Brian Benchoff is an embedded engineer who has graced us with unique, whimsical devices like the RGB Gaming Coaster and the Zip Drive Tower. Now he’s back with a decidedly more practical design: a fully-functional Linux computer — screen and keyboard included — that costs a mere $15.
Well, sort of…
A Linux Swiss Army Knife
The self-described “Linux Swiss Army Knife” PC packs a surprising amount of functionality. With its 2.5-inch IPS display and 47-key silicone membrane keyboard (which feels like an older TV remote control), you can bust it out and run scripts, compile code, or even transform it into a crypto wallet.
Plug a WiFi adapter into the USB-A port and use it to SSH into your server. Or plug a mouse in and play some classic DOOM (seriously).
The brain of the dirt-cheap Linux PC is an Allwinner F1C100s SoC (System on a Chip), containing an ARM-9 CPU running at 533MHz and a whopping 32MB of DDR memory. And yes, it’s perfectly capable of running a modern version of Linux, which you can boot up using the included micro-SD port.
Granted, you’ll be restricted to pretty much just a command line. Any kind of graphical environment would be impossible on a device this underpowered.
To power the device, Benchoff chose 2x AAA NiMH batteries since they’re “significantly less expensive” than lithium ones. He says the battery life is “long enough,” adding that savvy users can always adapt the design to include AA batteries instead of AAA ones, which would double the runtime at the cost of a slightly thicker enclosure.
Benchoff is taking this concept seriously, going so far as to write a custom driver that will power a larger 800×480 resolution display over SPI. He’s even considering putting this $15 Linux computer into production.
Of course, there is one little catch.
The First $15 Linux PC Costs… $10,000
“[…] if you want to build one of these things, It’ll cost you about ten grand,” Benchoff says slyly. “The first one costs ten grand, the ten-thousandth one costs fifteen bucks.”
Well, $14.16 to be exact.
Still, if the scenario existed where his cheap and capable Linux device was being manufactured in bulk, it could really be that affordable.
Best of all, it’s completely impervious to the ongoing chip and component shortages affecting the industry right now.
“I can buy all of the components for this device right now at the beginning of 2022,” Benchoff says. “Give me six months and I’ll give you tens of thousands of these things.”