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A Raspberry Pi for $5! What are Your Decision Factors?

The Raspberry Pi Zero has got more than a low price going for it.

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It it is obvious that a new trend from the US is swapping over to Europe and probably the rest of the world: Black Friday. That is the day yesterday following Thanksgiving day in the United States. It is a ‘shopping’ day. Consequently, the stores are battling with huge discounts. And I use that  to fill up my inventory for the Christmas-time projects. :-) What caught my attention yesterday Friday was this: a Raspberry Pi Zero for US$5!

Raspberry Pi Zero

Raspberry Pi Zero (Picture: Adafruit)

The Raspberry Pi Zero (see https://www.adafruit.com/products/2885) is basically a cut down board of the Raspberry Pi 2: but single core, only SD card, HDMI and one USB (the other USB is for power), but in a small and tiny size (65mm x 31mm). So when we did our collective ‘Black Friday’ order with faculty members and students yesterday, I have added one of these to the shopping cart. :-)

Why? Not because of the price of the board. One big decision factor was the form factor: I see it extremely valuable to have small and tiny boards (see the tinyK20). So this board is about half of the size of a Freescale Freedoms board which I use a lot. But for many projects I need something smaller and lightweight, so this will be a good fit.

But the really key decision factor is the availability of open source software and tools and excellent tutorials available on the internet. And I order from Adafruit not because their prices are the cheapest, but because they show dedication for what they do, and have outstanding tutorials available.

I’m using my various Raspy boards not because it is the best hardware or board in the world (there are faster, more powerful and feature rich boards), but to me it has the best software and tools eco system for small Linux-based embedded projects. And there is a huge eco system with accessories too. The key factors are software/tools/tutorials for me. Not the hardware, this comes after all that.

The Raspy is extending the capabilities of my other software and hardware projects. The Raspy is a powerful mini computer. It does not replace or is intended to run hard realtime applications, so I continue to use microcontroller boards like the Freedom board running bare metal or an RTOS like FreeRTOS, in combination with the Raspy boards. The Raspy is running the Linux, cloud connection, web server, networks stack or for exampleopenHAB, and the ARM on the Freescale Freedom board (e.g. FRDM-KL25Z) the realtime communication protocol and dealing with the ‘hard’ time aspects. But all this was for me ‘software and tools driven’: If I don’t have good software and tools for it, I would not consider it.

So my mantra is: Pick the software and tools first, then pick the hardware. I have seen too many projects doing it the other way round and failed. Of course the hardware is important, but if I cannot get the software running on it, what’s the point? Bad software and tools beside of too optimistic planning is a key failure point for me. “Life is too short for bad tools” I would say. ;-)

The question is: have silicon and hardware vendors fully realized that? Atollic is right (in my personal view (see “Atollic TrueSTUDIO Lite for ARM with Unlimited Code Size“)) that the embedded software and tools market is fragmented and many software/tools offerings are not of good quality. Tools and software stack come and go, are incompatible or breaking compatibility from one version to another. On one end you get what you pay for, on the other end there are excellent free and open source options too (see my articles series forgprof and gcov). I do not only need good  and reasonably priced hardware, I even more need excellent software and tools with tutorials and documentation with a good community support. And I need stability and confidence that the software, tools, libraries will be available for the coming years.

I have ordered now that Raspberry Pi Zero and other gadgets. :-)  because of tutorials, software and tools as my decision factors. What are your decision factors?

Happy Picking. :-)

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Published at DZone with permission of Erich Styger, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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