Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and Moore’s Law
Most people with an interest in computing are familiar with Moore’s Law, Intel cofounder Gordon Moore’s famous observation in 1965 that the number of components on an integrated circuit, and therefore processing power/price, increased exponentially.
While he didn’t call it that himself, what came to be known as Moore’s Law has steadily held true ever since with remarkable consistency.
(Though as we approach the physical limits of component size at the nanoscale, the continued doubling of computer performance will have to enter a new paradigm, whether in the form of 3-dimensional circuit boards, quantum computing, or something else…we can’t wait to see!).
The practical upshot of this is that computers have gone from expensive, slow, room-sized machines to the astronomically more powerful, faster, and cheaper devices that we all carry around in our pockets today.
So how do single-board computers and microcontrollers like Raspberry Pi and Arduino fit in to the broader trend of Moore’s Law? Are they getting better, faster, and cheaper at an exponential rate?
Let’s look at the trends in Arduino and Raspberry Pi board power over price.
Arduino and the Origins of Open-Source Microcomputing
The very existence of single-board computers was made possible by the increasing density of integrated circuits predicted by Moore’s Law.
The first such devices were being developed by the late 1970s, but the advent of the personal computer with its architecture consisting of a motherboard housing the main components and separate daughterboards for peripheral ones led PCs to dominate the market for some time.
Only after several further generations, advances in power eventually enabled SBCs to become a viable alternative, reducing a system’s overall cost by reducing the number of circuit boards and eliminating the connectors they would require. This ultimately led to the development of notebook computers and eventually tablets and smartphones with this more simplified architecture.
By the 1990s there were some single-board computers and microcontrollers on the market for electronics hobbyists, but even by the early 2000s most were still a bit on the expensive side for widespread personal use, particularly for students.
That’s where Arduino entered the picture.
Among the first Open Source Hardware projects, Arduino introduced their first microboard in 2005 to help students with no previous programming or electronics experience to learn how “to create working prototypes connecting the physical world to the digital world.”
The board with its basic parts would cost between 30 to 50 US dollars, only about half what the previous market leader did.
Raspberry Pi and Full Microboard Computing
But whereas Arduino boards are simply microcontrollers that don’t run a full operating system but just firmware to interpret and execute written code, Raspberry Pi is for all intents and purposes a fully functional computer, capable of running its own Linux-based OS.
Introduced in 2012, it was a credit card-sized device that sold for $35.
And each new major model released since has maintained the same price point while increasing performance significantly
(For example, Raspberry Pi 2 packed 4-6 times more processing power in the same tiny, affordable package in 2015, and 2016’s Raspberry Pi 3 was 10x faster than the original, or nearly twice as fast as the previous year’s model).
The release of Raspberry Pi 4 in 2019 hasn’t quite kept up this same pace of performance improvement, though it is significantly faster and more powerful than previous versions and for a bit more money ($55) is available in an upgraded model with 4GB of RAM.
This makes it the first such SBC able to truly compete in the mass consumer market, capable of running sites like Facebook and Gmail or streaming high resolution video on streaming apps like YouTube.
The Future of Moore’s Law for Arduino and Raspberry Pi
While Moore’s Law may be showing signs of slowing down a bit, there are still plenty of improvements to be made to microboard computing, especially with an open-source model like that of Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
Where will the future take us?
So far, Arduino and Raspberry have continued to release new and improved boards more or less on par with the general trend of Moore’s Law, so the possibilities will likely keep increasing exponentially.
And be sure to stop back by our blog for more ideas to get you started on your own projects and all the latest Arduino and Raspberry Pi news!