During the PC era in the 1980s, you had to spend $3,000 or more for a computer. Today, you can buy a notebook that’s hundreds of times more powerful than the original IBM PC for well under $400, but many people around the world cannot afford it. A new generation of low-cost tablets, USB-sized computers and miniature motherboards can put an entire world of computing power in the palm of your hand for as little as $25. This is a major step towards equipping students with computers and creating a whole new generation of programmers in developing countries.
Raspberry Pi ($25)
Raspberry Pi flaunts high-performance video and graphics on a single-board computer. It can even run popular video game Quake III and play back full HD video using HDMI. Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer developed in the UK by the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the intention of stimulating the teaching of basic computer science in schools. The Foundation offers two versions, priced at 25 and 35US$.
Aakash 2 ($40)
The Aakash 2 tablet, the improved version of the original Aakash slate, will be updated with the latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system within six to eight weeks after the device is shipped .Aakash 2 is a more ramped up version with a 7-inch capacitive touch screen, a 700 MHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor and a 3200 mAh battery — notably, specs that are almost twice as good as the original project blueprint. It gives users access to the Android Market apps ecosystem. Connection methods include WiFi and GPRS. Picking up this slate will cost you either $40 or $60
VIA APC 8750 ($49)
VIA APC 8750 is the answer to the Raspberry Pi: an ARM-based neo-ITX system running Google’s Android operating system. This tiny, bare-bones PC measures 17 x 8.5 cm and can be plugged directly into a TV or monitor, or stuffed into the undersized chassis of your choice (a standard Mini-ITX or microATX, for instance).
The device runs Google Android 2.3 (for mouse and keyboard input), and is powered by an 800MHz clock processor with 512MB of RAM and 2GB of NAND Flash graphics. You also get VGA and HDMI display ports, HDTV support, four USB 2.0 ports and a microSD slot for expandable storage on the undersized device.
DataWind Ubislate 7 ($60)
Late last year,Indiaannounced a noble project to the world: The country would create the “world’s cheapest tablet computer,” intended for students and offered at the lowered price of $35, and later on in stores for $60. Available as of October 2011, the Aakash — eventually called the Datawind Ubislate 7 on retail availability — features a 366 MHz Connexant CPU, 256 MB of RAM and 2GB of storage (expandable via microSD).
Instead of a capacitive touch screen, however, the tablet has a 7-inch resistive LCD display, runs on the Android 2.2 operating system and has access to the Getjar market instead of the traditional Android Market. Though it notches a rather short battery life of three hours — and even shorter when you’re playing HD video — the endeavor is still an altogether laudable one for a population where most commercial tablets have simply been out of reach.
Mele A1000 ($70)
The Raspberry Pi folks have been getting a lot of attention for their $35 PC with an ARM-based processor and support for some open source software. But as the cost of computer components continues to drop, the Raspberry Pi is hardly the only inexpensive PC capable of running Linux.
The Mele A1000 is a system that sells for $70 and up and which features a number of components that the Raspberry Pi lacks — including a SATA port, a case, and a faster processor. It is an ARM PC that runs Android 2.3 originally, but can be tweaked to run Ubuntu Linux as well. It’s powered by the ARM-based Allwinner A10 chip and a 1.2 GHz Cortex A8 ARM core processor. Graphics-wise, a MALI400MP OpenGL ES 2.0 GPU is onboard, and if you ever get the itch to run apps on a TV, the Mele A1000 can handle this task with aplomb. The device also features an SD card slot and USB ports for additional attachments, along with an external SATA port and Ethernet. Computer tweakers, start using your imagination.
The MK802 is an inexpensive device with an Allwinner A10 processor, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of storage. It looks like a USB flash drive, but it’s basically got all the workings of a tiny computer designed to run Google Android — including a USB port which you can use for a keyboard or mouse and an HDMI port for a TV. The MK802 supports 802.11b/g/n WiFi and has an ARM Cortex-A8 single core processor with support for HD video playback in a variety of formats including MP4, H.264, and WMV.
Intel NUC (>$100)
A diminutive new computer platform has been unveiled by Intel, they call it the “Next Unit of Computing” (NUC). Whether it’s a mini Mac Mini or a big Raspberry Pi depends on your own perspective but it does seem to slot somewhere between those systems in size and pricing. The NUC will feature Thunderbolt connectivity, 2 x mini PCIe headers, 2 x SODIMM slots, HDMI and USB 3.0. Initially, the engine of the NUC will be a SandyBridgei3 or i5 combined with Intel HD 3000 graphics. Without looking at any benchmarks you can see that the NUC will be very powerful compared to the significantly smaller 700MHz Raspberry Pi. The bare board also looks a lot more complicated. When buying a NUC box you will have to pay multiples of the RasPi’s price, a bare NUC is estimated to retail in the region of $100. The first NUC computers are expected in the second half of this year, said to be aimed at kiosks and under TV applications.
