Thursday, December 31, 2015

C.H.I.P. - a small, cheap computer

UPDATE: C.H.I.P. is dead

Or rather, the company is dead.  I will keep my CHIP content laying around, but I won't be doing much with it.  Eventually, I'll probably move to Raspberry Pi.

I just received the C.H.I.P. single-board computer whose kickstart I supported.

I suspect that anybody reading this blog knows what a Raspberry Pi is.  CHIP is like that, with its own spin which I found appealing.  It's goals:
  • Low cost.  The base price is currently $9 (although see the $5 Pi-zero).
  • Ease and speed of getting started.  It's literally ready to surf the net right out of the box.
  • Small size.  It's smaller around than a business card (although obviously it is thicker).
Accessories most people will use to try it out:
  • Power supply.  It has a micro USB connector, so you might already have a charger that will work.  But be careful: even though the doc says it draws 300 ma peak, get one that can handle over an amp.  My 700 ma supply craps out.  My 1.5 amp does fine.
  • Audio/video cable.  If you have a video camera, you might already have the right one (although I've heard some are wired differently).  If not, you can get one from the CHIP store.
  • TV with 3 "RCA" composite audio/video jacks.  Most TVs have them.
  • USB keyboard.
  • USB mouse.
  • Powered USB hub to power the keyboard and mouse.  Maybe you already have one.  But note that this hub will *not* power the CHIP.  You'll still need the micro USB supply.
  • Case.  Completely optional, but at $2, I suggest getting it.
I did go that route for my first bootup.  Being packrats, my wife and I had all the above items, so we were able to get the GUI operational in about 15 minutes.  Not being very familiar with Linux GUIs, it took another 15 minutes to be surfing the web.  Yep, it really is a general-purpose computer.  But being composite video, it has very low resolution.  And drawing a couple of watts, it isn't very fast (compared to modern laptops).  And being Linux, it doesn't have much PC-like software out of the box.  But really, who would want to use one of these as a replacement for your laptop?  ... Oh.  Um.  Never mind.  :-)

If you aren't interested in the GUI, you don't need any of the above accessories.  All you need is a laptop and a micro USB cable (I had 3 laying around).  Again, be careful: we had a couple cables that were wired for power only and didn't pass signals.

Here's a minimal "getting started" procedure:

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