I’m not a fanboy, but Raspberry Pi’s future got me worried

The Raspberry Pi represents a life-changing device that I first bought in the late 2010s.

Frankly, after they released their Pico W, I fully converted. Bye bye Arduino.

COVID and supply issues with the Raspberry Pi

raspberry pi supply and its future vince mcmahon meme
Comedy gold from the COVID-era supply issues. I did get the Pi Zero in the wrong order, though.

But COVID wasn’t kind to Raspberry Pi enthusiasts. I remember writing ridiculous articles that would have never happened if we didn’t see a crazy scarcity during COVID.

Check out the divergence between recommend prices and scalped peak prices.

BoardRRP (USD)Peak priceMultiplier
2GB Raspberry Pi 4451613.58
4GB Raspberry Pi 4552294.16
8GB Raspberry Pi 4752743.65
Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W1517211.47
Raspberry Pi Zero W10*16616.6

Looking back, here’s some top comedy gold that I wrote,

It was definitely not comedy when boards would be sold out in minutes of them being available. I remember clutching on my Pi Zero 2 W as if it were a super valuable Pokémon card when I a child in the early millennium.

So, in this video from the “ExplainingComputers” YouTube channel, Christopher Barnatt talks about what’s next for consumer single board computers, or SBCs for short.

Pricing of SBCs skyrockets; alternatives plummet

The video kicks off with a bit of a history lesson, taking us back to 2012 when the first Raspberry Pi was launched. This little guy, with its $35 price tag, really shook up the market for affordable, compact consumer hardware.

Over the years, though, things have changed.

The average price of ARM SBCs has gone up, while some small-form-factor x86 computers have actually gotten cheaper.

A lot of people who want a cheap, small computer are now opting for these mini PCs or refurbished business hardware. Of course, if you need the GPIO from a SBC, this ain’t for you, but otherwise you can this type of PC starting at $100.

Five years ago, most SBCs with an ARM processor were priced between $5 (for a Raspberry Pi Zero) and about $100. Now, many ARM SBCs are in the $75 to $200 range.

Linux SBC distros have generally become more resource-intensive, 32-bit support has dwindled, and people’s expectations for SBC hardware and software have gone up.

Barnatt identifies three main types of people who buy SBCs:

  1. Makers (folks who use an SBC for a project);
  2. People who want a cheap, small computer (like for a mini desktop or retro gaming), and
  3. Die-hard SBC enthusiasts who often buy the latest and greatest hardware, even if they don’t have a specific use for it.

My view, based on this three categories, is that besides Makers and Die Hards, other people could migrate to a mini-PC and come out ahead.

SBCs pushed by increasing code inefficiency

Barnatt argues that software is becoming more demanding and it will affect the performance of SBCs.

Inevitably, you will need more CPU power and memory to keep things running smoothly.

This makes it harder to create a really cheap SBC that still offers a usable desktop performance.

Barnatt also talks about the decline of 32-bit operating systems, which is a big deal for low-cost SBCs.

Many Linux distros now only support a 64-bit version, which usually needs four gigabytes of RAM to work well.

Raspberry Pi has produced a 64-bit version of the Raspberry Pi OS, but I have been hesitant to adopt it because I don’t want no trouble.

Out of interest, I asked on Reddit what people thought of the 32-bit OS vs 64-bit OS.

The future for SBCs, according to Christopher Barnatt

Finally, Barnatt dishes out five predictions for the future of SBCs:

  1. We’ll see more diversity in low-cost consumer small form factor computers.
  2. SBCs will likely become more focused on industrial applications.
  3. There will still be a strong market for consumer SBCs costing up to about $75.
  4. SBCs costing $100 or more will have a harder time in the consumer market unless they offer key features for makers, like GPUs or NPUs for machine learning.
  5. We’ll see more use of microcontrollers in the maker space

On point 5, indeed, I haven’t used my Pi Zero 2 W ever since I got the Pico W.

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