This is a bit esoteric but it’s really important. Imagine you’re building a DIY sprinkler system or a fun kids toy and you need a lot of really smart chips. You could use something like the Arduino or a super small Raspberry Pi but what if you could just slap in a super-powerful chip for a mere $1 and go on with your life?

That’s what the Raspberry Pi Foundation is offering to us DIYers and it’s great.

The Raspberry Pi RP2040 is basically a fully functional computer on a chip and comes on reels. Individual chips can be had for $1 a pop.

RP2040 is our idea of the perfect mid-range microcontroller, based on years of using other vendors’ devices in our own products and projects. It stands out in three key ways:

Two fast CPU cores. A pair of ARM Cortex-M0+ cores, clocked at 133 MHz, provide ample integer performance. Use one core to run application code, and the other to supervise hardware; or run application code on both cores with FreeRTOS or MicroPython.

Plenty of RAM. With 264KB of RAM, you can concentrate on implementing features, not optimising your application for size. A fully connected switch connects ARM cores and DMA engines to six independent RAM banks, allowing you to squeeze every last drop of performance out of the system.

Flexible I/O. We provide all the usual interfaces: hardware UARTs, SPI and I2C controllers, USB 1.1, and a four-channel ADC. But it’s the programmable I/O (PIO) subsystem that makes RP2040 stand out, enabling software implementations of protocols including SDIO, DPI, I2S, and even DVI-D.

While there aren’t many of us who can figure out what to do with a thing like this, it’s amazing that the team is offering their chips for so little to hobbyists who usually have to suffer with sub-par chips on expensive hardware. Anyway, it makes me happy.

By John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.

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