You may have never used Raspberry Pi or Arduino, but chances are you’ve heard of them. Raspberry Pi has been the bestselling British computer for years now, and Arduino has been transforming the DIY community one board at a time. There’s no shortage of options designed to provide you with a little electronic control over your projects. Still, the budget-friendly Raspberry Pi and the plethora of solutions under the Arduino brand are undoubtedly two of the most popular.
But comparing the two can be like judging a lineup of cats and dogs. They’re both animals that lick themselves, but they each dig holes for very different reasons. We’ve saved you the trouble and pitted Arduino versus Raspberry Pi to help you identify what’s best to purchase for your next project.
Say hi to Raspberry Pi
In essence, the Raspberry Pi is a fully functional computer. It has all the trappings of a PC with a dedicated processor, memory, and a graphics driver for output through HDMI. It even runs an optimized version of the Linux operating system called Raspbian. Most Linux software is easy to install and lets you use the Raspberry Pi as a functioning media streamer or video game emulator with a small amount of effort.
Though the Raspberry Pi doesn’t offer built-in onboard storage, you can use microSD cards to store whatever operating system you choose, whether it’s Raspbian, Ubuntu Mate, or even the Internet of Things version of Windows 10. You can also install different operating systems on different microSD cards for swapping platforms, testing updates, and debugging software. And because the card includes Wi-Fi and Ethernet-based connectivity, you can also set it up for access via SSH, or transfer files to it using FTP.
Technically, there are six versions of the Raspberry Pi board you can purchase right now, but overall there are only two sizes: Full-size and miniature. The most recent Raspberry Pi boards are the full-size fourth-generation third-generation Model B for $25-$40, and the miniature Raspberry Pi Zero for a mere $5. For the latter, you can purchase a version with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for $10. The other three Raspberry Pi boards on the market are older-generation full-size models: Gen2 Model B ($30-$35), Gen1 Model B+ ($25), and Gen1 Model A+ ($20-$25).
Here’s a comparison between the two primary models with built-in Wi-Fi:
|Raspberry Pi 4 Models
||Raspberry Pi 3 Model B||Raspberry Pi Zero W|
|Processor:||Broadcom BCM2711||Broadcom BCM2837||Broadcom BCM2835|
|Connectivity:||2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz IEEE 802.11b/g/n/ac wireless LAN, Bluetooth 5.0, BLE
|802.11 b/g/n wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.1 and
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
|802.11 b/g/n wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.1 and
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
|Ports:||40-pin extended GPIO
2 × micro HDMI ports (up to 4Kp60 supported)
2-lane MIPI DSI display port
2-lane MIPI CSI camera port
4-pole stereo audio and composite video port
2 × USB 3.0 ports
2 × USB 2.0 ports
Micro SD port for OS and storing data
5V DC via USB-C connector (minimum 3A1)
5V DC via GPIO header (minimum 3A1)
Power over Ethernet (PoE)–enabled
(requires separate PoE HAT)
|100 Base Ethernet
40-pin extended GPIO
4 USB 2 ports
4 Pole stereo output and composite video port
CSI camera port for Raspberry Pi camera
DSI display port for touchscreen display
Micro SD port for OS and storing data
Micro USB power source upgraded to 2.5A
|1x Mini HDMI
1x Mini USB OTG
1x Micro USB
1x 40-pin GPIO
1x CSI camera port
1x Composite video header
1x Reset header
|Dimensions:||3.5 x 2.3 x 0.76 inches||3.370 x 2.224 x 0.669 inches||2.56 x 1.18 x 0.20 inches|
As shown, Raspberry Pi products are the brain of your project. For instance, the Piper Computer Kit we reviewed last year is a Linux-based laptop powered by the Raspberry Pi 3, as is Kano’s Computer Kit Complete that kids can assemble to create a Linux-based all-in-one PC.
Those are two examples of kits you can purchase, but there’s a large community that can steer you in the right direction to build projects from start to finish, such as a Game Boy Zero, a working miniature Macintosh, the Pip-Boy from Fallout 4, and more.
Unlike Raspberry Pi, Arduino boards are micro-controllers, not full computers. They don’t run an entire operating system but simply execute written code as their firmware interprets it. You lose access to the essential tools an operating system provides, but on the other hand, directly running simple code is more manageable and is accomplished with no operating system overhead.
Arduino Integrated Project Environment is open-source software that can be used with any Arduino board and runs on Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Individual boards and kits are priced at around $10 to $20, whereas student and advanced project kits are available from $25 to $200. The Arduino UNO Rev3, which the current version of Arduino’s basic board, costs $23 and allows USB connection between your PC and the board for easy use and programming.
