Although the Raspberry Pi has sold 31 million units since its launch in 2012, if you don’t already own one – or are in the market for a new one for a specific project – the selection can be a little daunting. When legacy models are included, more than a dozen different Raspberry Pi models are available for purchase.
Why Need Raspberry Pi?
At the very least, every self-respecting tech geek should own a Raspberry Pi. While any Raspberry Pi can be used as a secondary computer for email and web browsing, even the fastest model, the Raspberry Pi 4, will be slower than a low-end Windows P.C. The real fun begins when you start building projects with your Pi, which can include anything from robots to retro arcade machines to home media servers, security cameras, and even fart detectors. Each month, we compile a list of the best Raspberry Pi projects for inspiration.
The Raspberry Pi’s allure stems from its combination of expandability, small size, low power consumption, and low cost. The Pi’s 40 GPIO pins enable it to be connected to an enormous number of lights, motors, sensors, and other I/O devices. There is a thriving ecosystem of HATs (Hardware Attached on Top), daughterboards that connect to the GPIO pins and add eInk displays, motor drivers, and power over Ethernet.
Even if you’re not interested in becoming a “maker” and developing a device with your Raspberry Pi, the single-board computer makes an excellent game emulator, media streamer, or web server. Additionally, because the official operating system for the Pi, Raspberry Pi O.S. (formerly known as Raspbian), is a variant of Linux, it’s an excellent way to learn about and experiment with Linux without having to install it on your primary computer.
Consider the Following Raspberry Pi Models
While more than two dozen Raspberry Pi SKUs are available for purchase, only a handful are current-generation models worth considering. The Raspberry Pi Foundation, the non-profit organization that develops Raspberry Pi, is opposed to EOLing (phasing out) older products if an industrial client requires a drop-in replacement for the board they purchased in 2014. Additionally, an industrial client could integrate a few Raspberry Pi Compute Modules into a custom motherboard they manufacture.
1. Raspberry Pi 4 B (2GB)
The Raspberry Pi 4 B, the latest and fastest Raspberry Pi model, is powered by a 1.5-GHz quad-core processor and comes with 2 or 4 GB of RAM, a significant upgrade over previous-generation Pis, which were limited to 1GB. It includes both USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, whereas older models only included the slower standard and dual HDMI out for multi-monitor support. With an MSRP of $35, the 2 GB is the new mainstream Raspberry Pi for the masses, so if you want flexibility or are unsure what you want to do with your Pi, this is the model to purchase.
2. Raspberry Pi 4 B (4GB)
If you intend to spend any amount of time on your system performing productivity tasks, programming, or web browsing, opt for the 4 GB version of the Raspberry Pi 4 B. The additional memory makes multitasking and maintaining multiple tabs much easier.
3. Raspberry Pi Zero W
This diminutive, low-cost Raspberry Pi measures 2.6 x 1.2 x 0.2 inches (66 x 30.5 x 5mm) and weighs just 0.3 ounces (9g). Although it is not the fastest Pi (it features a 1-GHz single-core CPU and only 512MB of RAM), it is more than adequate for a wide variety of tasks, particularly those involving the control of lights, motors, or cameras. Compared to its less expensive sibling, the Raspberry Pi Zero, the Zero W includes integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. However, the Zero W does not include GPIO pins; you must purchase them separately and solder (or use a solderless kit). Additionally, this Pi lacks a full-size USB port, opting instead for micro USB, necessitating an adapter.
4. Raspberry Pi Zero WH
The GPIO pins on this Raspberry Pi Zero W are pre-soldered. Because this model is not as widely available as the standard W, you may have difficulty locating it.
5. Raspberry Pi Zero
The Zero is the cheapest Raspberry Pi model. It is identical to the Zero W but lacks Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. You can connect it to the internet via USB by connecting an Ethernet or Wi-Fi dongle or by sharing the internet connection with it.
6. Raspberry Pi 3 B / 3 B+
These older models are slower than the 4 B and lack some of the 4 B’s key features (dual-monitor support, USB 3.0), but they are compatible with a wider variety of cases and accessories. They also use standard HDMI cables and can be powered via various standard phone chargers or even a USB port on a computer (2.5 amps, 5 volts recommended), so you’re likely already equipped with the necessary cables. Additionally, the Raspberry Pi 3B / 3 B+ generates significantly less heat and consumes less power than the 4, so if you want to build a project that utilizes passive cooling, you can find a 3 B / 3 B+ at a reasonable price; it’s a good choice. The differences between the 3 B and 3 B+ are minimal, with the latter featuring a 200-MHz CPU boost, faster Ethernet, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi (instead of 802.11n).
Why You Use Raspberry Pi
1. You just want to check Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi 4 B is the most affordable general-purpose Raspberry Pi (2 GB). It is capable of almost any task you throw at it and even some light web browsing. However, if you have an extra $20 to spare, you can’t go wrong with the 4 GB model.
