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World's Raspberry Pi supply jammed in factory blunder

Unprotected network jacks spark delay fears

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Shipments of the long-awaited and heavily fought over Raspberry Pi boards could be delayed thanks to a manufacturing cock-up.

The assembly lines churning out the first 10,000 units used the wrong kind of RJ45 networking jack, according to the team behind the $35 Linux computer, and the parts will need to be replaced before they can be posted to punters.

Specifically, the boards should use sockets with built-in transformers to isolate the delicate circuitry from whatever voltage is put down the cables; the factory used to build the Raspberry Pi instead ordered jacks without the so-called magnetics.

Although the first job lot is being hastily re-soldered as you read this, future batches will be affected if the project can't get hold of enough replacement magnetic jacks for much larger production runs.

Relying on sockets with built-in protection, rather than discrete components, is one of the tricks the designers used to keep the board to its credit-card size proportions.

The Pi shot to fame when first announced by being very small, very cheap and the brainchild of Blighty's computer boffins: it's a fully functional system capable of, among many things, 1080p video playback and hardware-accelerated graphics. It uses a Broadcom multimedia SoC that includes a 700MHz ARM1176JZF-S core and 256M of RAM.

That's the Model B specification and there's also a cheaper Model A coming sans networking. Both of these are named after the BBC Micro, the 1980s computer best known for its role in UK education. The Raspberry Pi Foundation - the charity behind the product - hopes to similarly kickstart interest in computer science among youngsters.

The Foundation's Liz Upton told The Reg the first lot of boards should go out as planned, but "it's later batches which may be problematic - that's a lot of parts to source at short notice".

She explained to Pi fans today: "This could very well cause a delay – we still aren’t clear on whether it’ll be possible to get the parts we need for the huge numbers of orders we have in time now, because all the sourcing the factory had done for us was on the wrong part."

She added: "We’ve known about this for four days now, but we haven’t been able to tell you about it because it meant we had to do some further tests to make sure that nothing else was affected.

"We are very, very sorry. We’ll keep you updated with how manufacture is moving; this is, in the scheme of things, a minor problem, but it’s still a bump in the road and we know that we rely on your goodwill to keep things moving forward."

After much hype and fever, the first batch of the ARM-powered computers went on sale at 6am GMT on 29 February - and sold out within minutes, bringing down the websites of its distributors.

If you weren't able to grab one of the first lot in time, you could always try winning one of three boards by coming up with a novel use for the compact, low-power computer. The winners will be chosen on “Pi Day”, 3/14/12, or 14 March. ®

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