Brian Benchoff’s “minimum viable computer'” is a Linux handheld computer powered by an Allwinner F1C100s ARM9 processor that could fit into your pocket and should cost about $15 (BoM cost) to manufacture in quantity.
The open-source hardware Linux “computer” comes with 32MB or 64MB RAM, a 2.3-inch color display, a 48-key keyboard, a USB port, and is powered by two AAA batteries. Don’t expect a desktop environment, but it can run a terminal to execute scripts, or even run Doom.
Minimum viable computer specifications:
- SoC – Allwinner F1C100s ARM926EJ-S CPU @ 533 MHz with 32 MB DDR built-in (Upgradable to 64 MB with the pin-compatible F1C200s)
- Storage – 64GB MicroSD card
- Display – 2.3” IPS TFT display with 320 x 240 resolution (ILI9342 SPI controller)
- USB – USB 2.0 Type-A port
- Keyboard – 48-key keyboard with a silicone membrane (just like most TV remote controls)
- Misc – Power button, 6-pin header with UART, 5V, GND
- Power Supply
- 2x AAA NiMH battery holders
- Charging over USB Type-C port @ 500mA
- Dimensions – TBD
All the hardware and software will be open-source with permissive licenses, as much as possible. Some new drivers had to be written for the board, and the code will also be released. Parts have been selected in a way so that they can be easily sourced and available, even in 2021/2022. You’ll note there’s no networking connectivity so you’d need to add a WiFi or Ethernet USB dongle if that’s important to you.
Brian says it cost $10,000 to build one, I suppose including the engineering costs and/or moulding costs as well, but calculated a BoM cost of about $15 when ordering 10,000 pieces with for instance the Allwinner F1C100s going for 75 cents, the display for $2.2, the 64GB MicroSD card for $2.2, the PCB for $2, the enclosure for $1.7, the keyboard for $1.2, the four battery connectors for $1.1, the two batteries for $1.1, with all the remaining components under $1.
The design is still in progress, and there will be other iterations of the hardware possibly with a slightly different set of features. You can find more details on the project’s page. Brian plans to eventually mass-produce the device, so a crowdfunding campaign may happen later this year. Note it’s not the first time we’ve seen Allwinner F1C100s processor in ultra-cheap “computer”, an example being a $3 Linux business card by George Hilliard.
Jean-Luc started CNX Software in 2010 as a part-time endeavor, before quitting his job as a software engineering manager, and starting to write daily news, and reviews full time later in 2011.