2. You want Use Raspberry Pi to as Game simulator
The Raspberry Pi 4 B (2 GB) is more than capable of running any popular emulation platform. However, if you can find a Raspberry Pi 3 B or 3 B+ for a lower price, RetroPie will also work with those.
3. You are interested to build a security camera / smart home device.
Numerous people use Raspberry Pis to create home automation devices. Perhaps it’s a motion-activated security camera, an internet-connected radio, or an air quality sensor equipped with a small display that displays the temperature and other critical data points. A Raspberry Pi Zero W may be the best option for these projects because it is small and lightweight enough to fit inside a small gadget or hang on the wall. Even better, the Pi Zero W consumes very little power, frequently less than 200 mAh, enabling it to run for an extended period on battery.
4. Running a web server.
It’s incredibly simple to convert your Raspberry Pi into a web server, and even a Pi Zero can run Apache, the most widely used server software. However, if you want users to download content without having to wait all day, consider purchasing a Raspberry Pi 4. (2 GB). If you have many concurrent users, 4 GB will help. Additionally, if you’re running a large database on the server, the 8 GB model may be advantageous.
5. Build a robot.
The answer here is highly dependent on the project’s complexity. If you’re sending a simple robotic vehicle around the living room, you can probably get away with a Pi Zero W / WH with GPIO pins attached (you’ll need the wireless to control the robot). However, if you want to add a bunch of sensors or any machine learning to the project, you should purchase a Raspberry Pi 4 B with 2 or 4 GB of RAM.
6. Image recognition or machine learning.
While you could probably get away with the Raspberry Pi 4 B (2 GB) model, you’ll almost certainly benefit from the additional RAM on the 4 GB model, though the 8 GB capacity is probably overkilled. Additionally, you may wish to consider connecting The Coral USB Accelerator to improve A.I. performance.
7. You Want to use Raspberry Pi the same way that I would a P.C.
If you intend to spend significant time in the windowed environment of Raspberry Pi O.S., whether browsing the web, writing Python programs, or multitasking, the 4GB Raspberry Pi 4 B is your best bet. While the 2 GB model is sufficient, it’s easy to exceed that amount of RAM, especially if you’re using a Chromium-based browser with multiple tabs open. The Raspberry Pi 4 (8 GB) is an excellent choice, but you’ll be hard-pressed to use more than 4 GB with current software.
8. Building a wearable device like smartwatch etc.
The Raspberry Pi Zero W is the smallest and most energy-efficient option. Additionally, it’s much easier to conceal in a pocket or wristband. Due to its low power consumption, it is also ideal for wearing all day.
9. Watching videos
You can install Kodi, a popular home theatre platform, on Raspberry Pi and use it to stream video to your television. You can use Kodi to access popular streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as to play local video files from a storage drive or another location on your home network.
The Raspberry Pi 4 B (2 GB) is the best model to use for this purpose because it supports 4K video output, has 802.11ac Wi-Fi / Gigabit Ethernet, and can connect via USB 3.0 to an external drive containing videos. A Raspberry Pi 3 B or 3 B+ is adequate for this task, but it does not support a 4K output.
10. You want to Use Raspberry Pi as a webcam
We’ve discussed using your Raspberry Pi as a security camera and for machine learning, but what if your primary goal is image quality rather than image recognition or motion sensing? You can even use the Raspberry Pi as a Webcam for your P.C.; in this case, the Pi Zero or Zero W may be the best option, as they connect directly to your P.C. via USB, reducing latency between the two devices.
However, if you want the best-looking images, you should consider purchasing the Raspberry Pi High-Quality Camera module, which works on any Pi Zero but benefits from the increased memory in the Raspberry Pi 3 or higher.
11. You want to gift Raspberry Pi
The answer here is entirely dependent on the budget available for the gift. If your recipient is unfamiliar with Raspberry Pi, your best bet is to purchase a kit that includes the board and several accessories, such as a power supply, an HDMI cable for video out, and a protective case.
The Canakit Official Raspberry Pi 4 (4 GB) desktop kit is the best option if money is no object. For $129, you receive the board and all official accessories, including the case, keyboard, mouse, and power supply. It even includes a printout of the Raspberry Pi’s official user manual. While a kit equipped with the new Raspberry Pi 4 (8 GB) is future-proof, most users will require less than 4 GB of RAM.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for the cheapest Raspberry PI kit, consider one based on the Zero W. For around $26, you can find one that includes a case, power supply, and solder-free GPIO pins.
If the recipient is fairly savvy or your budget is limited, giving the Raspberry Pi alone is a viable option. At the bottom of the stack, the Pi Zero is too functional to make an appropriate gift; the bare minimum that someone will want to do is connect to the internet via Wi-Fi. Therefore, avoid purchasing anything less than a Pi Zero W as a gift and prioritize the Pi 4 B (8 GB). For the holidays one year, I gave each of my colleagues a Raspberry Pi Zero W, which came pre-loaded with a custom video greeting that they needed to boot up to view.