First Impressions of a $9 CHIP Computer

Almost a year ago, I participated in a Kickstarter for a $9 computer called CHIP. It’s similar to a Raspberry Pi, but with a few interesting differences. And surprisingly, it’s much cheaper.

I was a little skeptical. A lot of these projects end up as vaporware, and $9 is almost too cheap to be believable. But a few months later, my CHIP came! And it’s actually pretty sweet.

Lots of Attention to Detail

Even before I got to the more interesting features, there were a lot of things to like. The makers obviously paid a lot of attention to detail. For example, there are pin labels on the GPIO headers, which are unbelievably handy. My $9 CHIP Computer The USB port used to power the CHIP is also a USB serial device that gives you a tty on the CHIP. This means that even without a display or SSH access, I can get a console on the CHIP just by doing this:

screen /dev/tty.usbserial 115200

This was very handy for initial setup, as I didn’t have a display I could plug into it.

The basic specs are on par with a Raspberry Pi:

  • 1Ghz ARM processor
  • 512MB of RAM

Killer Features

The real highlights of the CHIP are the built-in flash, Bluetooth, and WiFi. The CHIP comes with:

  • 4GB on-board flash
  • Built-in Bluetooth 4.0
  • Built-in WiFi b/g/n

The inclusion of those really lowers the cost of using the CHIP for an actual project. With a Pi, at the least, I have to buy an extra SD card, and I could easily spend $45 or $50 to get a similar setup with Bluetooth and Wifi.

Update: Since I wrote this post, the people that develop the Raspberry Pi have come out with the Raspberry Pi 3 that also has built-in Bluetooth and WiFi, which is pretty awesome. So the CHIP no longer has that advantage over the Pi.

Useful for Embedded Projects

Surprisingly, even though the CHIP is much cheaper than the Pi, I’ve found that is actually much more convenient (less wires and configuration) for many of the projects where I’ve used the Pi. I’ve been able to use the CHIP for:

  • Running OpenOCD to make it function as a remote debugging server just as I’ve done with the Pi
  • Transmitting BLE advertising packets
  • Communicating with sensors and other embedded devices via the GPIO

Unfortunately, the CHIP is currently on backorder until June 2016. But once it gets out of backorder, and if it ends up staying at the $9 price point, I think it might replace the Pi as my go-to for prototyping embedded projects.