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Raspberry Pi | How it works and 10th year anniversary

The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost credit-card-sized computer that you can plug into a computer monitor or TV. For only € 50 you can buy the Pi 4 2GB, which is more than sufficient to take your first steps into the world of computing.

Raspberry’s mission: “Computers for everybody in the world”. It uses a standard keyboard and mouse and enables people of all ages to set their first steps into computing. 

A Raspberry Pi is capable of doing everything you would be able to do with an ordinary desktop computer, from browsing the internet and playing video, to making spreadsheets, word processing, and playing games. But in addition to this, a Raspberry Pi is extremely cheap which means that almost everyone can afford it. This gives every person, all over the world, the ability to learn to program (in languages like Scratch and Python) and to understand how computers work. 

Last week, Raspberry Pi celebrated its 10 year anniversary. Enough reason to take a dive into this wonderful piece of machinery.

Since its launch, Raspberry Pi has become much more than just a tiny computer. It has been used by a lot of enthusiastic computer geeks like me to push the boundaries of technology. In addition to hobbyists, Raspberry Pi has also proven its value in the world of business with Engineers and IT managers using the device in their daily professional work.

During the 10 year celebration Raspberry Pi founder, Eben Upton, went back to the start of everything and said that when Raspberry Pi started out 10 years ago, already 10.000 orders were placed. Over the course of a decade, over 45 million units of Raspberry Pi have been sold which is truly remarkable in my opinion. His words: “Raspberry Pi became a bit larger than we had planned” is a big understatement in this.

In this post, I’ll give a brief summary of the types of Raspberries that have been launched in the past 10 years with detailed descriptions of the most popular models that are currently used. I will also show you the most popular applications, a Raspberry Pi is used for, and what type of model you can use for which application.

A brief history

The Raspberry Pi Foundation was founded in 2009. It was started by a team from Cambridge University’s Computer Laboratory because they saw a decline in the interest in computer science because not everybody had access to computers because of high costs. This is the reason why the team wanted to create a device that could be easily produced at very low costs. This way a far bigger group of people, interested in computer technology would be able to have access to a computer device.

In April 2012 the first model launched: the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B. It used a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC that included a 700 MHz ARM1176JZF-S processor, a VideoCore IV graphics processing unit (GPU) and it had 512Mb memory. Its price was about € 35.

The first model had a successor in February 2015, the Raspberry Pi 2 Model 2. After that new models were developed and offered very regularly:

  • Raspberry Pi Zero (November 2015)
  • Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (February 2016)
  • Raspberry Pi Zero W (February 2017)
  • Raspberry Pi Zero WH (January 2018)
  • Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ (March 2018)
  • Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (June 2019)
  • Raspberry Pi 400 (November 2020)
  • Raspberry Pi Pico (January 2021)
  • Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W (October 2021) 

Raspberry Pi Types

As already seen in the above overview of models, there are obvious differences between all the models that can be used for different applications.

Raspberry Pi 400 (PC Kit)

This is the latest and fastest Raspberry Pi. It is built into a compact keyboard and comes with a quad-core 64-bit processor that is coupled with 4GB RAM. It also features dual display output, 4K video playback, wireless networking, and has a 40 pin GPIO header. It is based on the Raspberry Pi 4 that incorporates a purpose-built board. The Raspberry Pi 400 PC kit comes with a power supply, mouse, micro HDMI to HDMI cable, and an SD card that is preloaded with the Raspberry Pi OS. It’s a very cheap mini-computer for a price of € 80. Currently hard to get because of global supply chain challenges that are hitting a lot of industries, including the computer industry. Niche products like this are hit hard with these kinds of supply chain constraints so if you are interested you might keep an eye on marketplaces with trusted sellers that offer this product.  

Raspberry Pi 400

Raspberry Pi 4 B

This is the predecessor of the Pi 400 but it’s in the form of a Printed Circuit Board: a PCB. Like the Pi 400, it’s very quick in computing because it features a 1.5GhZ quad-core processor with 8, 4, or 2 GB RAM. It combines both USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports and has 2 micro HDMI ports. If you have no experience with a Raspberry Pi and want to start tinkering with a Pi for general purposes, it is advisable to start out with the 2GB variant which costs € 50. It’s very suitable for beginners and students. When you want to start with something more than just basic things, you can go for the 4GB (€ 65)  or the 8GB (€ 95) instead. The extra memory will make multitasking smoother.

