back to article Mini computer flingers go after a slice of the high street retail Pi

The first Pi shop has opened its doors in Cambridge and, if the first weekend of trading is anything to go by, has done rather well. Raspberry Pi Foundation supremo Eben Upton told The Register that the location had been selected because the slinger of diminutive computers reckoned the area has the right demographics of …

  1. trevorde Silver badge

    Can I buy more than one Pi Zero?

    Would almost make the trip to Cambridge worthwhile!

    1. techmind

      Re: Can I buy more than one Pi Zero?

      I think I recall a "one per customer" limit flagged on the shelf for Pi zeros. What's this all about?

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Can I buy more than one Pi Zero?

        The Zero is made in small batches.

    2. Alumoi Silver badge

      Re: Can I buy more than one Pi Zero?

      Get one with the header already soldered. I'm at 10 and counting.

    3. Oengus

      Re: Can I buy more than one Pi Zero?

      Easy to get more than 1. Core Electronics in Oz have the Pi Zero W with soldered headers. I use them all of the time. The shipping and exchange rates might make them a little less attractive to UK purchasers...

    4. bob, mon!

      Re: Can I buy more than one Pi Zero?

      Let's see --- 5 times Pi Zero is... Zero?

  2. Bush_rat

    Not Just a Store

    It'd be fantastic if they allow an area in the shop to be used like a hacker-space. Maybe a couple of monitors, mice and keyboards and an assortment of Pi. Let the kids try before you buy, or even set up the Pi in the shop and hit the ground running.

    Have nothing but good will for the Pi Foundation, I'm a frequent customer of their's and if you ever open a location in Australia I'll be the first in line!

    1. Matthew Smith

      Re: Not Just a Store

      That would be just like the good old days, when you'd walk up to the Spectrums on display in WH Smiths, quickly bash out "10 Print 'Poo ';20 Goto 10" and then walk out of the LIKE A BOSS. I miss oppotunities like that these days.

      1. knarf

        Re: Not Just a Store

        When Apple first opened a store in Glasgow, me and couple of others used to set all the home pages on the computers to, childish I know but fun. More fun watching a "Guru" trying to set it back.

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Not Just a Store

        I used to have a novel trick for the ZX81s that used to be on display in WH Smiths.

        I typed in a REM at line 10 that contained some code that changed the value of the Z80's I register, and then called the address (in the way that you could embed machine code in the first line of the program, which was always at a fixed address).

        The effect of this was scrambling the text on the screen, as the I register contained the top byte of the address of the character table used to generate the screen. It did not matter whether you cleared the screen, any new text on the screen was garbled.

        You could get some really bizarre effects, like offsetting the characters almost like rot-13, and unless you knew what had been done, it looked like the computer had crashed.

        (Incidentally, using this trick, if you put some static RAM on the ULA side of the bus isolating resistors, addressed to one of the gaps in the address map, and pointing the I register at it, you could actually have a programmable character set. On a ZX81!)

        Unfortunately, it did not survive pulling the power cord out and plugging it back in again, and I must confess that this was not a childhood prank, as I was 22 at the time!

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: Not Just a Store

          I always thought this was were Maplin should have gone instead of folding - if they'd hired a few CS students, did demos of some of their kits (and updated them to use modern technology, like transistors) they could have turned themselves into a sort of maker-space lite.

          Then I read this and realised they had already been dead for several years.

          1. Siberian Hamster

            Re: Not Just a Store

            I cannot agree with you more wholeheartedly! There were two assistants in my local Maplin that actually took an interest in what they were selling and I asked them why they didn't do 'demonstration days' to get people in and involved and therefore buying.

            They both said the same, manglement were not interested in the slightest, all they were interested in were sales, there was no opportunity or encouragement to help drive anything by the staff.

            As has been already said, if they have regular coding clubs or sessions for various age groups in store I think they could achieve so much.

    2. getHandle

      Re: Not Just a Store

      Ah, brings back memories of the plasticy smell of a bank of ZX Spectrums running '10 print "<obscenity>"; 20 goto 10' in Smiths...

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Not Just a Store

        10 print "<obscenity>"; 20 goto 10'

        You've just described pretty much every Saturday afternoon from when I was at school.

        IIRC, one of my gang discovered a poke which could be used to stop the 'break' key from working on one type of computer. The only thing more fun than a stream of obscenities scrolling over the screen was an uninterruptable stream of obscenities scrolling over the screen. Of course, in those days it was quite safe for the staff to simply switch the machine off and on again...none of that orderly shutdown nonsense back then.

