Raspberry Pi: Where It Began

Updated 31 March 2020

The Raspberry Pi as we know it today is just the “tip of the iceberg”, the product of more than a decade of development, spanning 4 generations with up-to 18 boards and counting released so far. Alongside this development, there have also been many community events based around the Pi and education in all things computing.

So, I’ve put together a brief conversation on the history of the Raspberry Pi. In this guide we'll explore:

The Roots

The Raspberry Pi was initially conceived in 2006 by Eben Upton (co-founder of Raspberry Pi Foundation) to bring accessible and affordable open-source hardware and software to encourage young peoples’ journey into computer science. He felt that the platform of an easily programable computer, that had been ever-present in the 1980s, needed to be available to a modern audience.

His vision was to strip away the black box that was modern PC’s and allow hands-on experience of the inner workings of a computer system. This included things like feeling the heat radiate off the processor working underload and seeing how components could be connected as peripherals. It also had to be cost-effective; if it broke while tinkering it had to be affordable enough that this wouldn’t be a costly error. Allowing young people to be creative, learn by mistakes and connect components without worrying too much about shorting things.

The conceptual Raspberry Pi had its humble beginnings as a simple Perfboard circuit, constructed by hand using off-the-shelf parts costing only ‎$25 (USD). A PCB model was developed briefly as well. At the heart of the prototype Pi was an Atmel ATmega644 microcontroller clocked at 22.1 MHz and capable of outputting a 320×240 component video signal. The overall design was too simple and not powerful enough to be of use, only capable of running a simple 3D render, and without the ability to run a general-purpose operating system.

Raspberry Pi 2006 veroboard PCB prototype and graphic

The Foundation & Prototyping

First board meeting 2012Upton continued his pursuit to revive interest in computer science and in early 2009 the Raspberry Pi Foundation was assembled. Consisting of Eben Upton, Pete Lomas (Norcott Technologies), David Braben (Elite, Frontier, BBC Micro), and Cambridge University lecturers Jack Lang, Dr Rob Mullins and Prof Alan Mycroft.

They also needed a name. The Raspberry in Raspberry Pi is a reference to a fruit naming tradition in the old days of microcomputers (Tangerine Computer Systems, Apricot Computers, Apple). The Pi comes from the original intention of running only Python, which it’s gone above and beyond in terms of capability.

Over the next 4 years, an intensive development cycle began. With no official team of staff or large-scale infrastructure, work began with just a handful of volunteers working out of their home. With this team of individuals from the University of Cambridge designing and Broadcom manufacturing, the Raspberry Pi finally had a powerhouse behind it to get moving.

Progress was slow in the early years of development as sticking to delivering a board capable of being a useful educational tool while keeping the costing around $30 (USD) was a difficult goal.

Luckily in early 2011 a design for a low-cost processor developed by Broadcom, Upton’s employer at the time, had been produced. This ARM 11 chip was squeezed into the Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip, combined with onboard graphics and RAM. With this low-cost processing strength, the Raspberry Pi would be capable of running a desktop version of the opensource Linux operating systems that had been developed over the previous years.

The first iteration of this design resembled a somewhat underpowered thumb drive, more akin to the later released Pi Zero. Officially named Micro DB, it was publicized via some small blogs and websites and garnered huge attention. This kindled the fire that started the most intensive part of the development cycle.

A larger and much more costly Alpha board, costing close to $110 (USD) was the next step in development. Bringing down the cost took many months of engineering to whittle it down what would be a more affordable and form-fitting Beta board. Pete Lomas worked intensively on this process, developing inventive engineering solutions such as removing the onboard audio chip in favour of software-based solution using pulse-width modulation and a few basic components. Eventually, a small test batch of the Beta boards was produced, with the first tested board not powering up at all! Thankfully, it was a small lapse in documentation review related to a disconnected voltage rail that was easily corrected with some soldering.  

The other side of the success of the Raspberry Pi was the charitable aspect of the foundation, Eben was lucky enough to get the initial development and manufacturing secured at affordable prices because this was a charitable venture.

Raspberry Pi prototype boards 

Raspberry Pi Boards

Raspberry Pi 1 Model BIn February 2012 the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B went on sale for $35 (USD), garnering more than 100,000 orders on the first day, overwhelming the foundation with rocketing demand. Their initial expectation being only around 1000.

