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A $35 computer? Is it real?

A $35 computer? Is it real?

Q: Hi Kim, I keep hearing about this little $35 computer. I've seen videos where people are using it in a variety of cool ways. Is it the real deal?

- Albert T. from Atlanta, GA listens to The Kim Komando Show on 95.5 FM WSB

A: You may be referring to the Raspberry Pi, a pocket-sized computer that's taking the tech hobbyist world by storm. The original version was actually introduced four years ago as an educational tool to teach children how to program. Now, three versions later, the more powerful Raspberry Pi 3 is designed to leap from the classroom to tackle more industrial tasks.

For a sum of $35, the Raspberry Pi 3 features a 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core processor that is 10 times faster than the original Pi. It has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and 4 USB ports for connectivity. You could also add a micro SD card for additional storage or even connect a camera.

To turn it into a fully-fledged desktop PC, just install a supported operating system, hook up a monitor or a TV and speakers to its built-in HDMI port or through the 3.5-mm combined audio and composite video jack. Add a USB keyboard and mouse, and you are in business. 

What hobbyists really love, though, are its 40 general-purpose input/output (GPIO) pins that can be programmed to control or be controlled by other devices. This allows the RasPi to do all the cool stuff you've seen, like control and sync lights to music, act as a weather sensor or even build a remote-control robot.

Due to the robust hardware included with the Raspberry Pi 3, it could now support a variety of operating systems, including Linux-based Raspbian, and even a stripped-down version of Windows called Windows 10 IoT Core. With specialized software and other controllers like Arduino, RasPi 3s can be used as the heart of so-called  "Internet of Things" devices. (Clever hobbyists even built a DIY "smart mirror" using this microcomputer.)

So, you can absolutely get tons of real-deal computer goodness for just $35 with the Raspberry Pi 3. Some proficiency in Linux and computer programming is required to get the most out of these little computers and they will not replace Windows PCs or Macs anytime soon. Hey, they were launched as learning tools anyway, right?

But before you decide on getting one, did you know that an even cheaper Raspberry Pi is available?

It's called Raspberry Pi Zero and it costs a measly $5! Of course, it's not as powerful nor as fully specced as the RasPi 3 but it's half the size. With its really tiny form factor and usable 1 GHz processor, it is always interesting to see what other uses hobbyists can create with it.

To learn more about the Raspberry Pi and how to purchase one, visit www.raspberrypi.org.

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