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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.


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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.