A Real $95 Computer

This is a follow-up to my Jul2020 article about a $14 computer, the Raspberry Pi Zero W. That article, in a nutshell, said that computer was only good for tinkerers or very simple projects; it would not make a good general-purpose computer because of its lack of speed.

This article is about the Raspberry Pi 400, a $95 computer that would—in certain cases—make a good general-purpose computer.

The 400 is a computer built into a QWERTY keyboard (like in the old days of the Vic 20 or the Commodore 64). It is many times more powerful than the Zero W, and has a great selection of features: a 78-key “compact” keyboard with 4GB RAM, fast wireless-AC, and ports for gigabit Ethernet, USB 2, USB 3 (two of them), USB 3C (for power input), two microHDMI (for audio/video output), and a microSD card reader (for bootup, programs, and storage).

I had to get one to see for myself how it performed. It took an hour or so to get it updated and ready for use. With that done, I dug into some standard tasks that someone might want to do with it. Here are my findings:

  • It boots in 30 seconds, and you can be viewing a website 15 seconds later
  • It comes pre-loaded with standard apps like a browser, an email tool, and an office suite (LibreOffice)
  • You also get standard multimedia viewers for music, pictures, and videos
  • It comes with a few games, and you can load more
  • You can play many of the available online games
  • Installing a printer doesn’t take much effort
  • You can play local, or stream remote, high-def videos very well
  • The kit includes a 16GB SD card with half of it free for local storage, but you can have more storage by using a larger SD card, connected USB drives, network drives, or cloud services

The only thing that disappointed me was the difficulty in getting Zoom to work. It worked eventually—it even worked well—it just took a fair bit of effort to get there since Zoom has not yet been written for the processor in the Raspberry Pi.

As with the Zero W, the 400 still needs a few bits to make it functional. The good news is that they sell a kit that comes with everything you need, except an HDMI monitor. The kit—including the keyboard/computer itself—sells for $135 (buyapi.ca) … an amazing bargain.

I would say this kit is ideal for someone on a strict budget who wants a desktop PC to do the basics. It is still can do the projects that tinkerers want to do, but it truly stands up as a general-purpose PC, especially for the very young and the very old. It is dependable and easy to use, as long as your needs are simple.