal” motherboard prices.

          Are you honestly telling me that you dont have a micro sd card lying around unused somewhere in your house?

          I think your problem is you believe this is a computer, the likes of which you probably already own. Its about as far from that as you get.

          Personally Im glad you dont understand it as it means you wont buy one, realise you cant play call of duty on it and throw it away. It means that someone who will actually enjoy using it will buy it instead.

          1. Hi Ian

            What I wrote is just my point of view – and I am totally ready to say that may be right or wrong ..and it actually may be wrong.

            My point of view is that for what I do (PC, SBC, call-it-whatever-you-want), a hardware without wifi and sd (sd? yes I ve two but they are used by camera and phone, not free as cookies for breakfast …you have a spare SD home? you didn’t buy at some point in your life? ;) ) is not very useful – and a lot of people is pointing it out if you notice..

            Then yes, I think that not binding anybody to a type of connection (BLE, wifi) is a good strategy, because honestly I dont know which kind of connection I would like to have.

            Anyway thank you, honestly, for claryfing me your points, they are very interesting and I learn from them … but don’t get angry without reason and don’t use polemic tenses (such as “I think your problem is” and all the over stuff).. because a) we’re close to Christmas, relax! :P b) if you want people to learn from what you know and think, you must not shoot at them, but hold out your hand and take them to your path ;)

            Thanks
            Matteo

  3. $5? How can they afford it? How can resellers make any money on this? This is bad for the industry. Sure it will increase popularity of RPi, make cheap and fast MCU board available to thousands, but it may have negative impact on the dev board market. I think they should set the price at $10

    1. Well you obviously have no idea how retail pricing works. $5 is the retail price. This means it will cost the foundation no more than $1.50 to manufacture. retailers buy it at around $3 & hence make $2 profit per board. One online retailer is already sold out after only a day, selling probably 5-10,000 boards. Thats $10-20,000 in a single day, not something to be sniffed at.

      Its also worth it for the retailers as buyers usually get more than just the board from them and often end up repeat customers too.

      1. I do have an idea. I just don’t think it costs $1.50 to make one. And if it does, then I wonder about quality of the silicon.

        Let’s hope other companies can match this price (I would love to see $10 BBBmini.) Such low price could eliminate competition (due to low profit margins) and we will get stuck with RPi forever.

      2. The way Raspberry Pi has worked in the past is that retailer don’t make money off it, at least not a significant amount. Instead the retailers make money off selling accessories, etc.

    2. Their aim is (and has always been) to drive the price for entry-level computing down into the ground. They want anybody and everybody to be able to afford these.

      At the end of the day it’s still only a 1GHz ARMv6 chip, without onboard network. It’s going to be GREAT for throwaway projects but for more serious stuff, the Raspi2 and other boards are still going to have a place.

      If anything, this is just going to draw more people into the market for arm boards. Sure this is going to cannibalise a lot of sales from them, but they need to compete. This is being made in Wales. If you can’t pump something like this out in China for half the price, you’re probably doing something wrong.

    3. It doesn’t have wifi. Have you checked the price of the cheapest USB wifi plus a USB to micro USB adapter — total price is easily $20. Not including the SD card and any other sensors or peripherals your project will need.

  4. It looks awesome, and I’m excited, though I would really love to see analog audio output… even if it were just two or three holes to solder on your own jack. It should be possible to get audio out via HDMI conversion, USB, or using two pins and some extra components, but still…

  5. A truly anonymous pc to log in at those free internet locations in your area. Use a WiFi doggal to connect. A seven in touch display and even windows 10. Battery operated and rechargable from the car. All can be bought online and assembled. Use outside of your local library or internet cafe. Even McDonalds has free internet.Flash drives can be filled with downloads, ( movies Music apps ect ) Add a camera and have a handy spycam. Not the smallest but with a little imagination it can be put into something innocent looking. Here’s the tool. now start thinking.

  6. ??? $5? Hardly! Prices are $14 (plus shipping + Tax + VAT/Duty) or $24 (same plus amounts). How are you seeing this for $5 anywhere?!!!

    1. MCM preorder for 13.50 bundled with HDMI and USB adapters. I don’t think they are making out like bandits with the adapters, and I expect to see this available stand alone after the initial rush has died down.

  7. The Foundation did shock the world then a few days later the world was shocked again to discover that inventory had run out with one of the US suppliers!

    The Zero is a great device. It continues to be a fully functional Linux computer, just add keyboard and monitor. Pros is that it now supports composite. Not a great pro, but at least there is now an option besides HDMI. As the video says, it will basically do everything that the Pi 2B will do, albeit a bit slower, but as long as the processor is not taxed, this tiny inconvenience is tolerable.

    As with all in life, there are a few gotchas which makes the bare bone price of $5 seem out of reach. If the Zero will be used for development, or as general purpose PC then it will most likely need adapters, as has been already mentioned here. The Zero has no connectivity options, so that is a must on the items-to-get list.

    It will need a power supply, add a few more US dollars more. As it is made practical, its cost skyrockets to easily 5 times its original value, not counting keyboard and mouse.

    The Zero is a worthy successor to the Pi lineage, but this does not make the Pi 2B any less desirable. It is just necessary to carefully weigh in both options taking into account usage and configuration to make sure that whichever model we purchase we know its benefits and its cost.

  8. I have a question about this tiny computers. I worked in ICT for Development, and I am curious if it could handle an operative system and a browser. I m thinking over a personal project about learning and education in remote areas, I would like to use tiny computers capable of visualizations in JS. I also wonder which projects in ICT for Devleopment are using Raspberry.

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I love to tinker and write about electronics. My days are spent building projects and working as a Technical Editor for MAKE.

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