It’s pretty likely that you’ve heard of the Raspberry Pi and you may even be aware that it is some sort of a tiny computer. But what exactly is a Raspberry Pi? Follow along and I’ll explain everything you need to know about this tasty little device.
Raspberry Pi Defined
The Raspberry Pi is indeed a computer, it’s a small single-board computer capable of running operating systems like Linux and even a small-scale version of Windows 10. It has USB ports, an Ethernet connector, an HDMI port and audio outputs – just like your desktop computer.
Originally developed to promote the growth of computer science among school children and people in the developing world, the Raspberry Pi is growing to become the most popular single board computer on the planet. In fact in the UK, where the Raspberry Pi originates, it has now surpassed the Amstrad PCW to become the best selling UK-built personal computer.
Raspberry Pi’s can be used to make small personal computers or they can be utilized in advanced electronics projects. They are very inexpensive, 35 dollars or less depending upon which model you purchase.
Raspberry Pi History
The Raspberry Pi is based upon an idea conceived at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory in 2006. Four of the laboratories members realized that there was a great lacking in the state of computer education and a decrease in computer science skills among school children. They decided to solve the problem by creating an experimental computer platform that was powerful yet affordable. And the Raspberry Pi Foundation was born.
Advances in mobile technology had brought down the cost and increased the capabilities of tiny CPU chips but it was not until late 2011 that the first prototypes of the Raspberry Pi were created.
The first Raspberry Pi’s went into production in February 2012. they became an immediate success and were often difficult to obtain as the limited production facilities were soon overwhelmed by the demand.
Unlike the Arduino the Raspberry Pi is not an open-source design. Raspberry Pi’s are manufactured through a license agreement in three factories in Europe and the US. The hardware is the same for all manufacturers
Flavors of Raspberry Pi
There’ve been several different models or “flavors” of the Raspberry Pi since its conception, some of them are now retired. As of this writing these are the current models:
Raspberry Pi 1 model A+
This is a low-cost version of the Raspberry Pi, a replacement for the original model A. The Model A+ was released in November 2014. This model does not have Ethernet or multiple USB ports but it has a very low power consumption and is still a good choice for embedded projects.
Raspberry Pi 1 model B+
This model is the first revision of the original Raspberry Pi, replacing the original model B. It is still available but has been superseded by the Raspberry Pi 2 model B. It has four USB 2.0 ports and an ethernet port, a configuration retained in later Raspberry Pi models.
Raspberry Pi 2 model B
This is the second generation Raspberry Pi, replacing the original Raspberry Pi 1 model B+ in February 2015. It has a faster 900 megahertz processor and 1 gigabyte of onboard Ram. Like the Raspberry Pi 1 model B+ it has 4 USB ports, an HDMI output and an ethernet port as well as audio and composite video output. As of this writing it is the most commonly available Raspberry Pi.
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
This is the third generation Raspberry Pi and was released in February 2016. It has a 1.2 gigahertz 64-bit processor, built-in wireless LAN and Bluetooth. It has the same connectors as the Raspberry Pi 2 model B and the same form factor. Currently this is the most powerful Raspberry Pi available
Raspberry Pi Zero
The Raspberry Pi Zero cause quite a sensation as it was originally available as a gift with a magazine subscription and sells for a mere $5. It is a difficult item to find however and as of this writing there is a waiting list for the Raspberry Pi Zero. Although very tiny it boasts a 1 gigahertz single-core CPU and 512 megabytes of RAM. It has mini HDMI and micro USB ports. This device is designed to be used in embedded projects.
Using Raspberry Pi
There are two principal uses for a Raspberry Pi.
The first use is as a small computer and there are several plastic cases available that can house the Pi for exactly that purpose. With its built-in USB ports and HDMI connector all one needs to add to that is a power supply, keyboard and mouse and you have a fully functional computer capable of running Linux and other operating systems.
The second use for the Raspberry Pi is within an embedded project. Unlike the Arduino the Pi has a great deal of computing power and its ability to run operating systems like Linux makes it possible to build extremely intelligent devices in a very small package. It is also possible to use the Raspberry Pi in tandem with one or more Arduinos to create a very powerful distributed processor system with the Raspberry Pi acting as the “brains” and the Arduino doing the “heavy lifting”.
Keep in mind though that the Raspberry Pi GPIO port has several input and output pins so it is certainly not necessary to tie an Arduino into the system, as the Raspberry Pi can control external devices and read input from sensors all on its own.
To get going with the Raspberry Pi you will need a bootloader burned onto a microSD card. There are several bootloaders available, all of them may be downloaded from the Raspberry Pi website. You can burn these onto an SD card yourself or simply buy an SD card with the bootloader already loaded.
The best place to find more information about the Raspberry Pi is on the official Raspberry Pi website. They offer a wealth of tutorials and articles, as well as downloadable code. Also keep your eyes on the Raspberry Pi section of this website as I’ll be posting articles and videos that show you how to get the most out of this amazing device.