This $100 PC Is Perfect for Learning Programming

By Bruce Harpham Thursday, November 5, 2020

A new PC, about $100 to $200, is about to come to the United States. Known as the Raspberry Pi 400, the device is poised to make computing much more accessible. If you've ever wanted a cheap, highly portable PC, this device might be a great alternative to today's tablets.

Raspberry Pi 400 Comes in Two Versions

There are two ways to buy the device today. You can buy the computer on its own for about $70. Unlike laptops, desktops, or tablets, there is no display. The computer itself looks like a thicker wireless keyboard.

For $100, you can buy a complete version of the product includes everything except for a TV or display. The kit includes the Raspberry Pi 400 computer, a USB mouse, the official USB-C power supply, an SD card with Raspberry Pi OS pre-installed, a micro HDMI to HDMI cable, and the official Raspberry Pi Beginner's Guide.

At the time of launch, the Pi 400 supported just a few languages, including English (UK and US), French, Italian, German, and Spanish keyboard layouts. More complex languages like Chinese may be more challenging to support with this technology.

What's Inside the Pi 400

Despite its small size, the Pi 400 includes a significant amount of hardware into a small frame. The initial version of the product includes the following hardware specs:

  • Broadcom BCM2711 quad-core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.8GHz
  • 4GB LPDDR4-3200
  • Dual-band (2.4GHz and 5.0GHz) IEEE 802.11b/g/n/ac wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 5.0, BLE
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 2 × USB 3.0 and 1 × USB 2.0 ports
  • Horizontal 40-pin GPIO header
  • 2 × micro HDMI ports (supports up to 4Kp60)
  • H.265 (4Kp60 decode); H.264 (1080p60 decode, 1080p30 encode); OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics
  • MicroSD card slot for operating system and data storage
  • 78- or 79-key compact keyboard (depending on regional variant)
  • 5V DC via USB connector
  • Operating temperature: 0°C to +50°C ambient (i.e., 32 Fahrenheit to 122 Fahrenheit)
  • Maximum dimensions 286 mm × 122 mm × 23 mm (11.2 x 4.8 x 0.9 inches)

There are a few ways to extend the Pi 400's capabilities. You can add storage by connecting the device to external USB devices. Besides, the MicroSD card slot means that transferring files back and forth with other small devices is easy. It is important to note that the Pi 400 does not include a battery, so you will have to plug it into an AC outlet to use it.

Pi400: More Than Tech Nostalgia

Some in the technology industry have remarked that Pi 400 reminds me of the 1970s and 1980s technology. Superficially, there are some similarities between the Pi 400 and other keyboard-based computers like the Apple II or the Commodore 64. While those older computers and the Pi 400 have a similar form factor based around the keyboard, their technical features are quite different.

The Pi 400 is much smaller and lighter than the 1970s and 1980s computers. However, it includes far more processing power and storage than those older computers.

The Challenge for Budget Tablet Companies

Manufacturers of low price tablet computers may need to worry about the Pi 400. For example, the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus sells for a little over $100, and it includes a display but no keyboard or mouse. Other low-priced tablets may lose business to the Raspberry Pi, especially for students and others who mainly rely on a web browser for their daily activities. Fortunately for those companies, one technical limitation may hold back some customers from buying the Pi 400.

The Pi 400 has its operating system. That means that running programs on a Windows or Mac computer is not going to be an option. However, the computer comes with the Chromium browser, a free open source web browser. As a result, you can get work done with web-based apps like Google Docs and Microsoft Office.

The Perfect PC to Introduce Programming

The Raspberry Pi computers have long been a popular choice for educators and students. That's because the Raspberry Pi organization includes various project resources where people can learn new skills.

Aspiring programmers can find several kinds of free coding projects to use. Python programming projects make it easy to create simple games like "Turtle Race!" and creating pictures out of text. Text-based programming is not the only option. You can also learn how to program using Scratch, a visual programming tool.

Timed for release shortly before the holiday shopping season, the Raspberry Pi 400 is an exciting choice for older and younger tech enthusiasts. Younger children may appreciate having a simple computer of their own to create their projects. Technology enthusiasts may relish the chance to explore a new operating system and jump into a coding challenge like Coding Bat Python challenge or Kaggle's seven-day Learn Python challenge.

About the Author


Headshot for author Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is an author and marketing consultant based in Canada. His first book "Project Managers At Work" shared real-world success lessons from NASA, Google, and other organizations. His articles have been published in CIO.com, InfoWorld, Canadian Business, and other organizations. Visit BruceHarpham.com for articles, interviews with tech leaders, and updates on future books.

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