12 years ago today, the Raspberry Pi made SBCs more accessible to everyone

Key Takeaways

  • The Raspberry Pi took six years to develop, starting from Ebon Upton’s idea to inspire coding in kids.
  • The popular SBC was in high demand even before its release, with eBay auctions raising £16K.
  • The Raspberry Pi revolutionized the SBC industry, with competitors unable to match the value it offers.



Single-board computers (SBCs) have been around since the early days of computing, with Intel’s 8-bit C8080A being one of the first. While they weren’t meant to replace high-powered PCs, these miniature systems were extensively used in embedded systems.

For the longest time, SBCs were only used by scientists and engineers and were too complex for the average user. However, the release of the original Raspberry Pi on February 29, 2012, brought a paradigm shift in the SBC industry. With today marking the 12th anniversary of the Raspberry Pi Model B’s release, we take a look back at the events that led to the device’s creation.


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The Raspberry Pi was in development for six years

Though the end result was worth the long wait

The original Raspberry Pi Model B

Although the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B wasn’t released until 2012, the story of the device’s inception dates back to the year 2006. Ebon Upton, Director of Studies in Computer Science at the University of Cambridge, was bothered by the lack of admissions in the CS branch. Having spent his childhood with the 8-bit BBC Micro desktop, Ebon felt that creating an inexpensive computer could inspire the younger generation to develop an interest in coding.


After bouncing off the idea to several colleagues, he assembled a team of experts under the Raspberry Pi Foundation banner and spent the next six years working on the product. While the first sets of prototypes were inspired by the Atmel ATmega644 microcontroller, the final product turned out to be quite different.

The Raspberry Pi’s popularity skyrocketed before its release

The alpha-release boards fetched over £16,000 in an auction

An original Raspberry Pi Model B

By August 2011, the team had created the first set of alpha boards, and these SBCs were capable of running Quake 3 and HD videos in addition to supporting the Debian distribution. The following year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation put ten of the alpha-release units up for auction on eBay.


Within days, the team had raised more than £16,000. By the time of its official release, the Raspberry Pi had become so popular that the company’s servers couldn’t keep up with the heavy traffic. The Raspberry Pi had a lot riding on its shoulders, and the Raspberry Pi Model B surpassed all expectations when it hit the shelves on February 29, 2012.

A slew of software updates followed the RPi’s successful launch

The Raspberry Pi Foundation wasted no time capitalizing on the success of the SBC

A Raspberry Pi 5 with a keyboard and mouse plugged in, with the monitor displaying the Raspberry Pi OS desktop


Priced at $35, the miniature system was armed with an ARM11 CPU clocked at 700MHz and 256MB of memory. The first batch of the RPi Model B boards was quickly sold out at retailers Premier Farnell and RS Components, with both stores experiencing server issues due to a huge onslaught of visitors who wanted to get first dibs on the SBCs. To keep up with the growing demand for their innovative credit card-sized computer, the Raspberry Pi Foundation began increasing the number of RPi units produced in a day.

In July 2012, the highly customizable Raspbian OS was released, which turned out to be one of the best additions to the ecosystem. Videos of users creating unique projects with the Raspberry Pi began flooding the Internet, which served as free marketing for the device. Within months, the Raspberry Pi community had grown exponentially. In roughly twenty months of its release, more than a million units of the device were produced by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Clearly, there was no stopping the Raspberry Pi revolution!


Raspberry Pi Model B

CPU

ARM 11 (700MHz)

GPU

Dual Core VideoCore IV

RAM

256MB (up to 512MB) SDRAM

Ports

2x USB 2.0, Ethernet jack, HDMI port, Camera Connector, 3.5mm audio jack, GPIO connector, DSI port

Power

Micro USB port (5V, 1.2A)

Starting price

$35

The emergence of Pi-flavored rivals

But none could best the original


The meteoric rise of the Raspberry Pi resulted in other companies attempting to replicate the Raspberry Pi formula and coming up with their own SBCs named after fruits. In 2013, Orange Pi released an SBC to rival the Raspberry Pi series. Likewise, another company called Sinovoip began producing the Banana Pi boards in 2014. Soon, the Nano Pi and Pine64 boards started making the rounds, bringing more competition to the Raspberry Pi SBCs.

Meanwhile, the Raspberry Pi Foundation continued to release new Raspberry Pi devices. In 2014, the company announced the B+ and A+ variants of the original RPi. The following year, the firm unveiled the successor to the original Pi, which was a step-up in terms of CPU and memory. Once the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the $10 RPi Zero board in 2015, it became clear that no competitors could offer better-value SBCs than the Raspberry-flavored computers.


Raspberry Pi’s over the years

In addition to hardware revisions, the RPi series has undergone plenty of changes since its inception 12 years ago, though not all of them were welcome additions.

The price of these boards, for one, has crept up, with the latest Raspberry Pi 5 costing as much as $60 for the base model. Factor in the price of a decent SD card and the uber-important Active Cooler, the newest Raspberry Pi is a far cry from the affordable older models. Then there’s the issue of limited availability, exacerbated by the low production capacity and high interest in these boards. Nevertheless, the Raspberry Pi has remained the dominating SBC lineup throughout these years.


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