Raspberry Pie Zero: Just chill a bit.


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Nov 27, 2015 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

My friend Álvaro Justen showed me yesterday the announcement about the Raspberry PI Zero (hereafter just known as “Zero”), which is selling for 5 USD, and is actually included for free on the MagPI magazine that sells in Great Britain.

I take off my hat (again) to the Raspberry Pi people for creating such a computer at such a low price point, and while they have already manufactured "tens of thousands" of the units, in most cases the Zero was sold out "over night" (or in some cases, even faster).

Everyone hears the words "five dollars" (like "Free Software" or "Free Beer") and they are flabbergasted with the small price for a reasonably powerful computer.  They run to their computers, hunting for the few outlets for the Zero, only to be frustrated by the fact that the “five dollar wonder” has been sold out time and time again. They have forgotten (or never experienced) what it was like to try an "original" RPI in the early days of the "35 dollar wonder". We had to wait weeks for the “originals” to be put into stock, and within hours they were sold out again. Eventually supply caught up with demand and in most countries they were able to be ordered even in large quantities.

Even though the manufacturing line in Wales has manufactured “tens of thousands”, the distribution channels are experiencing the onslaught of millions of owners (dare I say 'fanatics'?) of RPis in various flavors as well as hundreds of manufacturers using RPis in products all wanting to get these new Zeros RIGHT NOW!

Complicating this is the channel's combination of scarcity of supply with trying to make a profit on a sale. On an item of only five dollars and limited quantity, there is probably very little incentive to sell just the Zero without some type of extra “hook”.

There are some retail stores that are selling (or sold) the Zero at the stated price of five dollars. Micro Center, with stores in the United States is selling them for five dollars, but not on-line and “one per family”, which means you may have to travel for an hour or so just to walk into their store at Christmas time and get one Zero.  Getting people to come into the store looking for a Zero is the incentive for the store to sell them.

Other vendors may have sold some “naked zeros”, but that stock is now sold out and the stores are selling the Zero bundled with “budget kits” at 29.95 USD and “starter kits” at 59.95 USD (plus shipping) that include things like a 1A power supply (as if we did not have enough of them), micro-USB to USB type A converters and micro-HDMI to HDMI converters, etc. These are cables not really needed with the older Raspberry Pis or we have accumulated them over the years, but now are forced to buy then if we want the Zero RIGHT NOW!

These items, of course, boost the price of the Zero from five USD to 15 or more USD if you want to get the board RIGHT NOW!. Even a simple case costs about 4 USD more (but of course is out of stock).

Yes, the Zero is small, and thin. It may also use less electricity, since it does not have any type of ETHERNET, WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity on it. For these things you will have to buy a USB “dongle” to provide it, and that will probably be after you have purchased the micro-USB to USB Type A socket for it to plug into.

Even if you want to just use the GPIO pins, you may have to buy the headers (assuming you do not just want to solder wires to the header holes on the board) and that makes the board slightly more expensive.

The Zero does run “40% faster” than the original RPi, but it also retreats back to one-half GB of RAM on the board, which may be o.k. for a single-core CPU.

For those people not lucky enough to be in countries with low shipping costs, the price of shipping a single Zero to your home may be the bulk of the expense. If you are buying fifteen or twenty Zeros, for medium to large-scale educational use, then the shipping costs will go down proportionally with the number of systems bought and it becomes closer to “five dollars” again, but if you are buying that ONE Zero, the shipping cost on a five dollar computer may be more than the computer costs...way more.

For 35 USD you can get a four-core RPI Model 2 with one GB of memory, ETHERNET built in, and a whole row of GPIO headers (optional on the Zero). You will not have to buy all those “micro” converters and extra cables...you already have them. If you only want to see how the Zero will perform, you can build the kernel so it only uses one of the cores and half of the memory of the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. On the other hand if you need the extra memory and processor power you will have it.

In closing, I do not want anyone to construe this column as criticism of the RPi Foundation or their channels. The zero is a great accomplishment, and will end up driving other designs and price drops. Sales of the computers at close to manufacturing price will open up new business models, where the computer may be “free”, but you have to buy that magazine (sold out) or starter kit to get it.

My recommendation? Chill. Wait until the mass hysteria dies down, then order one. You might actually be able to get the Zero for five dollars.

In the meantime, I am going to the refrigerator to have a cold beer...RIGHT NOW!

Carpe Diem!

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