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CHIP vs Raspberry Pi 2: how the low-cost computers compare

Barry Collins
11 May 2015
CHIP
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Find out how the $9 CHIP and the Raspberry Pi 2 really stack up

Having been the low-cost computer of choice for a few years, the Raspberry Pi is suddenly facing some even more cut-price competition from the US. CHIP - a barebones board similar to that of the Raspberry Pi - has been launched as a Kickstarter project in the US, starting at the stupidly low price of $9 (just over a fiver in real money).

Is CHIP really the "Raspberry Pi killer" that some over-excitable tech sites are already claiming? We've dived into the specs of the two devices to find out how they compare. 

Raw specification 

The base specification of the $9 CHIP certainly compares well to that of the Raspberry Pi. It has a 1GHz processor based on the ARM Cortex-A8 core, whilst the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B has a 900MHz quad-core processor based on the previous generation Cortex-A7 design. However, the CHIP only offers half the memory of the new Raspberry Pi: 512MB compared to the 1GB on the British-designed board.

Unlike the Raspberry Pi 2, the CHIP also offers two wireless radios: an 802.11bgn Wi-Fi chip and Bluetooth 4. You have to buy additional adapters if you want wireless capability on the Pi. 

Storage 

The two devices take a different approach to storage. The CHIP comes with 4GB of onboard storage, whilst the Raspberry Pi offers a Micro SD slot that allows users to add their own (at additional cost). If you want to upgrade the storage on the CHIP, you'll need to be handy with a soldering iron. "The components are soldered on and not intended to be swapped out," says an FAQ on CHIP's Kickstarter page, asking if storage can be upgraded. "If you really like reworking small BGA and fine pitch components, though, we won't stop you."

The Raspberry Pi approach does offer greater flexibility, as you can store different operating systems on different cards, and simply pop a new card in the Micro SD to boot into a completely different environment. You might, for example, have a media centre set-up using Ubuntu Mate on one card, and a programming set-up using the base Raspbian OS on another. 

Ports and expandability 

The Raspberry Pi wins hands down when it comes to the number of ports it offers. It has four USB ports, a full-sized HDMI port, an Ethernet port (to provide networking capability) and a 3.5mm combined audio jack and composite video. There's also 40 GPIO pins for those who want to add extra sensors and other hardware, plus both camera and display interfaces. 

The CHIP is much more limited. It has a single USB port, eight GPIO pins, and a camera interface. CHIP has a composite video output, but if you want HDMI or VGA output you'll require a separate adapter, pushing the price up to $19 (VGA) or $24 (HDMI).

However, one extra worth noting is that CHIP comes with a fully integrated battery power circuit, meaning you can connect a 3.7v LIPO battery device and use it for mobile or outdoor applications right away, rather than having to buy different adapters.  

When it comes to expandability, we should also mention Pocket CHIP - a $40 add-on that effectively turns the CHIP into a PDA (haven't heard that phrase for a while, have you?). The Pocket CHIP has a 4.3in 470 x 272 resistive touchscreen, a QWERTY keyboard and 3,000 mAH battery that delivers around five hours of battery life, according to its makers. The CHIP itself pops into a hatch in the back of the Pocket CHIP.  There's a hole in the bottom-right corner through which you can thread a pencil, forming a low-tech kickstand!

Availability and shipping

The Raspberry Pi 2 is available now for just shy of £30, including delivery, from supplier Farnell and others. The CHIP has an estimated delivery date of December 2015 on its Kickstarter page, although another timeline on the site suggests backer fulfilment won't take place until May next year. Confusing. 

Although prices for the bare board start from $9, shipping from the US to the UK adds another $20 to the bill - more than twice the cost of the board itself! In its FAQ, CHIP agrees that international shipping is too expensive, adding "Several shipping brokers have reached out to us, and we are hoping to get a better sense of our options for safe, trackable, international shipping soon". 

 

 

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