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posted by janrinok on Sunday March 13 2022, @02:14PM   Printer-friendly

10 years of Raspberry Pi: The $25 computer has come a long way:

This little device has revolutionized computing since it came on the scene. We take a look back at its journey.

The UK in the 1980s was ground zero for the microcomputer revolution. Cheap computers based on 8-bit processors flooded the market, teaching a generation to program using built-in BASIC interpreters. Homes had devices like Sinclair's ZX81 and Spectrum, while schools used Acorn's BBC Micro.

These weren't like today's PCs. They were designed and built to be accessible, with IO ports that could be accessed directly from the built-in programming environments. Turn one on, and you were ready to start programming.

But then things changed: 16-bit machines were more expensive, and technical and marketing failures started to remove pioneers from the market. The final nail in the coffin was the IBM PC and its myriad clones, focused on the business market and designed to run, not build, applications.

It became harder to learn computing skills, with home computers slowly replaced by gaming consoles, smartphones and tablets. How could an inquisitive child learn to code or build their own hardware?

The answer first came from the Arduino, a small ARM-based developer board that served as a target for easy-to-learn programming languages. But it wasn't a computer; you couldn't hook it up to a keyboard and screen and use it.

Eben Upton, an engineer at microcontroller chip manufacturer Broadcom, was frustrated with the status quo. Looking at the current generation of ARM-based microcontrollers he realized it was possible to use a low-cost (and relatively low power) chip to build a single-board computer. Using a system-on-a-chip architecture, you could bundle CPU and GPU and memory on a single chip. Using the SOC's general purpose IO ports, you could build it into a device that was easily expandable, booting from a simple SD storage card.

Work on what was to become the Raspberry Pi began in 2006, with a team of volunteers working with simple ARM SOC.

Can anyone remember the first program that they actually wrote (rather than copied from a magazine or downloaded from a friend's cassette tape)? Mine simply moved an asterisk around the screen 'bouncing' off the edges, and was written in Z80 assembly language. That is all I had on my Nascom 1.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by theluggage on Monday March 14 2022, @01:59PM

    by theluggage (1797) on Monday March 14 2022, @01:59PM (#1229056)

    I like how these stories, or journalists, always believe that it was BASIC that somehow did it.

    Try using a compiled language like C, Pascal or Fortran on a £70 ZX-81 with 1K of RAM, an 8K EPROM and a slightly wonky domestic cassette recorder... Even using an assembler was a bit of a pain.

    The big revolution was the availability of really cheap computers that most individuals could actually afford (or that schools could buy in quantity).
    However, BASIC was an important part of that, since it provided an easy route into programming without having to jump straight in the deep end of assembly language.

    Also, in the case of UK education (...and the slightly better heeled consumer), the BASIC in question was often BBC BASIC [] which was considerably more sophisticated than the Microsoft/Apple BASIC of the day, with long variable names, named procedures and functions (no need for GOSUB line_number), repeat/until, powerful byte, word and string indirection operators (instead of the usual PEEK/POKE) and a built in assembler. It was also considerably faster than contemporary BASIC ( was written by one of the designers of the ARM processor, who really knew how to make a 6502 sit up and beg...) If you needed GOTO in BBC BASIC 1 it was because you needed over-long chunks of conditional code that you couldn't be arsed to break down into functions/procedures, and by BBC BASIC 5 on the Archimedes you had multi-line IF/THEN/ELSE/ENDIF and CASE statements for that (and a full-screen editor that hid line numbers).

    Also, in the UK, a BBC Micro was about half the price of an Apple II (...and in many respects rather more powerful).

    I think the main lesson learned was better pre-planning and increment the line number a lot more

    RENUMBER 1000,10 (BBC BASIC ~ 1981 and pretty much every 'toolkit' utility or extended BASIC for anything else...)

    and using GOTO and a line number is not good programming.

    Compared to what? Lovingly hand-crafted machine code... or the Pascal compiler that you can run after buying a floppy drive that cost 5x as much as your Sinclair?

    The other language that ran well on 8-bit micros of that era was FORTH which ran at near assembly speeds and technically had high-level/structured code - but was also the source of the term "write-only language" (reverse-Polish yay!).

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