Amazing Little $9 Computer

Yesterday, the postman delivered my $9 CHIP computer that I ordered in June, 2015 as a KickStarter pledge. It cost $9 for the CHIP Computer plus $5 in shipping. My pledge read:

C.H.I.P. Get learning and making on your very own $9 computer. Includes one C.H.I.P. and a composite cable for maximum bare-bones enjoyment. – SHIPPING IN FEBRUARY –

The CHIP folks were true to their word – my CHIP arrived when promised, in February 2016 – February 16, 2016, to be exact. My CHIP board included not only the  composite cable but also the “case“, which is a translucent back for which they normally charge $2 extra.

We are talking tiny here – the photo below shows the CHIP next to a business card:

CHIP beside Business Card

CHIP beside Business Card

I wanted to test it but I had to make do with scrounged peripherals. I no longer own a portable TV monitor with a composite video (yellow RCA jack) connection. Anticipating that I would need one for the CHIP, about a month ago I ordered cheap video-to-vga converter on eBay.

Video to VGA Converter

Video to VGA Converter

Next I discovered that the CHIP has only one USB port so I realized that I would need either a USB port HUB or a keyboard with a builtin mousepad. I own a little, clunky, seldom used wireless handheld keyboard with a builtin mousepad for a little computer that I have plugged into my television. Last night, I retrieved the wireless handheld keyboard and charged it for use today.

Handheld Wireless Keyboard/Mouse

Handheld Wireless Keyboard/Mouse


Today, I tested the CHIP $9 computer. First, a caveat – CHIP documentation recommends using a powered USB hub when connecting multiple USB devices as it is easy to overload the CHIP’s USB current capability. I suspected that the wireless (2.4GHz) fob for the wireless handheld keyboard might overload the CHIP’s USB current capability and I was right – the CHIP shuts down during testing, as can be seen by the blue screen of death at the end of my video at the link below. Nonetheless, the CHIP comes pre-loaded with a minimal version of Debian Linux, referred to as the CHIP Operating System. In the video, my very slow typing is because I am having trouble finding the keys on the clunky little wireless handheld keyboard.

The CHIP is quite responsive with basic menu commands and the terminal but really bogs down when browsing the web with the iceweasel browser. I don’t know if that is due to the CHIP’s WiFI, minimal RAM or what. Frankly, I am rather impressed that it can do it at all!

My ultimate plan for this device is to use it as a tiny webserver. I’ll have to see if it can handle the load. If not, for $9 it is a fun toy.

The CHIP’s Debian-based pre-installed Linux uses Synaptic to install software. It uses the debian jessie repository. Obviously, anything in the repository can be installed, although memory size may be a problem for some applications.

Ok, it’s a cool gadget but it is NOT a desktop. I don’t believe the goal of CHIP is to use it as a desktop. The pre-installed Linux is, in my opinion, just something to play with out of the box. Most people, myself included, will probably remove the GUI and use it as a small, special purpose server OR totally replace the firmware with something useful to a project of theirs. The Raspberry Pi comes closer to a desktop solution but it too is really under powered for that. A nascent device that claims to be suitable as a desktop is the “Pine A64” SBC that will become available in March for $15. By the way, I have also ordered a Pine A64!

Here is a YouTube video of my first test – it shuts down at the end due to USB current overload:


UPDATE: I came up with a 5V 2.5 Amp power supply (Raspberry Pi) and, with this power supply the CHIP is rock solid.

This entry was posted in ARM, computer, Electronics, hardware, Linux and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Amazing Little $9 Computer

  1. acassis says:

    Amazing! Really!


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