        1. Rusty 1

          Re: Not Just a Store

          And on a BBC:

          10 *MOTOR 0

          20 *MOTOR 1

          30 GOTO 10

          followed by running out of the shop giggling.

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Not Just a Store


        20 RANDOMIZE USR 1234 *

        Or similar always got a queue of people in Smiths.

        * Or whatever the address was to drop you into the tape save routine, which made it look like it was loading something.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not Just a Store

          RAND USR 1221

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Not Just a Store

      hacker-space, or "maker space" (either one).

      They should make this a periodic event, a "mini maker fair" using RPi, to promote the platform, AND the store. Include some educational stuff, 3D printers, some robotics thingies, and sensors - loads of sensors - and who knows what creative minds could accomplish...

    Thumb Up

    Mould breakers

    Is there any trend these guys won't try to buck? Bricks and mortar shops are dead, everyone says so!

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Mould breakers

      Brick and mortar stores aren't dead by default. They're only dead if they offer no advantage (or even active detriment) compared to ordering stuff online. When it comes to this Pi-store, I'm not entirely sure what the "selling point" of it's physical location is. We'll have to wait and see. As long as the Pi foundation doesn't go all "we must have a Pi-Store in every mall" apeshit, having one store is just fine. You can shut that down again easily if it turns out to be too much of a loss maker. I don't think they're expecting much of a profit from the store anyway, which helps in viability.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Mould breakers

        I hope that this store provides two benefits. The first is almost certainly present, and that is that you don't have to pay for shipping. Usually, ordering parts to go along with the pi does not come with free shipping unless you are buying a bunch of things, and the shipping prices can be ridiculously high.

        I also hope that this shop sells components to connect to the pi at less of a markup than online retailers tend to do. This is one of the major problems with the pi; the board itself is wonderfully priced, but all the things you connect to it are at significant markups. Components like tiny screens, communications chips, or even LEDs and buttons, jump an order of magnitude when someone has rearranged it to play well with the pi. This makes it difficult to justify a pi project with a medium amount of added hardware because it usually costs a lot more than an analogous hardware device.* Of course, sometimes I find a pi accessory that has not been hideously overpriced (at those times, I feel a strong urge to buy it whether I need it or not because I'm so glad to see that it exists). Hopefully, the shop will find some less costly components and sell them without too much of a markup.

        *Take, for example, a pi project that uses a small touchscreen for display and control and also uses GPS. These functions could be accommodated by running the code on a cheap smartphone, which would probably cost $40-50 US. The pi costs $35, a touchscreen could run from $30-$50, and a GPS receiver is probably in the $40 range. I still favor the pi solution if you can do it, but I can't explain why it justifies the 2.5x price difference, especially as the phone has a better screen, battery, and a number of other hardware capabilities that haven't been added to this.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mould breakers

          "This makes it difficult to justify a pi project with a medium amount of added hardware because it usually costs a lot more than an analogous hardware device.*"

          Maybe using something like a recycled smartphone makes some sense, in some circustances, especiall if it's a short life one off project with no educational content. So do it. E.g. I'm curremtly looking at using an old Android phone with a USB powerbank as a timelapse camera connected via WiFi for a one off pilot. I've got all the bits (except a waterproof enclosure - I may repurpose a bird box).

          Now try to do the same thing again on a larger or longer scale. E.g. ten off, to be built in ten different places, with identical components and software (and documentation), ideally with CE-marked or equivalently certfied stuff, ideally reproducible compatibly over (say) a three year period, where the target market isn't the stereotype electronics/IT geek.

          Good luck to anyone who tries to do that.

          1. juice

            Re: Mould breakers

            > Now try to do the same thing again on a larger or longer scale. E.g. ten off, to be built in ten different places, with identical components and software (and documentation), ideally with CE-marked or equivalently certfied stuff, ideally reproducible compatibly over (say) a three year period, where the target market isn't the stereotype electronics/IT geek.

            There's something to this, not least because you're likely to get at least some economies of scale if bulk-buying components.

            OTOH, things have moved on quite a lot since the Pi was launched in 2012 and it's hard to compete with the economies of scale (and hardware integration) which have been applied to mobile phone manufacturing.

            Even low-end Android mobile handsets have pretty impressive feature set - the lowest-spec handset currently being flogged by Carphone Warehouse has 512mb ram, 4GB storage, a 1.3ghz quadcore processor, a 2MP camera, wifi, gyros, GPS, bluetooth, etc.