Aionol Novo 7 ($120)
Aionol Novo 7 is a $120 Android tablet. The slate features a 1024×600 IPS display, 8GB of Flash memory (expandable up to 16GB via microSD) and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi. Even better, it’s run by a 1.2-GHz ARM Cortex processor and comes dripping in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, so you should be able to watch movies, play popular casual games and surf the Internet with ease — up to its rated battery life of 8 hours, to boot.
With 1080p video playback and infrared remote-control compatibility, the tiny CuBox is crying out for a place in the living room. Unsurprisingly, the typical use for the $135 box is as a media centre or set-top box. But the CuBox, which supports various Linux distributions including Ubuntu and Debian, has more tricks up its sleeve – able to function as a thin-client device, software development platform or as part of network-attached storage setup. The CuBox is no bigger than two inches in any direction and draws no more than three watts of power from its 5V power supply.
Striking a nice balance between price and power, the $149 Beagleboard-xM is the platform of choice for many home-brew electronics and robotics projects. Powered by USB, the BeagleBoard-xM is open-source hardware designed to offer laptop-grade performance and expandability packed into a device just over three inches across.
The board – which supports a range of operating systems including Linux, Risc OS and Windows CE – is suited for use as a low-cost PC or a development platform, with 512MB allowing for software multitasking and compilation of large bundles of code. BeagleBoard can support equipment ranging from sensors to electric motors, making it well suited to controlling electronics and robotics. The devices are being used as a processing unit in projects to develop an autonomous ground vehicle, unmanned aerial vehicles and even a robot postman.
There are many other amazing computers which can give a stiff competition specification wise to those in the top 10 but I have not included them in the top 10 since they are priced a little higher than those in the top 10 list. Now let us have a close look at some of these options.
PandaBoard ES ($180)
Like the Pi but with a bit more grunt under the hood and a higher price tag, the $180 PandaBoard ES is suited to both PC user and developer. The diminutive board is based on an open-source hardware design, and can run several flavours of Linux, such as Ubuntu and the Android OS. Support for a range of add-on boards allows the device to drive motors, run sensors and power LEDs, or anything else an electronics or robotics enthusiast might want to do. Among other things, PandaBoards have been used as media centres streaming 1080p, as control units for robots, as a wearable computer, to run a gesture-control interface, and as a general-purpose Android dev tool. Hobbyists and new users will benefit from the active online community collaborating on PandaBoard projects and sharing tips on its use through wikis, mailings, videos and chat channels.
Cotton Candy ($199)
If you thought the Raspberry Pi was tiny, then check out the Cotton Candy, a computer that fits onto a USB stick. Billed as the smallest computer in the world, the Cotton Candy is designed to be a computer you can carry in your pocket. The $199 Linux-powered machine is simple and only needs a USB port for power and a HDMI-compatible display to operate. It can be plugged into any computer or device with a USB port, hooked to a display and paired with a mouse and keyboard and it’s ready to go. Cotton Candy’s manufacturers describe it as providing a secure way for people to access cloud services and apps on the move.
Gumstix Overo ($115 – $229)
The Overo boards are the chameleons of computing – just as happy controlling a smartphone-sized touchscreen as they are tracking locations via GPS. The Overo are boards that provide the guts of a computer – such as the CPU and memory – and are then mounted on different expansion boards to change their abilities, allowing them to connect to and control different hardware. However, don’t expect them to do everything a computer can out of the box, as they need to be mounted on expansion boards to add abilities such as hooking up to a display or connecting to Ethernet.
The small size and customizable nature of the hardware has led to Gumstix’s use in a wide range of applications – such as helping control mini-satellites and humanoid robots, as well as being clustered into a supercomputer to track botnets online. Ongoing projects are using Gumstixs to develop real-time computer-vision processing in a wearable system and an e-reader with a flexible display. A community provides wikis and how-tos to bring new users up to speed. Gumstix Overo boards range in feature and price – from the $115 Overo Sand to the $229 Overo FE COM – with expansion boards ranging from $27 to $129.