Raspberry Pi 4 B

Raspberry Pi Zero W and Zero WH

The Zero W is a minimalistic model of the Raspberry Pi board. It has a 1GHz single-core CPU and is coupled with 512MB RAM. Not sufficient for “desktop” work but more than enough for a lot of basic tasks like driving motors, switching lights, and cameras but it is very cheap as well: € 12. It’s used often to support the hardware capacity of your smart home: Internet of Things. This is possible because it has additional connectivity options of 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. 

One downside to the Zero W is that it doesn’t have an in-built GPIO header with it. The GPIO (General-Purpose Input/Output) lines can be used to accept input or send output signals, which are determined by the board designer or system integrator.  You need to buy an extra set of pins for this and solder (if you don’t like to solder you can also buy a solderless kit). If you prefer not to tinker, you can also buy a Zero WH instead of a Zero. The Zero WH is a bit more advanced than the Zero W: it has GPIO pins pre-soldered on the board. You pay about € 17 for a Zero WH. 

Because the Zero W is very tiny (66 x 30.5 x 5mm), it is not able to handle a full-sized USB port onboard. Instead, it has a micro USB port. You can use an additional adapter for standard USB connectivity.

Raspberry Pi Zero W
Raspberry Pi Zero WH

Which Pi for which application?

You can use a Raspberry Pi for many different computing applications. Below I give you my advice about what kind of Raspberry Pi is most suitable for what type of application. This also gives you a pretty good idea of all the applications you can use a Raspberry Pi for. 

Beginners

For a beginner, the best affordable general-purpose Raspberry Pi is the 2GB Variant of the Raspberry Pi 4 B which is available for € 50. Because you will only start with simple to medium projects, this Pi is sufficient. If you can spare an extra € 15, you can even do some light internet surfing.

Playing retro (old) games

A Raspberry is great to play old-school games by using emulation software. The best suitable Pi to do this is the 2GB Variant of the Raspberry Pi 4 B. This is powerful enough to run all leading emulation platforms. You can also install RetroPie on it. With this installed, older models like the Raspberry Pi 3 B or 3B+ are also sufficient. You have a Pi 3 B/B+ for about € 40.

Running a security / smart home device

If you want to use hardware like a motion-sensing surveillance camera, an air quality sensor with display, internet-based radio, etc., a Raspberry Pi Zero W is the most suitable choice because it is lightweight and has low power consumption. You can even attach it to the wall. It is also the best choice for smart home devices that require a long standby time because this won’t require much power to run. Because of this, the device can run for a comparatively longer time.

Using a Raspberry Pi as a Personal Computer (PC)

This is the most commonly used case for a Raspberry Pi. Go with the 8GB variant of the Raspberry Pi 4. If you want to use it as a computer, you will probably want facilities for surfing the web, multitasking, programming, etc. This requires a considerable amount of RAM. 

Building a Smart TV

If your application is to watch videos, by setting up a set-top box (which creates in fact a Smart TV), then your best pick is the 2GB version of the Raspberry Pi 4 B. It can deliver 4K resolution output easily and has Gigabit ethernet/WiFi connectivity options as well. You can also use its USB 3.0 port to connect it to an external hard drive where all your favorite videos are stored. You can install Kodi on your Raspberry Pi if you want to do this. Kodi is a popular home theatre platform. When you install Kodi, you can watch videos from popular streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Final Thoughts

Raspberry Pi is a great start to introduce people to the world of computing. Nowadays, people take computing for granted and have no idea how the tech behind this works. Personally, I’m worried about the lack of computing knowledge that kids nowadays have. Technology is advancing but it seems that our next generation is lagging behind. Kids know how to use a phone or a tablet but the true machinery behind it and how it works is unknown to most of them: “it just works”. 

The unwarranted assumption that computing is very complex, scares most people. Starting out with a Raspberry lowers this barrier and can introduce them into a vast world of new possibilities and opportunities.

Writing this article triggered me as well. I think it might be time to introduce my own kids (8 and 10) to the world of computing. A Raspberry Pi exactly does this: it opens a gate to them into the world of technology. Of course, it’s up to them if they want to enter this world and explore it, but they are entitled to at least have the opportunity offered. Like any parent, you want your kids to give them as many opportunities to explore the great world we are living in. 

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you have any additional advice/tips about this subject. If you want to keep in the loop if I upload a new post, don’t forget to subscribe to receive a notification by email.

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