I recently received Next Thing Company’s (NTC’s) $9 computer the C.H.I.P. and I wanted to get a quick look out. This isn’t really a full review but these are my thoughts on the Arduino sized System on a Chip (SoC) computer. This is just for the computer itself and there will be a separate look at the handheld device Pocketchip from the same company.
NTC started a Kickstarter for “The world’s first $9 computer” in May of 2015 and raised over $2 million for this project. While the Raspberry Pi currently dominates the SoC Linux Computer market, Chip was unique for a few reasons.
1.) $9 price tag (which was much more impressive until the $5 R Pi Zero was released)
2.) Wifi and Bluetooth built in.
3.) Four Gigabytes of storage on board so there is no need for an SD card.
4.) AV Jack output, that’s right-the old school Yellow, Red, and White hookup. You can buy shields for HDMI or VGA but I bought this specifically to use with an old flat screen TV as the monitor.
I did not get in on the initial KS campaign but I did preorder in the Black Friday $8 deal at getchip.com. NTC took my money in November 2015 and I did not see my computer for 8 months. They did a pretty good job of explaining the hangups along the way but I’m glad I wasn’t planning on using this for a specific job as I would have been out of luck. NTC seems like they would be a cool bunch to hang out with but I think they are better at tinkering and having fun than developing a mass market product. Things like using a banana for scale in their promotional pictures and having a Doge sticker as a quality assurance label show that NTC is either really into internet culture or trying hard to convince you they are.
When I purchased the listing said “power and AV cables sold separately. Case not included” so I purchased the add on AV Jacks and a plastic base cover. However my Chip came with both so I have an extra case and set of AV Cables. NTC may have included them because of the delay, who knows.
That said using this thing is awesome. Adding a wireless mouse and keyboard turns my old flat screen into a Linux computer in a way that I couldn’t do with an HDMI device like Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, or Rasberry Pi. Now those devices all have a better resolution than my little Chip here but all of them cost 3x as much. It works great for low resource computing. Office type applications, SSH, and even some light games all run well and I have the power of the Linux command line.
The other interesting element to the Chip is (like the Raspberry Pi) access to general purpose In/Out (GPIO) Pins. These pins allow you to interact the Chip to the outside world much like an Arduino. You will need to learn some Python but NTC is working really hard to build a community around this product. It also helps that a lot of things that work on the Raspberry Pi will also work on the Chip’s Allwinner R8 processor. I’m very excited and can’t wait to find a project for my Chip.