ARM-based CPUs may not be fast enough for desktops and notebooks, but they're sneaking into all sorts of budget computing platforms. For DIY types, the folks at Raspberry Pi have what looks like the most compelling solution. Two versions are available: Model A and Model B. Both are equipped with a 700MHz Broadcom BCM2835 processor based on the ARM11 architecture. The chip has a multimedia engine purportedly capable of decoding high-profile H.264 content at 1080p, and it's been demoed running XBMC.
In addition to the Broadcom chip, both models feature 256MB of RAM, HDMI output, SD compatibility, and at least one USB port. Model B doubles up on the number of USB ports and adds an integrated 10/100 Ethernet adapter. Neither model offers wireless connectivity, but the bare circuit boards are about the size of a credit card and subsist on power piped through a Micro USB port. They're also incredibly cheap; the Model A is set to cost $25, while the B can now be pre-ordered for $35.
Pre-orders began today, and interest has already overwhelmed the Raspberry Pi website and one of its distributors. Along with the first wave of orders comes word that the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the UK non-profit group that created the device to promote the study of computers in schools, has partnered with a couple of firms boasting worldwide distribution networks. Those relationships will allow boards to be built based on demand rather than in 10,000-unit batches, and it should make them easier to obtain outside the UK. Orders will be limited to one per customer for "the next month or so," though.
I think I'll wait, because I really want two. One will be reserved for just messing around, while the other will serve as a basic media box hooked up to the only TV in the house that lacks a digital video input. Both Raspberry Pi models feature RCA video output, a feature rare in PC gear outside older graphics cards.