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I would like to design something like the Raspberry Pi and chromebox and get a few manufactured as a hobby learning experience.

I come from a background in theoretical computer science and mathematics, absolutely no experience in dealing with hardware. Where do I even begin?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Start from the base, if you don't know the basics it's unlikely that it'll bring something good. \$\endgroup\$ – clabacchio Jan 27 '12 at 8:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ The basics of circuit theory, etc. You're not going to make something like that which works, without stepping outside of the nice clean digital world. \$\endgroup\$ – Jay Kominek Jan 27 '12 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ With the Raspberry Pi you are aiming too high, better do something simpler. I did a simple developer board for an LPC1766 as my first PCB project (it works). \$\endgroup\$ – starblue Jan 27 '12 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that this costs real money: the first Raspberry Pi production run was 10,000 units at £25 = £250,000 ~= $400,000. Even a simple dev board is going to cost you more than £100 each for a tiny run. \$\endgroup\$ – pjc50 Oct 8 '12 at 14:58
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1) Buy a microcontroller development kit to start. Maybe an STMicro STM32F4Discovery because they are around $15 and pretty powerful. Spend some time learning how to program it, wire some stuff to the pins and learn how to work with peripherals like GPIOS, PWMs and ADCs. You will need to pick up some electronics background as you go, just to understand what these things are, what they do, and how to use them correctly.

2) Read the schematics for the board, in the case of the STM32F4Discovery, they are here. You will need to fill in more of your electronics background to understand the schematics.

3) Learn to use an EDA tool so you can do your circuit design and board layout. Eagle CAD is a decent choice for hobbyists. There is a great set of tutorials for Eagle here.

4) Use this knowledge to create your own system schematic and board layout, leaving out connections for the stuff you don't need. Basically use your development kit's schematic as a template and remove all the stuff you won't need for whatever your project is.

5) Submit the layout to a board house for manufacture. This is surprisingly quick and inexpensive.

6) Solder parts to the board.

7) See if it works.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ RE: 5 - only if you don't have BGA parts. Unfortunately, all the devices on the market that approach the performance of the Raspberry Pi are exclusively BGA. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Jan 27 '12 at 10:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair point. For a first project it's more reasonable to go for something with a DIP package or maybe an LQFP if you feel like getting good at soldering or trying a hot plate or toaster oven. Obviously that won't approach Raspberry Pi's performance but the steps in the process are basically the same, he'll just need to level up to get to Raspberry Pi's league. \$\endgroup\$ – Suboptimus Jan 27 '12 at 20:25
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Suboptimus gives a good starting point.

I'd suggest a few additions:

  1. Try some basic electronics kits first to get familiar with using a soldering iron.
  2. Consider something like an AVR instead of a big powerful CPU. You can do a lot of cool blinking lights and sound generation with an AVR, and if you blow one up, it is only a few bucks down the drain.
  3. Also consider starting out with something like Arduino, there's a huge community out there.

I have a CS background, but took some EE courses as part of the engineering core at my college. I'm also into electronic music and synthesizers, so the quest for ever stranger sounds has pulled me into the DIY electronics world. Although I've done little electronics projects in the past, the first recent project was an Atari Punk Console kit. Not long after that, I did a Shruthi-1.

Analog audio is fun because the DIY community has been around for a very long time, and there are plenty of great projects at all skill levels. I have a hard time getting excited about digital projects because there are already so many single board computers and mobile devices out there that I have a hard time coming up with something that can compete.

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