Remember when the $35 Raspberry Pi mini-computer seemed crazy cheap? Actually that is still a pretty good price for a computer that’s as versatile as the Pi.

But the developers of the CHIP figure there’s room to go lower: they’re running a Kickstarter campaign to bring this computer to market with prices as low as $9 for a basic unit.


Note that the $9 price doesn’t include shipping and it includes only a barebones system with basic features. You’ll need to spend a little more money if you want fancy things like VGA or HDMI adapters (the board itself only has composite video output).

A pledge of $9 will get you one of those basic units, but you’ll need to add $5 for shipping to a US address or $20 for shipping to just about anywhere else. And there’s a limited number of units available at the $9 pledge level.

OK, so what exactly is a CHIP?

It’s a single-board computer with a 1 GHz Allwinner R8 single-core processor based on ARM Cortex-A8 technology. It has 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, 802.11b/g/n WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0 and composite video output.

The system is designed to run Debian Linux and it can run modern desktop apps including LibreOffice, VLC, or the Firefox or Chrome web browsers. Not only does it run free and open source software, but the developers say the hardware schematics, PCB layout, and other details will all be available for anyone to download or modify.

CPU maker Allwinner has a mixed record with the open source community, but the CHIP team says they’ve worked with Allwinner to make sure there’s documentation to make source code for this particular processor available.

The CHIP can be used as a basic desktop computer, but it’s also aimed at developers and has a series of accessible pins which can be used for hardware or software development purposes. There’s also support for accessories such as VGA or HDMI adapters and the developers are also promising a version of the mini-computer that you can use on the go.

It’s called PocketCHIP and it’s a $49 configuration (not including shipping) that adds a 4.3 inch, 470 x 272 pixel resistive touchscreen display, a 3,000 mAh battery, a QWERTY keyboard, and a plastic case.

The developers hope to begin shipping CHIP mini computers in December with accessories including the battery and VGA adapters scheduled to launch in May, 2016. The Pocket CHIP is also scheduled to launch next May.

Want to get early access to one of these little computers? The CHIP team is offering a kernel hackers special with a promise to ship an alpha version of the hardware in September.

Just keep in mind that the $9 CHIP will actually cost $14 to $29 after you factor in the cost of shipping, and you’ll have to pledge $24 to $39 and wait until May to get a model with VGA output (or $5 more for HDMI output).

In other words, this $9 computer could easily end up costing a lot more $9. But it’s still a relatively affordable, versatile little computer.

via Make

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14 replies on “CHIP mini PC runs Debian Linux, costs $9 (sort of)”

  1. the fact that it got wireless and is really cheap makes it a interesting buy. I could care less what screen output it got though. If I buy a few of these, they will function like small, wireless and headless servers around the house in my own “network of things”.

  2. Allright, I’m gonna buy me a CHIP, I can’t wait to try Debian or Lubuntu and see what it does, maybe it will run Xubuntu or Mate Ubuntu too.

  3. I pledged for the basic SOC … I didn’t realize that they gypped you on the HDMI… I mean how tough would it have been to ship it with a Micro-HDMI port? Hopefully I can figure out miracast for debian because the HDMI thing is a total rip..

    1. For $9?
      You’re probably lucky the components are soldered on for $9.

      I counted three places, on the kickstarter page, where they mention the adapters. The video, middle of the page (‘C.H.I.P works with any screen’), and the rewards section at the bottom. Technically four, since there’s the rewards section along the side also.

        1. I’m not sure if you’re trying to be dense, they are not up-converting to HDMI the SOC is capable of using HDMI, but it takes support chips, a connector and board space to pull off. This is not possible for the 9 dollar price point, so the daughter board with the HDMI provides all of this via the connector pins on the side. This explains why those adapters cost upwards to 15 dollars on their own, it’s the cost of the PCB, plus components, and assembly.

          For the price point of 9 dollars, they’ve gone above and beyond to get it at the price. I suspect like others have that this might be subsidized somehow or purely at cost.

        2. I think you’re right. Luckily they’re not converting composite to HDMI.

        3. The adapter isn’t a direct composite-to-HDMI converter. It’s basically a video card that connects to the main board.

          1. OK, thanks I get it now. I finally saw the pic (2/6) of the HDMI and VGA “adapters” as they are so-called. I previously only saw “HDMI and VGA out via adapter” printed directly below “Composite Video” in pic (4/6). Now that I understand the VGA and HDMI ports are on full daughter boards, I think it is a nice little computer. And as swaan pointed out, a good idea which adds flexibility and cost reduction.

    2. I think it great that VGA or HDMI is extra thus making it as cheap as 9$. This means I can order like 5 boards and only one VGA since I won’t be watching 5 screens at the same time anyway. Later I will probably only use ssh and webgui anyway – whats the point of having a VGA/HDMI module when it doesn’t have constant use?

  4. “Not only does it run free and open source software, but the developers say the hardware schematics, PCB layout, and other details will all be available for anyone to download or modify.”

    Which would be great if they weren’t using a CPU from AllWinner, one of the worst offenders in recent history vis-a-vis GPL compliance.

    1. The Kickastarter page states that they have discussed this with AllWinner and they agreed to make sure that EVERYTHING is open-source and well-documented in the case of this processor

      1. I hope that holds when this comes out but I’m skeptical these guys are able to accomplish what more influential people/organizations couldn’t in making AllWinner comply with the GPL.

        1. They’re not making them fix all their licensing bullshit. They’re only asking them to release proper documentation for that one single processor. Nothing more than that. I mean this isn’t so hard… If they don’t comply, those guys won’t buy their processors, simple as that. And since it’s a really massive order (they’re buying thousands of those), AllWinner doesn’t want to lose the deal.

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