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Buy 'em by the punnet: Raspberry Pi offers RP2040 chips in bulk

'Reel'-y cheap – like $0.70 a pop

If you only need the smallest of Raspberry Pi chips, but you need a lot of them, you can now buy the gang's RP2040 microcontrollers directly from the farm supplier in lots of 500 or 3,400.

Because the Raspberry Pi range is so cheap, people use lots of them – even in places where a complete Linux computer is arguably overkill. That's probably why, this time last year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation launched the Raspberry Pi Pico, a $4 device based around the RP2040 microcontroller – its first in-house CPU design.

The end-user version of the Pi Pico is a tiny PCB containing the RP2040 system-on-a-chip (SoC) and 2 MB of flash memory. (The board is a hair over 2×5cm, so only slightly bigger than an old-style DIP chip such as a Z80.) The RP2040 is still an ARM, but a tiny one: a dual-core 133 MHz Cortex M0+, plus 264 kB of RAM.

By June last year it was offering the bare SoCs for $1 a unit, and now, you can buy them directly, via Raspberry Pi Direct. If you buy a reel of 500, the chips cost $0.80 each, and if you buy reels of 3400, the price falls to $0.70 a pop.

These are bare chips containing processor and RAM. For them to boot up and do anything, you'll also have to supply some external flash memory. As founder Eben Upton told us last year, "a $0.10 to $0.20 external QSPI Flash is required to store program code."

That's a Quad-SPI serial flash memory chip, with the RP2040 supporting up to 16MB. It also supports XIP, meaning "Execute in Place" – code can run directly in Flash and doesn't have to be loaded into RAM to run.

Some analysts are predicting that chip shortages will get somewhat better by the middle of the year and lift next year, but until then, the Raspberry Pi Foundation could do very well out of the tiniest Pi. ®

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