The Pi Zero – a board for less than a fiver

posted in: Hardware, News, Technology | 2

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You don’t get much change from a fiver for a lot of things these days, but the fine chaps over at the Raspberry Pi Foundation are all for giving as much bang for your buck as possible.

Released in November 2015, the Raspberry Pi Zero immediately drew people’s attention with its ridiculous price tag of just £4. The board is essentially a cheap and very small version of the Pi Model A+, making it very capable for a good number of uses.

The intention behind the Zero was not to provide a useable desktop experience(driving a GUI output while multi-tasking etc.) but instead to be a device that can be left running standalone to perform its tasks day-in-day out.

I initially attempted to get my hands on the Zero when the machine was announced at the same time as the first 10,000 units were being given away free with issue 40 of MagPi magazine. All newsagents I could find that stocked the magazine had sold out pretty quickly unsurprisingly.

The most ideal use-case for the board would be for it to be installed inside other machines as a control board or perhaps for running basic low-intensity tasks. Here are the board’s specs:

  • A Broadcom BCM2835 application processor
    • 1GHz ARM11 core (40% faster than Raspberry Pi 1)
  • 512MB of LPDDR2 SDRAM
  • A micro-SD card slot
  • A mini-HDMI socket for 1080p60 video output
  • Micro-USB sockets for data and power
  • An unpopulated 40-pin GPIO header
    • Identical pinout to Model A+/B+/2B
  • An unpopulated composite video header
  • Size: 65mm x 30mm x 5mm

The main question is however, can it run RISC OS?

Well in theory yes, but as it stands it’s not straightforward. The Zero needs the latest firmware, which causes the processor to default to slow speed in order to allow the kernel to ask for the higher speed when it deems it necessary. RISC OS was initially unable to do this, but in the last few months it has since been updated to support switching – meaning forcing ‘turbo’ mode is no longer required to get RISC OS running on the board.

Although it’s got the same single-core, ARM-based processor as the first gen Model B, it’s slightly faster, with the clock speed bumped up to 1GHz. The system memory remains the same, with 512MB of DDR2 SDRAM.

Then there’s the board’s lack of an ethernet port – which means only RISC OS 5 ROMs dated 20-Dec-2015 and older will support a USB-to-Ethernet adapter in order to provide networking. This is due to complications risen from the implementation of ZeroPain.

It is however do-able if you have patience and spare of time on your side. Chris Hall has documented the process on his website.

The Pi Zero is still flying in and out of stock pretty fast despite having been on the market now for several months. The Pi Hut however do appear to get Zero’s in stock relatively regularly should you be wanting to take the extremely walltet-friendly plunge and have a play around with one.

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