No, Erik Estrada has not turned into a maker. But C.H.I.P. is quickly becoming as popular as his '70s TV classic CHiPs, thanks to a price that makes the Raspberry Pi look like a Mac Pro in comparison. Calling itself the "world's first $9 computer," C.H.I.P. backers set a funding goal of $50,000 on Kickstarter, and blasted through it -- at last count, well over $1 million has been pledged. While you certainly get a computer for $9 -- 1GHz Allwinner processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and Linux OS -- the only extra item you'll get is a composite cable. Another $10 either gets you a VGA adapter or battery pack, and you can spend even more to get an HDMI adapter or PocketC.H.I.P., a portable version complete with touchscreen and built-in keyboard.
While the team behind Endless Computers can't match the $9 price point of C.H.I.P. (nor its Kickstarter total), it shares a similar goal of bringing affordable computing to the wider world. In particular, it hopes to redesign the PC for the developing world, with a unique look (almost like a little ghost) and an OS developed in-house and based on the smartphone aesthetic. The base $169 model is powered by an Intel Celeron N2807 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage, with a $189 version adding a speaker and Wi-Fi, and the $229 edition coming with a 500GB hard drive instead. As part of its philanthropic mission, Endless Computers allows you to buy one and give one for $500, buy a classroom's worth of Endless PCs for $2,000, or equip a whole school for $5,000.
Finnish company Jolla is crowd-funding royalty, having secured huge amounts of cash for its tablet after making a name for itself by releasing a handset based on its Sailfish version of the MeeGo operating system. The Jolla Tablet went hundreds of thousands of dollars over its initial funding goals on Indiegogo, thanks to its impressive specs (Intel processor, 2,048x1,536 8-inch screen) and innovative OS. While the first iteration of the Jolla Tablet included 32GB of built-in storage, the company has gone back to the Indiegogo well to seek more money to produce a 64GB version.
Another computer that smashed its fundraising goals is Novena, an open-source computer platform that has tripled its initial requirements at Crowd Supply. Novena is based around a Freescale iMX6 ARM CPU and offers a number of options for would-be tinkerers: $550 for the circuit board to build a system around, $1,315 for an all-in-one PC version (complete with 1080p HD display), and $2,195 for a laptop. (A $5,000 "heirloom laptop with a wood case is no longer available.) Those prices are obviously higher than typical commercial versions, but Novena gives hackers access to nearly everything, including operating system (though it ships with the Debian version of Linux), in a way that "closed" systems don't usually allow.
Like Novena, the Purism Librem 15 laptop is built on Linux, though it's emphasizing the OS experience rather than hardware hacking. While there have been a few Linux-based notebooks available over the years, the Librem 15 is trying to make its platform as open as possible to maximize freedom and privacy (its terms). For instance, it hopes to get Intel's BIOS code opened up, and Purism is manufacturing its own motherboard. It's not skimping on specs, either, as the Librem 15 will ship with a Core i7-4770HQ processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive and 1,920x1,080 for the base $1,900 configuration. It can handle up to 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and a 3,840x2,160 display if you're willing to pay more when the first laptops start shipping in April.
The huge success of Raspberry Pi, , has spurred a mini-industry of Pi-based products looking to be funded via Kickstarter and its ilk. Kano is one of the slickest and most well-funded, lapping its initial $100,000 goal more than 15 times. It provides a Pi-powered mini-computer in a box, complete with a tiny custom case, a cute little orange keyboard and touchpad, and even a diminutive external speaker. You also get beautifully illustrated instructions on how to put the Kano together, which its Kickstarter site shows can be assembled in a couple of minutes. The $119 kit (or $999 for a 10-pack, since the Kano is designed to be kid friendly for educational purposes) even includes your name being inserted into the Kano source code, something Apple probably won't be doing anytime soon.
While Kickstarter has Kano, Indiegogo has Pi-Top, a successfully funded laptop project built on Raspberry Pi. DIY laptops have never caught on the same way that building your own desktop PC has, but Pi-Top more than doubled its funding goals for hacker types that want to create a notebook around the Raspberry Pi Model B+. (One of its "stretch" goals it could meet with the extra funding is support for alternative boards like BeagleBone Black.) For $299 ($50 less if you already have a Pi board of your own), it comes with an injection-molded case, 13.3-inch LCD, battery, keyboard, touchpad, and everything else you need to put it together. Once you've assembled it, Pi-Top's founders hope you use it to learn more about your own devices for home automation, robots, and more through lesson plans it's integrated into the laptop as well as placing online.
Not to be confused with Microsoft's one-time Windows Phone OS update, the Tango project (run on both Kickstarter and Indiegogo) proves that Linux isn't the only OS that can have a crowd-funded PC. Tango is a Windows PC (either Windows 7 or 8.1) that fits in your pocket, yet somehow still manages to pack an AMD A6-5200 quad-core processor, anywhere from 2GB to 8GB of RAM, and a solid-state drive. It does this by offloading some of the parts -- such as the heatsink, fan, and connectors-- onto its docking station, which transfers a lot of the heat away from the portable PC unit. Tango is already being sold from $349, but the one catch is that it only comes with a trial version of Windows 7, so factor in the price of a Windows license as well. Of course, Tango can also run Linux if you choose.
Tango isn't the only crowd-funded mini Windows PC in town. It didn't raise nearly as much money as Tango, but Neutron went over its more modest funding goal. Neutron doesn't offer the same type of tricks that Tango does to reduce its footprint, but it's still fairly small while providing more powerful computing. Plus, you can't miss its plastic case in a choice of seven striking colors. It make use of the same boards Intel devised for its Next Unit of Computing (NUC) systems, with one configuration including a Core i3 Haswell processor and the other a Core i5 CPU. The less-powerful version comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, whereas the beefier edition doubles the RAM and provides 480GB of solid-state storage. Not surprisingly, Neutron is pricier than Tango, with the cheapest unit starting at $750 and not even shipping with an operating system. Others versions ship with Windows 8.1, though, again, Linux is always an option.
Rather than focusing on the maker crowd, the British founders behind Lumyt are aiming for PC enthusiasts who have felt stifled by their inability to upgrade laptops fully. The new project hopes to offer a notebook where you can upgrade nearly everything, including the motherboard. Modules like USB ports and an audio card will connect to the motherboard via cables rather than being integrated on it. To keep the laptop slimmer and lighter, Lumyt's founders foresee using an external graphics card in its own housing rather than placing a discrete board inside the notebook. It's early days for the project, with just a handful of backers, but 600 pounds (about $920) will get you a basic 15-inch Lumyt (with extension housing but no graphics cards), 900 pounds ($1,380) brings you a 15-inch version with graphics card, and 1,100 pounds ($1,690) earns you a 17-inch edition when (and if) the systems become available in 2016.