While trying to keep the production of the board in-house, running batches of 10,000 at a time to fund the cost of the next batch, it resulted in a costly excise in manufacturing and supply chains. This forced production of the initial boards overseas to China.

The Raspberry Pi 1 Model B that launched in 2012 consisted of two USB 2.0 ports, 100Mbps Ethernet, HDMI 1.3, 26 GPIO pin header, with a 700MHz single-core processor, VideoCore IV GPU capable of hardware-accelerated 1080p video playback and 256MiB of RAM (Later models having 512MiB).


After fulfilling the unexpected demand, it became clear that a had to pivot from hardware and software-based to a licensing model. So Raspberry Pi trading was born, kept in check by the Raspberry Pi foundation. This was to make sure the ethos of the foundation was adhered to; being an opensource and affordable educational tool.

Subsequent models of Raspberry Pi’s have been designed and released to suit a host of varying applications and users such as -

  • Raspberry Pi Model A – A low-cost version of Model B but without networking peripherals.
  • Raspberry Pi Zero – A smaller board, with the same capabilities of the RPi 1 Model B, coming in 3 different forms; with and without wireless networking, along with a GPIO header model.
  • Raspberry Pi Compute Module – Designed for industrial purposes without any easy connection points, the PCI connection edge intended for custom PCB interfaces.

Raspberry Pi official boards

These flagship Pi’s found a home among DIY’ers, makers and hobbyists initially. What followed was an explosion of maker projects, the Raspberry Pi filling the gap of powerful, affordable microcomputers with network capabilities. After the first year of availability, it started to transition into the educational environment as guides and blogs filled up with projects and tutorials. 


The not-for-profit educational organisations also experienced growth around this time as well. These organisations were aiming to fill the need to provide easy access to a computer science education along with resources for younger generations.

The focus of these organisations being to provide a place for aspiring programmers to learn the basics and hone their skills, with the Raspberry Pi serving as an accessible platform to cater to this.


CoderDojo, founded by two self-taught programmers in July 2011, is a global community run volunteer-run workshops spanning multiple programming platforms. With a combination of general volunteers, mentors and students these workshops create a space where people from 7 to 17 years old can learn code in a relaxed social environment using 100’s of ready-made coding projects.

In May 2017 the Raspberry Pi Foundation merged with CoderDojo, with founders Bill Liao and James Whelton becoming members of the foundation.


Coolest Projects

CoderDojo also started their own showcasing community event, Coolest Projects. This gave young makers a chance to debut their budding projects and ideas, along with growing the local community and offering a first-hand example of the practical applications of programming and technology.

Coolest projects logo

Code Club

Code Club was founded in 2012 with a similar goal to CoderDojo, aiming to offer free project-based workshops with a narrower age range of 9 to 13 years old. These workshops aim to teach young people Scratch, HTML & CSS and Python.

In 2017 Code Club merged with the Raspberry Pi foundation, with co-founder Clare Sutcliffe becoming a member of the foundation. 

Code Club logo

Raspberry Jam

Starting out in 2012, Raspberry Jams have been a community-run event of workshops for beginners, drop-in sessions to work on your own projects, show-and-tell, talks, and more.

These are a more education-focused event compared to Coolest Projects. They give young makers an introduction to Raspberry Pi’s and programming, along with room for progress and a chance to show off projects.

Raspberry Jam logo

Raspberry Pi Foundation Resources

Along with community-run events, the foundation also runs its own section of education. These range from online courses, educational resources and workshops.

  • Online courses – Run via FutureLearn, these free courses provide a similar experience to Pi Academy to allow an easy beginning to a computing education
  • Raspberry Pi Curriculum – A curriculum to track project-based non-formal education of programming and design.
  • Pi Academy – a face-to-face multi-day workshop for educators and workshop organisers to up-skill or take the first step into computing education, along with certification as a Raspberry Pi education

Raspberry Pi Foundation logo

Final thoughts 

So, this has just been a brief breakdown of the history of Raspberry Pi, where it all started and some of the interesting things that came up along the way.

In my next guide, we look into the boards of 2020!

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