Not Particularly Fast, Real Cheap and Under Control
June 14, 2006 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a very cheap single-board computer for use in a project. It needs to be small, and have a graphics controller built in.

This is for a hopefully high-volume product so cheap is the largest consideration, under $10 per unit is essential. Don't care much what the processor is--an 8-bit CPU like a 6502 is just fine--and the graphics controller need not be sophisticated, as the display will be RF'd to a regular tv, like an 80s-era video game. Low-res is fine.
posted by iconjack to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not sure if you'll find exactly what you're looking for there, but you might want to check Pricewatch, the 'barebones' section in particular.
posted by Raven13 at 10:46 AM on June 14, 2006

You don't give much info about intended use, required memory, storage, I/O, graphics capability, keyboard/mouse, etc etc. Also, what's "high volume"?

At very high volume, the cheapest computer would be a custom designed product using either an off-the-shelf processor & chipset, or a customised chip, like something from a microcontroller family.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:08 AM on June 14, 2006

You're not going to find a traditional SBC at that price point, much less any kind of PC. You're looking for an embedded micro. Sanyo makes a line of microcontrollers for captioning and OSD applications.Look here.
posted by kc8nod at 11:31 AM on June 14, 2006

You're likely into microcontrollers if you're talking about $10/unit, even in volume, just for the processor (generally the only way to get single microcontrollers is to sample - they really don't like selling them individually). Unless you have a lot of time to learn, or you know already, you're in for a very steep time with microcontrollers (and actually most embedded dev).

ARM/StrongARM/XScale are probably the cheapest microprocesors you're likely to find. If you're going the embedded uP route, I'd recommend Motorola's ColdFire series - they cram the most onto the chip/dev boards to make it a pretty good deal, eventually, and they should have enough processing power to drive TV-out. Getting a dev board for ColdFire is expensive, but iirc the actual per-chip prices are fairly reasonable. You could certainly prototype with a dev board & go from there.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:34 AM on June 14, 2006

1. You're not going to find what you're looking for at the price point you specify and the integration level you are looking for. Either prepare to spend a great deal more money per board, or be ready to implement your own board using custom silicon.

2. At a medium level of integration, you're looking for something like Zilog's ps0107 family.

Example Zilog part description
posted by felix at 11:44 AM on June 14, 2006

There are non-recurrring costs, too. You'll have to have some means of programming the selected platform.

If this is a one-up, forget the $10 limit... you'll exceed that with the development resources you need. If it is a product and you anticipate large volume, the closest I have seen to a $10 limit is the Basic Stamp, which is dead slow but cheap and small. They are available from Digikey ( and their manufacturer, Parallax ( ).

Check Rabbit processors. They've got development kits for $139 and a variety of SBCs. I think all of their units are based on Z180's.

Once you hit the $50 price range you have a larger selection of devices to choose from.

If you are going to use a microcontroller and have not done a project before, using a more expensive platform to prove your idea is a good thing to do before investing the time and money into a full-on product development and optimization. It's cheaper in the long run.

Too much info... sorry! Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 11:52 AM on June 14, 2006

The Atmel ATMega8 can drive a composite NTSC or PAL television with a 40x25 character display (PDF) using just three kilobytes of software. The ATMega8 can be found pretty easily for
under $4 individually
, presumably a lot less in quantity, and only requires a couple of other components: a 74HC573, a 74HC74 , and a 74HC165, which might set you back another couple bucks.

Can you do what you want in the leftover 5K?
posted by xiojason at 1:17 PM on June 14, 2006

It seems the consensus here is that I'm asking way too much for $10. Thanks to everyone for their responses.
I remained puzzled, however, because somehow Activision has crammed everything I need into a joystick package and retailing it for $10.
posted by iconjack at 9:06 AM on June 15, 2006

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