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Yet again, the Raspberry Pi foundation has surprised the world. They just announced the Raspberry Pi Zero. But don’t let the name fool you. It’s essentially a cut-down Raspberry Pi, with a price tag to match: each one costs a mere $5. And no, that isn’t a typo.

So, is it any good? What can it do? What compromises were made in order to get it at such a low price point. And more importantly, how can you get one? Read on to find out all these things, and more.

What’s Inside?

Although there are some pretty significant differences compared to the mainstream Raspberry Pi lineup, it feels deeply familiar.

In terms of cold hard specifications, there’s very little that stands out compared to earlier models. It comes soldered with 512MB of RAM, plus a slightly wheezy 1Ghz ARM CPU and 40 GPIO (General-Purpose Input Output) Getting Started With GPIO On a Raspberry Pi Getting Started With GPIO On a Raspberry Pi If you though the Arduino was cool, just wait till you get your hands on a Raspberry Pi - these things are amazing. As well as being a fully functional computer, they also have a... Read More ports. It can run Scratch and Minecraft, and it supports a broad church of Linux distributions, including Fedora, NOOBS (a beginner-oriented Linux distro How NOOBS For Raspberry Pi Can Help First Time Users How NOOBS For Raspberry Pi Can Help First Time Users There is something about the Raspberry Pi that might just put people off: until now, setting it up has not been particularly user friendly. NOOBS aims to change that! Read More ), and the Raspberry Pi fan favorite, Raspbian. It’s even made in the same factory as the Raspberry Pi B+ and Raspberry Pi 2 in Bridgend, Wales.

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This is very much a Raspberry Pi at its core. But there’s some really major differences that set it apart. I’m not just talking about its diminutive price either, although that in itself is groundbreaking.

Admittedly a little bit obvious, it’s worth stressing how unfathomably tiny the Raspberry Pi Zero is. It measures 30mm (3cm) by 65mm (6.5cm), making it roughly the same size as a box of matches. It’s hard to believe that a fully Linux-capable machine can occupy such a small physical footprint.

Despite that, it’s compatible with most Raspberry Pi-based Internet of Things What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is The Internet Of Things & How Will It Affect Our Future [MakeUseOf Explains] It seems like there are new buzzwords popping up and dying off with each day that passes us by, and "the Internet of Things" just happens to be one of the more recent ideas that... Read More (IoT) projects. Make Magazine tested it with their pirate radio station project, and it worked with a minimum of changes.

Of course, it goes without saying that a number of compromises were made in order to make the Raspberry Pi Zero so small, and so affordable.

What’s Missing?

Perhaps the most conspicuous absences are the lack of wired networking and analog audio-out. If you want to get online, you’re going to need to connect a USB Wi-Fi dongle over the built-in MicroUSB connection. Similarly, if you’ve got any hopes of listening to music on your Raspberry Pi Zero, you’ll need to pipe it through the mini-HDMI port. This means your monitor will need to have built-in speakers.

The official Raspberry Pi store sells a bundle that consists of a mini-HDMI and MicroUSB adaptor. This will set you back £4, or about $7. Although you can just as easily get each of these products on Amazon individually for roughly the same price, give or take a few dollars.

But these are minor inconveniences. Especially when you put them next to the decision to use the Broadcom BCM2835 processor.

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This is the same processor that shipped with every model before the Raspberry Pi 2 5 Things Only a Raspberry Pi 2 Can Do 5 Things Only a Raspberry Pi 2 Can Do The latest edition of the pint-sized computer is awesome. So awesome, in fact, that there's 5 things you can only do on a Raspberry Pi 2. Read More , although it’s clocked at 1Ghz, rather than 700Mhz. The Achilles heel of this processor is that it uses the same tired ARMv6 instruction set, which is only supported on a handful of Linux distributions. Ubuntu, unfortunately, is not one of them. It also means that it can’t run Microsoft’s Windows 10 for IoT Core Windows 10 - Coming to an Arduino Near You? Windows 10 - Coming to an Arduino Near You? Read More .

Are There Any Competitors?

I’m calling it: the Raspberry Pi Zero is almost certainly the cheapest Linux computer on the planet. That said, there are similarly low-priced alternatives that are equally worthy of consideration.

Perhaps the most obvious one is the CHIP computer, which bills itself as the world’s first $9 Linux Computer.

The CHIP was a kickstarter phenomenon 5 Of The Most Successful Kickstarter Projects Ever 5 Of The Most Successful Kickstarter Projects Ever Kickstarter has undoubtedly changed the world, enabling regular Joes to fund development and production for creative projects that interest them. while helping the creative types bypass the typical venture capitalists, costly bank loans, or soul-destroying... Read More , raising $2,000,000 over the course of just one month. It shares a lot of similarities with the Raspberry Pi Zero, measuring 40mm (4cm) by 60mm (6cm), and boasts similar specs, packing in a 1Ghz Allwinner CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of internal storage. Unlike the Pi Zero, it comes with built-in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, making it a much more attractive proposition for those looking for a day-to-day computer.

If you plan to use the Raspberry Pi Zero to teach coding or in a classroom environment, you owe it to yourself to check out the BBC’s MicroBit.

This diminutive computer distinctly resembles the form factor of the Raspberry Pi Zero. It comes with oodles of GPIO, and support for the Python programming language, although it’s by no means a general purpose computing platform. The only apps it supports are the ones written for it by the user. Each Year 7 pupil in the UK will be given one for free, before they’re eventually available for purchase by the general public. When it’s released, it’ll likely compete with the Raspberry Pi Zero on price, although definitely not on features.

This is to say nothing of the startling number of single-board Linux computers on the market right now – from the PandaBoard, to the Banana Pi, and the ODROID. But none of these are nearly as affordable as the Raspberry Pi Zero. This piece of kit really is in a class of its own.

Where to Get One

You shouldn’t have much trouble getting your hands on a Raspberry Pi Zero. In the UK, it’s available to purchase from element14, The Pi Hut, and Pimoroni. If you live in the US, you can get one from Adafruit and the Micro Center.

Better yet, if you live in the UK, you can get a free unit with the December edition of The MagPi, available in stores right now. You heard me right. A free computer with a magazine.

Will You Get One?

The Raspberry Pi Zero is a compelling piece of kit, and offers a lot of bang for your (five) bucks. But do you plan to get one? Let me know in the comments below, and we’ll chat.

Photo Credits: Raspberry Pi Zero GPIO Soldering Project (Gareth Halfacre)Raspberry Pi Zero GPIO Soldering Project (Gareth Halfacre)

  1. David
    November 30, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    They are sold out.

  2. David
    November 28, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    So far, no. I found it annoying that Micro Center appears to be a "pick it up" in the local store only place, no shipping offered. And there is only one in California.....

    Adafruit only offers kits, I do not need all of the adapters etc, there are no single boards for sale, and now they are sold out on the kits anyway, so I guess I will have to wait until they are on amazon or ebay for the board only.

    • David
      November 28, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      I stand corrected, Adafruit does have the single board only, it just seems that all of the links I was following sent me to the page with the kits. Either way the single unit is sold out as well...

    • Matthew Hughes
      November 30, 2015 at 5:53 pm

      Hey David!

      Did you manage to pick one up in the end?

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