The Raspberry Pi is a dirt cheap mini-computer with a Broadcom BCM2835 700 MHz ARM11 with Broadcom VideoCore graphics. A basic model with 2 USB ports, HDMI and Ethernet sells for about $35, and the developers plan to offer an even cheaper $25 model without Ethernet soon.
While the processor isn’t very powerful, the Broadcom graphics chip can handle 1080p HD video playback. That means that in addition to using the Raspberry Pi as a basic computer for running a desktop Linux operating system, a controller for an automated system or other simple tasks, the Pi also makes a halfway decent media center or video game console (as long as you’re cool with playing older games).
But there are limits to what you can do with the Broadcom graphics card right now, because while the Raspberry Pi runs open source software, the graphics drivers are based on proprietary, closed source code.
That could be about to change.
Update: It’s official. Open source graphics code is now available.
Independent developers have been working on creating their own open source drivers for the Raspberry Pi for a while, with limited success. Now the folks at Phoronix are suggesting that a major announcement is coming soon.
It’s not clear at the moment whether this announcement will come from the independent developer community or from Broadcom. I have a source suggesting it’s the latter. But either way, if open source drivers that can take advantage of the Rasperry Pi’s graphics core are released, it could spur all sorts of new development.
For instance, it opens the door to a hardware-accelerated X server which could significantly boost overall performance and responsiveness of desktop Linux operating systems such as Debian and Fedora. Right now you can run them on the Raspberry Pi, but they’re kind of sluggish. Once Linux developers have access to the full source code for the Broadcom chip drivers, that could change.