$15 gets you a’minimum viable computer,’ which runs Doom

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Photo: Brian Benchoff

techno.rentetan.com – The Linux command line is all that can be run on the tiny computer. We attempt to propose the finest devices to our readers, particularly those that give the most value. In any case, even if you get a Chromebook or a low-cost phone, you’ll still have to budget at least a few hundred dollars for it. What if another option existed?

HackADay editor-turned-developer Brain Benchoff set out to see how much a working computer might cost him using the cheapest components. Benchoff claims that his “Linux Swiss Army Knife” is a “minimum viable computer” that costs about $15 to build.

Let me caution you before you sell your XPS 13: calling it a “Swiss Army Knife” is a bit of an exaggeration, given that the Linux-based machine can only perform commands and connect through USB. Neither radios nor a graphical user interface will be added in the future (GUI).

Buildroot, a tool for creating a Linux environment, allows it to play Doom. Despite the fact that you won’t be able to stream Netflix or play Halo Infinite on this tiny computer, basic processing and a functional 47-key silicone membrane keyboard open you up to the infinite possibilities of the Linux command line—you can even code it to be a crypto wallet or software-defined radio, for example.

On the Allwinner F1C100s, the computer is powered by an ARM926EJ-S CPU operating at 533MHz and 32MB of DDR memory. The IPS TFT screen has a 320 x 240-pixel resolution and measures 2.3 inches. MicroSD card slot for 64 GB of storage is available, as well as two AAA NiMH batteries, and a USB-C port. There are no tools required to put the plastic enclosure together, which houses all of this.

Image: Brian Benchoff

The most expensive component is the $2 printed circuit board, which is included in the total cost of $14.16. Even better, despite the ongoing shortage of components caused by the pandemic, everything needed to build this tiny computer is readily available. In order to attain the advertised price you must purchase at least 10,000 of each component and get substantial bulk pricing reductions.

There are several methods to enhance Benchoff’s first prototype. These include a larger screen, a more spacious keyboard, and tweaking the USB ports. However, he hasn’t specified when or how he plans to make this project available to the general public.