Developer (and former HackADay editor) Brian Benchoff has designed what he’s calling a “minimum viable computer.” It’s a Linux-ready computer that’s small enough to slide into your pocket, and which could be made from about $15 worth of parts… theoretically.
In practice, that price doesn’t reflect assembly and shipping costs and you’d need to order enough parts for around 10,000 units in order to bring the costs that low. But Benchoff says he does eventually “plan to make this thing available.”
That could mean that a crowdfunding campaign is on the way, or some other effort to actually make it possible to make the economies of scale work so that this little computer could actually be sold for less than the price of a crappy pre-paid phone.
For now, you can find more details about the design and parts list at Benchoff’s GitHub page. Specs for the latest design include:
- 2.3 inch, 320 x 240 pixel non-touch display
- 533 MHz Allwinner F1C100s ARM9 processor
- 32MB DDR memory
- microSD card reader & 64GB card for storage
- 48-key keyboard with TV remote-like silicone membrane
- USB 2.0 Type-A port (data)
- USB Type-C port (for 500 mA charging only)
- 2 x AAA NiMH rechargable batteries
There’s also a custom printed circuit board, enclosure, and some other odds and ends which bring the total cost for materials to $14.16 at current prices when you order 1,000 units of each part. Benchoff notes that even with supply chain shortages, every component in the bill of materials is currently available.
With pretty barebones specs, no touch or mouse input, and no wireless capabilities, the little computer isn’t exactly designed as a modern smartphone or laptop replacement. Benchoff doesn’t even plan to code a graphical user interface for the little computer. But it can run DOOM, like most things. And you could program it to perform a variety of functions – it could be used as a multi-factor authentication device or a crypto wallet, for example.
It’s also possible some specs could change before the computer is produced – a larger display and bigger keyboard would go a long way toward improving usability, for example. But since the schematics, design files, and software will all be open source, folks who want to customize their own may also have the opportunity.