On-Prem

Personal Tech

Having trouble getting your mitts on that Raspberry Pi? You aren't alone

The Register talks to Eben Upton about supply, demand, and hand-to-hand combat until 2023


Interview "It's hand-to-hand combat" was the phrase used by Raspberry Pi supremo Eben Upton when talking to The Register about meeting demand amid the ongoing chip supply challenges faced by the computer industry.

Back in May, Upton had told The Reg "We're very good at pipelining" and the company has continued to pump out Pis even as shortages bit. Over 650,000 units were shipped in July, and earlier this year the company managed 800,000 a month.

Eben Upton

However, despite that pipelining, the diminutive computer has suffered supply hiccups as demand continued to surge. While the shelves of the company's outlet in Cambridge, UK, remained relatively full ("realistically," said Upton, "this will probably be the last place to run dry"), other suppliers are quoting some impressive lead times.

At time of writing the retailer Farnell was posting a lead time of 373 days for a 4GB Pi 4 Model B.

Click to enlarge

Supplier RS Components quoted a despatch date of 1 September for the same unit, while the Pi Hut has stock ready to go. Throughout the range, some models remain elusive.

The two gigabyte variant of the Pi 4 certainly seems to be a little thin on the ground (Upton told us the four gigabyte incarnation was the "sweet spot" for consumers although industrial customers tended to favour the lower memory version.)

What's stopping us from flexing up is basically everything... everything is on fire...

"The aspiration of Raspberry Pi was always to be able to serve large industrial orders from stock," he said.

"What's stopping us from flexing up is basically everything... everything is on fire.

"It's the motto of this year," he added.

Register reader Chris, who noted the fun at Farnell, also highlighted supply problems for the Pi Zero, with some customers facing rationing for the in-demand product.

"Zero supply is extremely tight at the moment," said Upton, "it's been disproportionately affected both by the increase in general demand and the push-out of semiconductor lead times."

"We're doing our best to address it, but it's a difficult balancing act serving both OEM customers and individuals via the Approved Reseller network."

"I think we'll survive through the rest of 2021 with non-Zero products just about in stock," he said, "and then be in a much healthier position from Q1 of next year.

"But honestly the hand-to-hand combat element is unlikely to end until 2023."

Balancing the needs of a one- or two-unit purchase against an order for 10,000 units remains a challenge; Upton told us that demand from industrial applications has jumped, adding to the needs of enthusiasts enduring a year of lockdown.

"What's happened this year," he said, "is the industrial side of the business has grown. I think, in the first six months, we did more compute modules than in the whole of last year."

The mix has mostly been Compute Module 3 and 3+, although Upton noted that the Compute Module 4 had taken off faster than expected despite the change in form factor and a tendency for industry to shy away from change.

Last month, according to Upton, over 100,000 Compute Modules were shipped. A figure not to be sniffed at.

And it is industry applications on which Upton and co have an eye on, with the recent launch of the RP2040 chip, found in the Raspberry Pi Pico. "We've shipped around 800,000 Picos," said Upton. "We've got about a 600,000 order backlog."

"They are separate franchises," he explained. "The Pi is a great development platform for RP2040 and RP2040 is a great companion for the Pi.

"Obviously, the Pi is a vastly larger franchise than the semiconductor side. On the other hand, the microcontroller business is an enormously large business to grow into."

As well as the RP2040, the troubled PoE HAT received an update this year in the form of the PoE+ HAT, aimed at pumping more power to the Pi via Ethernet (depending on one's choice of switch and cabling.)

The update has not been without issues. Although noting the changes in the design, "I don't think it's hotter," said Upton. "We've done a lot on the thermal design to dissipate that extra power more effectively."

However, "I think we're replacing 12mm bolts with 11mm bolts," he added. Observers have suggested 10mm might have been better, but Upton is concerned about the risk: "the nut can fall off the bolt." And bad things would happen...

