Britain’s Raspberry Pi ARM-based microcomputer, designed for education, is rolling off the production lines — in China
In a blog post, the foundation said that “the first units from the first batch will be rolling off the line at the end of January”, adding that initially only Model B (the 256M version with 10/100M Ethernet) units will be produced, with Model A (128M, no ethernet) units being available at a later stage.
The foundation was unable to say when the microcomputers would be available for sale. In particular , the company has not yet stated whether customers will have to wait for all 10,000 units to be produced before being able to buy one.
The device includes a 700MHz ARM11 processor, 128/256MB of SDRAM, an HDMI output, USB 2.0, memory card slots and will run a variety of open source software such as Ubuntu.
Disappointingly, the foundation was unable to secure manufacturing in the UK and has had to resort to producing the low-cost devices in Taiwan and China.
“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to manage manufacture in quite the way we’d hoped. As you will know if you’ve been reading the forums and the articles on this website, the Raspberry Pi Foundation had intended to get all its manufacture done in the UK; after all, we’re a UK charity, we want to help bootstrap the UK electronics industry, and doing our manufacturing in the UK seemed another way to help reach our goals,” said foundation project blogger Liz Upton.
The foundation said that its attempts to manufacture locally were thwarted by time, cost and taxes, noting that the lead time for production from all UK manufacturers it approached was between 12 and 14 weeks, compared to a 3-4 week turnaround in the Far East, while the UK manufacturers with the capacity to produce enough devices were “were typically quoting very high prices”, which would not only wipe out any potential margin, but would mean producing the Raspberry Pi at a loss.
“When you’re talking about tens of thousands of units per batch, losing that sum of money for the charity – a sum that we can spend on more manufacture, more outreach work and more research and development – just to be able to say we’d kept all the work in one country, starts to look irresponsible,” said Upton.
The issue that caused the charity the most chagrin, however, was the high level of tax that it would have to pay to build the Raspberry Pi in Britain. “If a British company imports components, it has to pay tax on those (and most components are not made in the UK). If, however, a completed device is made abroad and imported into the UK – with all of those components soldered onto it – it does not attract any import duty at all. This means that it’s really, really tax inefficient for an electronics company to do its manufacturing in Britain, and it’s one of the reasons that so much of our manufacturing goes overseas,” explained Upton.
Technically, this means a tax break for manufacturing outside the UK, an issue which the charity has taken up with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Supporters of the Raspberry Pi concept have also voiced their concerns about this damaging tax structure, starting up a petition to raise the issue with government.
Recently, Raspberry Pi fans were able to bid on 10 beta boards auctioned off through eBay to raise funds for the project. Bids for the devices increased to a staggering £2,100, with one anonymous buyer paying £989 and then donating the device to the Computer Museum at the Centre for Computing History.