RPi General History

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This page is intended to show why the Raspberry Pi was created, and why it is what it is, by highlighting relevant events in its history. It is not intended to be a detailed history; that is covered elsewhere.

If you add to this page, please consider how your contribution will read in a years time. Please include a link to the original source of each item, so the full story can be read, and only provide a summary here. Avoid adding announcements; wait until that event has happened before reporting it.

Full History

If you want to read the full history of the Raspberry Pi, there are several places you can go.

Hardware history

To understand the hardware, consult the design changes page for how the Raspberry Pi has evolved, and the manufacturing differences page that may help if you are having problems with your board.

Birth of the idea

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, on the About page of the official website, states why the Raspberry Pi project began. The text is reproduced here, so it can be preserved:

The idea behind a tiny and cheap computer for kids came in 2006, when Eben Upton and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, including Rob Mullins, Jack Lang and Alan Mycroft, became concerned about the year-on-year decline in the numbers and skills levels of the A Level students applying to read Computer Science in each academic year. From a situation in the 1990s where most of the kids applying were coming to interview as experienced hobbyist programmers, the landscape in the 2000s was very different; a typical applicant might only have done a little web design.

Something had changed the way kids were interacting with computers. A number of problems were identified: the colonisation of the ICT curriculum with lessons on using Word and Excel, or writing webpages; the end of the dot-com boom; and the rise of the home PC and games console to replace the Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX and Commodore 64 machines that people of an earlier generation learned to program on.

There isn’t much any small group of people can do to address problems like an inadequate school curriculum or the end of a financial bubble. But we felt that we could try to do something about the situation where computers had become so expensive and arcane that programming experimentation on them had to be forbidden by parents; and to find a platform that, like those old home computers, could boot into a programming environment. From 2006 to 2008, Eben designed several versions of what has now become the Raspberry Pi; you can see one of the earliest prototypes here.

By 2008, processors designed for mobile devices were becoming more affordable, and powerful enough to provide excellent multimedia, a feature we felt would make the board desirable to kids who wouldn’t initially be interested in a purely programming-oriented device. The project started to look very realisable. Eben (now a chip architect at Broadcom), Rob, Jack and Alan, teamed up with Pete Lomas, MD of hardware design and manufacture company Norcott Technologies, and David Braben, co-author of the seminal BBC Micro game Elite, to form the Raspberry Pi Foundation to make it a reality.

Design Constraints

To meet the original requirements, there were several design issues to be resolved. The prime requirement was to keep within the price limit they had set, and to provide a device that would allow its users to experiment with the hardware and software. They expected that some of the omissions would be added by the user community. The limitations this created are revealed in the following interviews:

  • A Question and Answer session held with Eben Upton on 14 September, 2011, on the Slashdot website covered some of the design issues.
  • An interview with engineer Pete Lomas reveals why some of those decisions were taken.

How the Foundation, and the Raspberry Pi, developed

Some of the early experiences are given in a three part blog by Russell Davis (aka forum admin ukscone). Read them individually: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

This covers the timeline of key events in the development of the Foundation and the Raspberry Pi:

12 Aug, 2011, The first Alpha boards were received, powered up and booted.
reported on raspberrypi.org, http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/78
28 Nov, 2011, Details of the Model B were revealed in a review of the RPi,
This article reviewed the hardware functions, and covered some of the thoughts of its creators. From The Register, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/28/raspberry_pi/
9 Jan, 2012, 10 Beta Model B's were auctioned,
The Beta Model B's were auctioned to raise money for the Foundation. One was bought and donated anonymously to the Computer Museum at the Centre for Computing History. Reported on raspberrypi.org, http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/503
10 Jan, 2012, Manufacture of the first Model B's starts,
The Model B is ready for manufacture, and production is underway. Reported on raspberrypi.org, http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/509
17 Feb, 2012, The first root filesystem becomes available for download,
A disc image that can be downloaded to an SD card, based on Debian Squeeze (Linux), is released. Reported on raspberrypi.org, http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/645
19 Apr, 2012, Shipping begins,
element 14 received the first boards, and started to ship them to customers. Reported on raspberrypi.org, http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/1081
16 Jul, 2012, Buying restrictions are lifted,
Initial orders were limited to one per order; this limit was removed allowing people to buy as many as they wanted. Reported on raspberrypi.org, http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/1588
6 Sept, 2012, Manufacturing begins in the UK,
Production of the boards started at the Sony factory in Pencoed, South Wales. Reported on raspberrypi.org, http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/1925