A place where one certainly wouldn't want loose nuts is on the International Space Station (ISS), which has had a pair of Raspberry Pi computers onboard since ESA astronaut Tim Peake deployed them during the Principia mission between 2015 and 2016.

Those units are getting a little long in the tooth, although remain as popular as ever with participants keen to see code running on orbit. Recently, the Raspberry Pi team boasted of almost 15,000 participants and over 9,400 programs running on the Astro Pis. While the brightness of the LED displays of the devices has caused grief for astronauts, the hardware itself has long been surpassed by what is available to students on Earth.

ESA has remained relatively tightlipped on a replacement for the computers, although Upton mused on some of the challenges that something like a Pi 4 might face on the ISS. The far smaller 28nm process (down from the 40nm of old) means more is packed into a small die, making for greater potential for upset in the harsh environment of the ISS.

Assuming, of course, new Astro Pis are indeed on the way.

The successful engagement with participants of both the Mission Zero and Mission Space Lab would make it an easy win for space bosses and a reminder of the original mission of the Pi itself – to generate an interest in coding. ®

Send us news
60 Comments

For the nth time, China bans cryptocurrencies

Coin prices drop after People's Bank reiterates crackdown

China has once again banned cryptocurrencies.

It's not even the first time this month Beijing's done so, let alone the first time ever, yet word of the reiterated crackdown sent coin prices tumbling, which may have been the ultimate goal.

Bitcoin fell by 5.5 per cent, Ethererum by 7.4 per cent, and Dogecoin by 14.9 per cent, for instance, after this latest announcement and have since rebounded somewhat.

Continue reading

Frustrated dev drops three zero-day vulns affecting Apple iOS 15 after six-month wait

Security Bounty program scolded for broken promises

Upset with Apple's handling of its Security Bounty program, a bug researcher has released proof-of-concept exploit code for three zero-day vulnerabilities in Apple's newly released iOS 15 mobile operating system.

The bug hunter, posting on Thursday to Russia-based IT blog Habr under the name "IllusionOfChaos" and to Twitter under the same moniker, expressed frustration with Apple's handling of vulnerability reports.

"I've reported four 0-day vulnerabilities this year between March 10 and May 4, as of now three of them are still present in the latest iOS version (15.0) and one was fixed in 14.7, but Apple decided to cover it up and not list it on the security content page," the researcher wrote.

Continue reading

Yugabyte's double-decker DBaaS follows Cochroach in distributed RDBMS

Hopes to lure users with promise of relieving operational burden

Distributed relational database Yugabyte has launched a database-as-a-service product following a rush of inspiration from Facebook, Google and the world of FOSS.

While the open-source DBaaS impressed one analyst, it will have to cope with competition from well-funded CockroachDB, which has had its DBaaS on the market for nearly three years.

Yugabyte is sort of a double-decker database. It is inspired by Google Spanner underneath and compatible with PostgreSQL on top. As Yugabyte founder and CTO Karthik Ranganathan, a former Facebook technical lead, explained to The Register earlier this year:

Continue reading

EurekAI... Neural network leads chemists to discover 'four new materials'

All said to conduct lithium atoms, may be useful for electric car batteries

Chemists have discovered four new materials based on ideas generated from a neural network, according to research published in Nature.

Uncovering new materials is challenging. Scientists have to search for combinations of molecules that lead to useful compounds that can be manufactured.

Traditional methods rely on fiddling around with known materials, and although these techniques narrow down the search for materials that work well, they don’t always produce something useful, according to Matt Rosseinsky, a chemistry professor at England's University of Liverpool who co-wrote the research paper.

Continue reading

Scientists took cues from helicopter seeds to invent tiny microchips that float on wind

'Microfliers' could carry sensors to monitor air pollution and more

Video As autumn arrives in the northern hemisphere, scientists have shown how tiny connected semiconductors can be distributed on the wind in a similar way to the seasonal spreading of airborne seeds.

