It’s been two years since the Raspberry Pi was first released. It started a little rough due to manufacturing delays, but has ultimately taken the world by storm. It would seem that a $25 computer had a market after all. As time has gone by, one question remained in the back of everyone’s minds; what will the Pi Foundation do next? Well, the hardware team has been looking into more industrial applications for the miniature computer, and has recently announced the Raspberry Pi Compute Module, the power of a Pi on a single SO-DIMM memory card.
At less than half the size of the original Pi, it’s bewildering to think that this is a full computer capable of running a Linux based operating system. However, some things had to be removed, namely, the I/O. This is as bare bones as any system can get. A single chip with a 4GB eMMC flash drive. This is definitely not something the hobbyist can use out of the box.
A number of projects have sprung up over time that made use of the Pi, including a cluster supercomputer and a bitcoin mining array. The first was a teaching instrument for parallel supercomputing, getting people to learn how to distribute processing over multiple computers in a network, and relatively cheaply at that. It’s not fast, but that was never the point. The second example used the Pi as control cards for routing processing to dedicated hashing units. There have been many uses for the computer outside education, but the Pi in its current form has never lent itself well as an embedded device, due in part to the clunky nature of the design (as an owner, the device becomes rather unwieldy due to all the cables coming out of it from different sides).
The Compute Module will now allow for more streamlined installations of the Pi for industrial systems (just don’t plug it in to your laptop). However, to help get people started, an open-hardware breakout board has been announced as well, enabling the use of the Compute Module like a normal Pi, but with extra I/O capabilities. The extra I/O comes as a result of the redesign, since full access to the chip has been achieved since the original design reserved some ports for the on-board header pins, as well as the limited routing space on the PCB.
All other features remain the same, it’s still a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC with 512MB RAM, so we won’t be seeing a memory upgrade, at least not until the Raspberry Pi Foundation release a MK2 (if they ever decide to do so). I guess the ‘Internet of things’ got a little closer, again.