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A Slice of the Raspberry Pi

The Compute Module of the credit card sized popular single board computer, RBPi or the Raspberry Pi, is not an end-user product. Manufacturers can use the device when they require an ARM-based platform to build their devices on and sell. Therefore, computing hobbyists will find it difficult to get their hands on the Module if they want to evaluate it.

The RBPi itself is readily available to anyone who wants to buy and use it for projects. However, this Compute Module is not sold as such to hobbyists and for evaluating the Compute Module, it is necessary to get hold of a real product based upon it.

Five Ninjas, some people from the RBPi Foundation and the Pi-friendly accessories seller Pimoroni has a compact media player based on this Compute Module. Their product – Slice – was the result of inspiration based on the original Apple TV.

The first Apple TV was based on the x86 and was silver colored. This was eminently hackable, unlike the later iOS running black box that Apple made. People ripped out the custom Mac OS X installed, replacing it with a Linux desktop. They then added a more open, flexible media center, which ran XBMC.

The FiveNinjas Slice Media Player turned out to be more powerful than the modified x86 version of the Apple TV. The first few Slices have just left the Sheffield assembly plant of Pimoroni. Each has a custom motherboard with a single Compute Module in a DIMM-slot.

The Slice looks like a small metal box that has a translucent plastic spacer running all round the middle. The metal of the box is anodized aluminum in one of choice of three colors – red, gunmetal and black. The entire device feels and looks very stylish. Although you cannot see inside the box through the spacer, Slice puts out a very cool light through it. The light comes from Slice’s 25 NeoPixels. These are individually addressable RGB LEDs, with each containing an in-package controller.

The Slice uses these LEDs to create a rainbow of various color sequences. These sequences are triggered as the user interacts with the Slice using its remote control. While Apple had a slimline aluminum remote, Slice has a somewhat thicker one made of plastic.

Slice has 4GB of flash, which allows it to run any Operating System without a hard disk. It actually runs OpenElec, which is a simplified Linux distro capable of booting straight into Kodi, the media application. Therefore, users can simply play video and music files on their NAS or share from their computers.

Internally, Slice has a SATA connector mounted on the underside of the motherboard. Users can put in a small 2.5 inches disk drive and fasten it on to the motherboard within the case. There are four USB ports and users can hook up Slice to their computers to mount as an external drive automatically.

Currently, there is no app to control the display of colors from the LEDs. However, one is in development and will be available soon. The Compute Module uses a powerful 900MHz Broadcom SoC with a graphics core.