Researchers led by Professor John Rogers of the US's Northwestern University designed printed circuits able to manifest rotational behaviours, as seen in helicopter and spinner seeds, that enhance the stability and flying behaviour.

In a paper published in Nature this week, they argue that simple electronics can be integrated into the designs, with one example containing a circuit to detect airborne particles.

Continue reading

With just over two weeks to go, Microsoft punts Windows 11 to Release Preview

What's that coming over the hill? Is it new hardware? Is it new hardware?

Microsoft has followed up a lacklustre Surface hardware event with a Windows 11 Release Preview for Windows Insiders.

Assuming, of course, those Insiders are possessed of an "eligible PC" – for Microsoft does not appear to be backing down on its vendor-delighting and customer-frustrating hardware requirements for the new operating system.

The build in question is 22000.194, which emerged last week in the Beta Channel to the disappointment of users trying to run Windows 11 on a virtual machine that is not to Microsoft's liking. Its arrival in Release Preview yesterday, just over two weeks from general availability on 5 October, is an indicator that fans should expect little more than patches and updates until then.

Continue reading

Fukushima studies show wildlife is doing nicely without humans, thank you very much

Biodiversity increasing, endangered species gradually returning despite radioactive terror pig presence

Studies of biodiversity around the former Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan have shown that a decade after the nuclear incident there in March 2011, the local wildlife, at least, is mostly thriving.

The incident at the Fukushima Daiichi site – in which three of the site's six reactors suffered meltdowns due to damage from an earthquake-induced tsunami – was one of only two events in history to be rated at level 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (the other being Chernobyl).

This scale is not related to the quantity of radioactive material released (although that was considerable), but by the number of people affected by the event. Following the incident, 154,000 people were evacuated from the area surrounding the plant due to the risk of radioactive contamination, a number second only to the 335,000 evacuated from the environs of the Chernobyl plant in 1986.

Continue reading

HPE campaigns against 'cloud first' push in UK public sector

Because HPE does not do public cloud? No, no, it is 'for the good'

Comment Hewlett Packard Enterprise has posted a "UK Public Sector Manifesto" with nine themes, alongside a campaign hyping the value of hybrid cloud.

The bugbear for HPE is that UK government introduced a "cloud first" policy in 2013.

The current version was revised in 2017 but it mandates that central government, when buying new IT services, must consider a cloud solution – and specifically a public cloud, rather than "a community, hybrid or private deployment model" – before any other option.

Continue reading

Tech contractors fume over payday outage at Giant Pay after it sniffs 'suspicious activity'

Technical difficulties, please stand by

Giant Pay – an umbrella company used by contractors across the UK – has confirmed "suspicious activity" on its platform is behind a days-long ongoing outage that has left folk fretting about whether they'll get paid this month.

In an update on its website today, the firm said: "Upon detection of suspicious activity on our network on 22nd September 2021, we immediately assembled a response team including IT data experts and specialist lawyers, and we are currently working with the highest priority to resolve this issue.

"As part of the investigation and as a measure of caution, we have proactively taken our systems offline and suspended all services temporarily." It also confirmed it had contacted regulatory authorities and assured contractors they would get paid.

Continue reading

Parking is expensive. It can cost an arm, a leg, and a Windows licence

Activate Windows and put up a parking lot

Bork!Bork!Bork! Sometimes only the freshest of borks will do, and sometimes the best laid plans of administrators can go awry.

Continue reading

'Nobody in their right mind would build a naval base here today': Navigating in and out of Devonport

Twisting and turning like a twisty-turny thing

Boatnotes II As HMS Severn continues hosting the Royal Navy's Fleet Navigating Officer's course, The Register has taken a closer look at the precision demanded of naval officers conning their ships in and out of one of the most cramped ports where the Navy routinely operates.

Entering and leaving Plymouth, home to Devonport naval base, is a tricky operation under naval rules as we observed.

Continue reading