            For £50, sim-free. Admittedly, the handset in question has been savaged in the reviews and I haven't checked to see if it's boot-locked, but it's cheap, pre-assembled (so both tested and environmentally sealed to at least some degree) and relatively easy/cheap to develop for. And I'm assuming that anything CW sells will have at least some certification.

            There's always going to be cases where you need to build some specifically tailored hardware, or where you want more flexibility and/or more security than can be offered via a standard handset.

            And the Pi and it's ilk are very strong when it comes to dealing with sensor readings and control of external machinery - 3D printers, garage doors, hunter-killer robots, etc.

            Plus, from an enthusiast's perspective, building something with a Pi is just more fun ;)

            But for a lot of things these days, there's an app for that. And even if there isn't, it's generally cheaper and easier to write software than build hardware!

            1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

              Re: Mould breakers

              I would answer this with one word...


            2. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Mould breakers

              Pis are brilliant for tasks where they run headless, performing network tasks, serving as simple servers, and the like. They also do a wonderful job when running complex equipment (driving motors, wired into automation setups, etc.). They do an OK job as desktops. It's the remaining category where it can be hard to justify. I prefer to use them when I have the parts lying around, mostly because I can use all the tools Linux has to offer, write a program or an OS image as suits the project, and expand things whenever necessary by attaching other hardware or creating new interfaces.

              However, if I was making a time lapse camera that uplinks via WiFi and I wanted multiples of them, I'd have to use phones for that. The first problem is price. A raspberry pi 0W costs $10, and the camera for it costs $20. This makes it look like the cost will be only $30, but this brings me to the second reason to choose phones. Raspberry pis don't work well with batteries. They just don't last long enough for something this large. With a phone, I could use the same power bank to keep the phone charged, and when the bank died the phone could continue its job for hours on its battery while sending me a message to swap out the batteries. The pi would only run on the battery unless you also purchase a secondary UPS board for it, $15-25. Even then, the board is more power hungry under many circumstances because it doesn't have the type of power-saving stuff in software that phones do.

            3. Alumoi Silver badge

              Re: Mould breakers

              And every one of those damned phones runs Android. Pi runs Linux.

              1. doublelayer Silver badge

                Re: Mould breakers

                Which is why I want to use a pi over a phone whenever feasible. However, the price of extra components and performance in portable scenarios make some projects that are pi-based less feasible.

        2. Jim 59

          Re: Mould breakers

          Business wise, it doesn't make much sense. The store is probably just a focal point for publicity, and might work in that capacity, particularly if it continues to generate stories like this. Hopefully it will keep the Pi buzz going. Maybe they could do some live streaming from the store or summat.

          Upton't already said there will be nothing this 14th March, but he would say that, wouldn't he?

          1. Dave Bell

            Re: Mould breakers

            Ah, yes, Pi Day.

            Nobody really knows what the politicians will do, and so how Brexit will turn out. I am not sure that any tech company can launch anything in the UK before midsummer. Brexit adds too much risk.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mould breakers

      10k revenue from 3 days trading ....... from which you need to take away the cost of the goods (a Pi doesn't have Apple scale margins). Next take away the staff costs, shop rental, the rates (bricks and mortar shops pay a lot), electricity and heating, some contribution to the costs of fitting out the shop, VAT ....... and probably lots more costs. That's why brick and mortar shops are "almost" dead.

  4. Kubla Cant

    Grand Arcade?

    Grand Arcade is an intriguing choice of location. I've no idea what its retail rents are like, but if the price of car parking* is any indication they must be among the highest in the city. And although the shoppers there are as badly-dressed as everyone in Cambridge**, it's not exactly a geek vibe.

    *It famously used to be the case that it could be cheaper to get a parking ticket than to pay for some periods in Grand Arcade. Not any more. Cambridge council fixed that by increasing the parking fines.

    **For an awe-inspiring display of sartorial infelicity, try mingling with the glittering crowd in the foyer of West Road Concert Hall.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Grand Arcade?

      I think that 4 people in one car it's cheaper to pay to park at Grand Arcade but for 3 or less then the Park and Ride works out cheaper.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Grand Arcade?

      If only Cambridge was a city where it was possible to get to the shops by bus (guided or normal), by bike, or even just by walking…

  5. Kubla Cant

    Mini computer flingers

    You mean there's a shop in Grand Arcade selling PDP-11s?

    1. Captain Hogwash

      Re: Mini computer flingers

      I've never been but it sounds like it's a PR1ME retail location.

