$35 Raspberry Pi computer sells out on launch

The ultra-cheap Raspberry Pi computer went on sale Wednesday amid overwhelming demand, crashing the distributors' websites and selling out on one site shortly thereafter.

The ultra-cheap Raspberry Pi computer went on sale Wednesday amid overwhelming demand, crashing the distributors' websites and selling out on one site shortly thereafter.

The $35 Raspberry Pi Model B, which is the size of a credit card and runs on open-source software developed at Toronto's Seneca College, became available for pre-order at 1 a.m. ET Wednesday from British manufacturers and distributors Premier Farnell and RS Components.

The Raspberry Pi comes as 45-gram open board that fits in the palm of your hand. It is equipped with various ports so you can plug in critical components that don't come with it, such as a monitor and keyboard. (Raspberry Pi Foundation)

Almost immediately, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the non-profit group that designed the computers as a device that young people could learn how to program, was flooded with complaints from customers who couldn't access the distributor websites to place their orders.

At 3:08 a.m. ET Wednesday, the Raspberry Pi Twitter account reported that Farnell was sold out of the computers, despite a limit of one per customer. Meanwhile, RS was asking potential customers to express interest on their site.

Ultra-cheap computers

The Raspberry Pi Foundation isn't the only group that has been trying to develop ultra-cheap computers in recent years:

  • Montreal-based Datawind manufactures the Aakash, a tablet computer launched last fall. The Indian government was to buy them for about $47 and subsidize the cost so students and teachers could buy the devices for $35. However, Reuters reported this week that the Indian government is seeking new bids to make the device after user complaints about poor performance and low battery life.
  • The One Laptop Per Child Foundation targets underprivileged children aged six to 12, including those in the developing world and Canada's First Nations communities, with its rugged, low-power XO laptop computer. It sells for around $200, pre-loaded with software. Seneca College is involved in adapting software for newer versions of the XO, which use ARM chips.

"With tens of thousands of customers looking to order on the RS website since the launch of Raspberry Pi earlier today, this is the greatest level of demand RS has ever received for a product at one time," Chris Page, general manager of electronics at RS Components, said in a statement.

He added that the company was working closely with Raspberry Pi "to satisfy this unprecedented demand" and expected to begin shipping the devices on a first-come, first-served basis after it gets its first boards late next week.

In Canada, the Raspberry Pi is available through Farnell subsidiary Newark and RS Components subsidiary Allied Electronics.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation said its new partnership with Farnell and RS Components means the computers will be produced in whatever quantity is needed to meet demand. Previously, the plan had been to make them in batches of 10,000.

The Raspberry Pi is designed to be an affordable, easy-to-program device that hobbyists and children can play with and learn from. The goal of the non-profit foundation that designed it is to boost interest in programming and computer science.

The energy-efficient device can run off 4AA batteries, use a TV as a monitor and store data on SD cards. A basic software package developed at Seneca College in Toronto, including a custom version of the Linux Fedora operating system and basic tools like a web browser and word processor, will be available for the devices. Users can also download other software adapted and developed by the open source software community around the world.

In addition to the $35 model that launched this week, the Raspberry Pi will also come in a cheaper, $25 model with one USB port instead of two and no ethernet port.