The primary purpose of the Arduino board is to interface with sensors and devices, so it’s great for hardware projects in which you simply want things to respond to various sensor readings and manual input. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s a very sophisticated system that allows you to manage your devices better. It’s great for interfacing with other devices and actuators, where a full operating system would be overkill for handling simple read and response actions and costs start around $20.
But because Arduino isn’t the “brain” of your project, solutions aren’t locked to a handful of boards. Instead, there are more than 50 solutions for entry-level products, advanced devices, Internet of Things projects, education, wearables, and 3D printing. They all have processors, memory, and in some cases, storage, but they’re primarily designed to serve as controllers, not miniature computers.
Great examples of Arduino projects can be found here. One project is the Arduino Servo Catapult that fires off a bowl full of food when a cat walks onto a pressure sensor mat seated under its dish. Another project transforms a Nerf Vulcan gun into a sentry turret that can track its enemies. Arduino devices can even do things like adding a fingerprint scanner onto a garage door opener. As we reported earlier, many robot kits for kids you can buy on Amazon are based on the Arduino software and hardware platform.
Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi: Power
The two systems have very different power requirements. For starters, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B board uses 1.5 watts when idle and up to 6.7 watts when a monitor, keyboard, and mouse are connected. The smaller Raspberry Pi Zero W consumes 0.5 watts of power when idle, and 1.75 watts when a monitor, keyboard, and mouse is attached.
Both Raspberry Pi boards require five volts to remain on, so you need a wall adapter or rechargeable battery pack with a higher voltage. For instance, both Raspberry Pi-based kits we reviewed provided an internal rechargeable battery that connected directly to the board. These batteries included an additional Micro USB port for recharging via a wall adapter or using the device like any other electrically tethered PC.
Meanwhile, Arduino devices begin executing code when turned on, and stop once you pull the plug. To add functionality, you either wire directly into the pins on the Arduino board, or stack chips called “shields” on top of the base unit. There are hundreds of shields, each designed to perform a different task, interface with specific sensors, and work with one another to build a complete control unit.
Thus, for Arduino, you merely need a battery pack that keeps the voltage above a certain level, along with a primary shield to manage the power. Even if the power drops on the Arduino, you won’t end up with a corrupt operating system or other software errors: It will just start running code when it’s plugged back in. For Raspberry Pi, you must shut it down within the operating system like any other computer, or else risk corruption and software problems.
Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi: Networking
The Raspberry Pi 3 has both a built-in Ethernet port and Wireless N connectivity, which allows easy access to any network with little setup. Once you’re connected, you can use the operating system to connect to web servers, process HTML, or post to the internet. You can even use it as a VPN or print server.
Unfortunately, Arduino devices typically aren’t built for network connectivity directly out of the box. Though it’s possible, they require a bit more tinkering to set up a proper connection. You’ll need an extra chip outfitted with an Ethernet port, and you’ll need to do some wiring and coding to get everything up and running just right, which is enough of a process in itself that some vendors sell comparable Arduino devices with a built-in Ethernet component.
Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi: Sensors
While Raspberry Pi and Arduino devices have several interface ports, connecting analog sensors to Arduino devices is a more straightforward process. The micro-controller can easily interpret and respond to a wide range of sensor data using the code you put on it, which is excellent if you intend to repeat a series of commands or react to sensor data as a means of making adjustments to servos and devices.
Raspberry Pi boards, on the other hand, require software to interface with these sorts of devices, which isn’t always what you need if you’re just trying to water plants effectively or keep your beer cold. Using both in a project isn’t all that uncommon. The Arduino device could act as a control board that executes commands issued by the Raspberry Pi’s software before the sensor information is fed back for recording or acknowledgment.
Which solution is your match made in DIY heaven?
So which solution is right for you? The answer will depend heavily on your project.
You should take the Arduino route if the main task involves reading sensor data and changing values on motors or other devices. Given the low power requirements and upkeep of Arduino devices, they’re also the right choice if your project will continuously run, and require little to no interaction. Keep in mind that with the Arduino, even if the power goes out, you won’t end up with software errors such as a corrupt operating system. Instead, the Arduino will start running code again as soon as it regains connection.
Go with a Raspberry Pi board if your project involves a task you would otherwise accomplish on a personal computer. Raspberry Pi boards make a slew of operations simpler to manage, whether you intend to connect to the internet to read and write data, view media of any kind, or link to an external display. A Raspberry Pi board is perfect in terms of networking, since it has both Wireless N connectivity and a built-in ethernet port. Remember, you can use this operating system to process HTML, make an internet post, as a VPN, or to connect to web servers.
But given the two devices accomplish different tasks, using both in some instances is ideal. As one optional example, Raspberry Pi could give you client-side access to the settings and code, while the Arduino gadget could handle the actuation of devices, and gather data from the sensors. There are several ways to go about making the connection, whether you prefer USB, a local network, or by running some of the I/O ports on the Arduino device into the Raspberry Pi board.
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