    2. Flakk

      Re: Mini computer flingers

      I thought exactly the same thing. When did the single-board computer become a mini-computer? Then again, I'm still trying to figure out how intel's bread-and-butter product graduated from being a microprocessor into a full-blown processor.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mini computer flingers

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mini computer flingers

        In a 1970 survey, The New York Times suggested a consensus definition of a minicomputer as a machine costing less than US$25,000 (equivalent to $161,000 in 2018), with an input-output device such as a teleprinter and at least four thousand words of memory, that is capable of running programs in a higher level language, such as Fortran or BASIC. I think the Pi comfortably meets that definition.

        The PDP-8 managed a stonking 0.25 Mflops , to a pi 3's 2400 Mflops . So I think it's reasonable to call it a mini computer. If it makes you feel better you could always buy an old teletype case, rip the innards out and stuff the pi inside.

        1. Jens Goerke

          Re: Mini computer flingers

          If it makes you feel better you could always buy an old teletype case, rip the innards out and stuff the pi inside.

          There is enough room in an old teletype for a Pi, a 20mA driver board, and a suitable PSU.

          Unless support for upper-case-only terminals has been removed from the driver it should work quite well...

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge

            Re: Mini computer flingers

            Instead of using an old teletype, I'd suggest a modified VT100 terminal instead. Or something that looks like it, maybe?

            in theory you could just hide the USB and video cables, and put appropriate hardware into appropriate places within a look-alike case...

            teletypes are so 1960's, really. By the mid 1970s it was DECwriters and ASCII serial terminals, basically the standard for the PDP11 era.

      3. Persona Silver badge

        Re: Mini computer flingers

        Intel started with 4 bit microprocessors and the package only had 16 pins. A Xeon Phi with 72 64bit cores in a package with 3647 pins .......... is a lot bigger. Way to big to still call a microprocessor.

        1. eldakka

          Re: Mini computer flingers

          Compared to vacuum tube based processors that took up a full room to give you less computational power than todays (hell, a 1970's) desktop calculator, they are still 'micro'. ;)

    3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Mini computer flingers

      You mean there's a shop in Grand Arcade selling PDP-11s?

      I wish, I really wish that were true.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Mini computer flingers

      PDP-11 emulators running on an RPi - was the first thing that crossed my mind...

      (it'd probably run faster than the original hardware)




      MESG: .ASCII "Hello, world"

      .BYTE 15, 12, 0

      I think that's right... yeah

  6. Anonymous Coward

    I wonder what many people will think...

    ... about that other fruity logo and the strange phones they sell....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder what many people will think...

      Imagine the look on their faces when they realise that for what one shop will charge them for an Apple cable they could buy an entire computer from the shop next door.

      1. Flakk

        Re: I wonder what many people will think...

        I'm further imagining their smug turned to horror once they get their new purchase home and realize that they have to assemble it on their own (what's a heat sink?)... and load the OS (what's a RetroArch?)... and that it doesn't come with Siri, Bixby, Cortana, or HeySpyggle.

        Inexpensive, yes, but not exactly a toaster.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: I wonder what many people will think...

          It's not that hard to set it up, especially if you buy one of their pre-burned SD cards as well, which will walk you through the setup. You don't have to be super technical to do that. Once it is installed, they start it up by default with a full GUI which is like other computers enough that you don't really have to know that much to use it. I don't think a suitably inclined person would have any problem setting it up even if they don't have much computing experience.

          That said, I agree with your major point because there are so many users that won't bother going to the tiny effort involved, even though they'd learn some things and wind up with a useful system.

  7. Unep Eurobats
    Thumb Up

    Hipster demographic

    If you could also get a decent coffee and a quick lube for your bike they'd be onto a surefire winner.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Hipster demographic

      If you could also get a decent coffee and a quick lube for your bike they'd be onto a surefire winner.

      There's at least one bike repair stall in Market Square nearby, and more coffee shops than you can shake a stick(*) at in the area.

      (*) Anyone know where this stick shaking idiom comes from?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hipster demographic

        Just a guess, perhaps it comes from there being too many of something to fend off with a stick or maybe a spear whether it be too many lions, dingos, hipsters, etc.

      2. Tom 7

        Re: Hipster demographic

        Its USian from the early 19th C. So probably best described as 'lost control of the english language and came up with a nice figurative idiom!".

  8. Nobby_uk

    Great Idea!

    Try before you Pi

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Great Idea!

      Just upvoted you to 3 - as near as we can get to Pi on here.

      Mine's the one with a full Pi print out in the pocket -->

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pi For breakfast, lunch and tea...

