A high-tech charity based in the United Kingdom is prepping two models of a credit-card-sized PC that will be available for purchase early next year for $25 and $35, respectively.

Among other things, the cheap price and lower power requirements of the new devices from the Raspberry Pi organization promise to make it less worrisome for parents everywhere to permit their children to tinker with the innards of a fully capable computing machine.

One major organization goal is to provide developing countries with an affordable means of deploying inexpensive computing devices in areas where the cost, power and hardware requirements of traditional desktop machines are prohibitive obstacles.

"We want to see cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere," the Raspberry Pi development team said.

What's more, the new Raspberry Pi machines will provide children as well as adult hobbyists with a platform for compiling and running home-grown software apps without risking the family's significantly more expensive machines.

At the outset, the tiny machine will run the ArchLinux, Debian and Fedora distributions of ARM GNU/Linux, which users will be able to purchase on preloaded SD cards sold separately.

"We want owning a truly personal computer to be normal for children," the Raspberry Pi development team said. "We think that 2012 is going to be a very exciting year."

A Multimedia Powerhouse

Don't be fooled by the device's tiny footprint and low cost. Raspberry Pi is fully capable of rendering Blu-ray-quality, 1080p video playback. What's more, the machine integrates the requisite hardware-accelerated graphics capabilities for supporting imaging, a camcorder, streaming media and 3D gaming.

At the heart of the diminutive device is Broadcom's BCM2835 system on a chip, which features a standard ARM v6 core running at 700MHz. Also aboard is Broadcom's dual-core Videocore IV multimedia co-processor Relevant Products/Services and Videocore graphics processor unit. Additionally, the tiny PC board integrates a RAM chip as well as an SD card slot.

With respect to connecting to peripherals, Raspberry Pi sports composite video and HDMI outputs that will enable experimenters to use either a digital or analog television as a display. Moreover, a USB port supplies the connection for a hub to which users can attach a USB keyboard, mouse and other peripherals.

Though a Wi-Fi radio is not aboard the device itself, users will be able to add wireless capabilities by plugging in a USB dongle. Additionally, the $35 model includes a standard 10/100 wired Ethernet port.

The Raspberry Pi will initially ship without a case, though the U.K. charity expects to offer one later on. The 5-volt power supply, which connects to the board via the USB port, will be sold separately.

An Opportunity For Hobbyists

The Raspberry Pi is also expected to provide adult hobbyists with a basic platform for experimentation even as ARM chip architectures make forays over time through the sheer weight of the diversity of the chip ecosystems being designed today, noted Al Hilwa, director of applications software at IDC.

"As systems trend towards further miniaturization, they will inevitably grow lower in cost," Hilwa said. "It is not inconceivable to have PC functionality shift to phone CPUs as these chips ramp up in cores and gigahertz, but this scenario is at least five years away from mainstreaming."

In the meantime, Hilwa believes there will likely be a renaissance for Linux systems such as the ArchLinux, Debian and Fedora distributions of ARM GNU/Linux that will be supplied for the Raspberry Pi at the outset.

This will especially be the case "for hobbyists who will be increasingly cut out of mainstream platforms because of their tight control through app stores and restricted programming models," Hilwa said.