    I wish them well on this venture. Now that Maplin has gone and Pi has hit the ground running I'm sure we can all look forward to a more ethically retail environment. Now please extend the range to tools, components comfortable to sip tea an chew the fat better than Maplin or Radio shack every did.

  10. iron Silver badge

    Don't repeat the typical English mistake of opening a shop in Edinburgh because its the capital. Come to Glasgow, its where the people and the tech are!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And while you're at it, forget about York too - Leeds would be a far better bet (and likely cheaper, too).

      The main reason there are so many empty retail premises in town, and some of them have been empty for several years now[*], are to do with the ludicrous rent/lease costs.

      [*] - eg. the old Ryman store on Coppergate

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have local techie activity and science festivals (I was about to make a slightly snarky comment about Glasgow (sadly) not having one, before discovering that it does actually have a rather johnny-come-lately one as well, which I was completely unaware of). The two cities complement each other to some extent (although they rarely actually compliment each other) and are only an hour or less apart by train, so either or both would be good.

      And if there haven't already been numerous Edinburgh festivals shows using Raspberry Pi's to help with SFX in some way, there's certainly no shortage of potential for them to do so!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So what do we call a dead Pi?

    Pi-ning for the fjords?

    Enquiring minds etc.


    1. bob, mon!

      Re: So what do we call a dead Pi?

      It's exPIred.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: So what do we call a dead Pi?

      a) 1/pi [or pi^(-1)]

      b) titsup-pi

      c) Piit (pronounced "peet")

      d) ExPired (also Ex-Pi) [yeah mentioned already]

      e) "Polly" [after a famous dead Parrot]

      [I'm spent]

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is sort of a 21st century Radio Shack

    The kind of people who are enthusiastic about Pi are exactly Radio Shack's target demo in their 70s heydey. Instead of trying to find parts to fix your TV yourself, you are trying to find parts to build your own "smart home".

  13. myithingwontcharge


    A roll out to Oxford eh?

    Not only do we not have an Apple store, we don't even have a 24 hour McDonalds! Even the larger Tesco is in Abingdon. If those guys can't make it work I'm not sure a smaller outlet's going to have much of a chance, unless they brand them as tourist trinkets. :-(

  14. Oengus

    Retail stores selling the Pi

    In Oz we have a couple of electronics speciality stores that sell the Raspberry Pi in their retail outlets. Altronics and Jaycar both stock Raspberry Pi (neither stock the Pi Zero unfortunately). If you can't wait for the delivery from RS or Core Electronics and are prepared to pay the extra then the retail outlets are an option. (I ordered a Raspberry Pi from RS at 6:00pm one day and it was on my desk at 11:00am the next day so to me the delivery times are not an issue.)

  15. Clunking Fist

    Pi is a mini computer?

    Then what is my 486 DX2/66? It thought it was a micro.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Pi is a mini computer?

      Mini as in miniature computer - we're well clear of the mini computer era now.


      1. Down not across

        Re: Pi is a mini computer?

        ...we're well clear of the mini computer era now.



        Sorry, what did you say? I can't hear you over the fans of the VAXen.. and assorted other mature computing platforms.

  16. Draco
    Paris Hilton

    Bricks and Mortar

    Funny how 20 years ago (or so), people were predicting the death of Brick and Mortar shops and touting the virtues of the online Amazon. Yet, over the past few years, it seems retailers are not averse to wanting actual Brick and Mortar shops.

    1. itzman
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Bricks and Mortar

      What has happened is that shops that offered no value add over online have closed. Somne still can.

      Personal service, touch and feel the goods - these are hard to do online

  17. Flywheel
    Thumb Up

    Genius Bar

    There'll be a battle of the Genius Bars with that Apple Store - I can envisage the "geniuses" there sneaking off to the Pi Shop at lunchtime to see how it's done!

  18. juice

    The Raspberry Pi Foundation is an official charity

    So presumably, they're eligible for business rate reductions and the like. Which may help to explain how they've been able to open a shop in a pretty expensive area!

    1. Chris Evans

      Re: The Raspberry Pi Foundation is an official charity

      I think the trading part of the Foundation is a limited company. They may though be able to get small business rate relief.

  19. captain semtex

    New Maplin?

    This is awesome news. I've been a big RPi fan from day #1. It's doesn't take too many brain cells to wonder if the RPi store could evolve over time to become how Maplin used to be... an emporium selling electronic parts for makers with enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff... complete with product demos and coding workshops.

    I hope this store is a huge success for them.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

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