What is a Raspberry Pi?
A Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer originally designed for education, inspired by the 1981 BBC Micro. Creator Eben Upton's goal was to create a low-cost device that would improve programming skills and hardware understanding at the pre-university level. But thanks to its small size and accessible price, it was quickly adopted by tinkerers, makers, and electronics enthusiasts for projects that require more than a basic microcontroller (such as Arduino devices).
The Raspberry Pi is slower than a modern laptop or desktop but is still a complete Linux computer and can provide all the expected abilities that implies, at a low-power consumption level.
To learn more about the basics of the Raspberry Pi, watch this short video.
Is the Raspberry Pi open hardware?The Raspberry Pi is open hardware, with the exception of the primary chip on the Raspberry Pi, the Broadcomm SoC (System on a Chip), which runs many of the main components of the board–CPU, graphics, memory, the USB controller, etc. Many of the projects made with a Raspberry Pi are open and well-documented as well and are things you can build and modify yourself.
What are the differences in Raspberry Pi models?The Raspberry Pi Foundation has just recently released a new model, the Raspberry Pi 2, which supersedes some of the previous boards, although the older boards will still be produced as long as there is a demand for them. It is generally backwards compatible with previous versions of the board, so any tutorials or projects you see which were built for a previous version of the board should still work.
There are a two Raspberry Pi models, the A and the B, named after the aforementioned BBC Micro, which was also released in a Model A and a Model B. The A comes with 256MB of RAM and one USB port. It is cheaper and uses less power than the B. The current model B comes with a second USB port, an ethernet port for connection to a network, and 512MB of RAM.
The Raspberry Pi A and B boards been upgraded to the A+ and B+ respectively. These upgrades make minor improvements, such as an increased number of USB ports and improved power consumption, particularly in the B+. The A+ and B+ have been reviewed on Opensource.com here.
The output will include a revision code. The numbers indicate further differences, but if it is 0002-0006, it is an older Model B with 256MB of RAM. If it is 0007-0009, it is a Model A. The newer Model Bs are listed as 000d-000f. The B+ is 0010, and the A+ is 0012. (Revision 0011 was used for the Raspberry Pi Compute Module.)
What kind of operating system does the Raspberry Pi run?The Raspberry Pi was designed for the Linux operating system, and many Linux distributions now have a version optimized for the Raspberry Pi.
Two of the most popular options are Raspbian, which is based on the Debian operating system, and Pidora, which is based on the Fedora operating system. For beginners, either of these two work well; which one you choose to use is a matter of personal preference. A good practice might be to go with the one which most closely resembles an operating system you’re familiar with, in either a desktop or server environment.
If you would like to experiment with multiple Linux distributions and aren't sure which one you want, or you just want an easier experience in case something goes wrong, try NOOBS, which stands for New Out Of Box Software. When you first boot from the SD card, you will be given a menu with multiple distributions (including Raspbian and Pidora) to choose from. If you decide to try a different one, or if something goes wrong with your system, you simply hold the Shift key at boot to return to this menu and start over.
There are, of course, lots of other choices. OpenELEC and RaspBMC are both operating system distributions based on Linux that are targeted towards using the Raspberry Pi as a media center. There are also non-Linux systems, like RISC OS, which run on the Pi. Some enthusiasts have even used the Raspberry Pi to learn about operating systems by designing their own.
What are alternatives to the Raspberry Pi?The Raspberry Pi is not the only small computing device out there. In fact, there are many more options available than we could list here. We’ve reviewed some of the choices before, here, but let’s talk about some of the ones you may have heard of before.
The Arduino is another hobbyist board, which is geared towards those wanting to build out electronics projects. But, while the Raspberry Pi is a fully functional Linux computer, the Arduino is only a microcontroller. This means it does not run an operating system, but instead, runs very specific, small blocks of code written by the person using the device. There are numerous add-on boards that give it more capabilities, but out of the box, it’s less ready-to-go than a Raspberry Pi. Another option is the Beaglebone series of boards, which are more similar to the Raspberry Pi, but a little bit more powerful (and a little bit more costly, too).
One advantage of using the Raspberry Pi over some other alternatives is the size of the community. If you have a question regarding a project you are working on, there are a lot of people who might be able to help you because of the large reach of the community.
What is the Raspberry Pi 3?The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is the latest version of the $35 Raspberry Pi computer. The Pi isn't like your typical machine, in its cheapest form it doesn't have a case, and is simply a credit-card sized electronic board -- of the type you might find inside a PC or laptop but much smaller.
See also: Raspberry Pi: The smart person's guide
What is the Raspberry Pi 3 capable of?A surprising amount. As you can see below you can use the Pi 3 as a budget desktop, media center, retro games console, or router for starters. However that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of projects out there, where people have used the Pi to build tablets, laptops, phones, robots, smart mirrors, to take pictures on the edge of space, to run experiments on the International Space Station -- and that's without mentioning the wackier creations -- self-driving goldfish anyone?
- The 20 silliest Raspberry Pi projects
- The top 10 projects to try out with your Raspberry Pi 3
- 21 of our favorite Raspberry Pi projects
How do I get started with the Raspberry Pi 3?One thing to bear in mind is that the Pi by itself is just a bare board. You'll also need a power supply, a monitor or TV, leads to connect to the monitor--typically HDMI, and a mouse and keyboard.
Once you've plugged in all the cables, the easiest way for new users to get up and running on the Pi is to download the NOOBS (New Out-Of-Box Software) installer. Once the download is complete, follow the instructions here and here and it will walk you through how to install an OS on the Pi. The installer makes it simple to set up various operating systems, although a good choice for first time users is the official OS Raspbian--although other operating systems are listed below.
The look and feel of Raspbian should be familiar to any desktop computer user. The OS, which is constantly being improved, recently had a graphical overhaul, and includes an optimized web browser, an office suite, programming tools, educational games, and other software.
How is the Raspberry Pi 3 different from its predecessors?The quad-core Raspberry Pi 3 is both faster and more capable than its predecessor, the Raspberry Pi 2. For those interested in benchmarks, the Pi 3's CPU--the board's main processor--has roughly 50-60 percent better performance in 32-bit mode than that of the Pi 2, and is 10x faster than the original single-core Raspberry Pi (based on a multi-threaded CPU benchmark in SysBench). Compared to the original Pi, real-world applications will see a performance increase of between 2.5x--for single-threaded applications--and more than 20x--when video playback is accelerated by the chip's NEON engine.
Unlike its predecessor, the new board is capable of playing 1080p MP4 video at 60 frames per second (with a bitrate of about 5400Kbps), boosting the Pi's media center credentials. That's not to say, however, that all video will playback this smoothly, with performance dependent on the source video, the player used and bitrate.
The Pi 3 also supports wireless internet out of the box, with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The latest board can also boot directly from a USB-attached hard drive or pen drive, as well as supporting booting from a network-attached file system, using PXE, which is useful for remotely updating a Pi and for sharing an operating system image between multiple machines.
Can I use the Raspberry Pi 3 as a desktop PC?The Pi can be run as a budget desktop, providing you have the patience. However, don't expect the Pi 3 to match a typical PC, it will lag loading heavier websites and, when browsing these demanding sites, having more than a handful of tabs open at once runs the risk of overloading the Pi's memory--causing a lengthy freeze.
Can I work on a Raspberry Pi 3?You can but you'll likely find it wearing, due to everything from loading web pages to alt-tabbing between applications taking slightly longer than you're used to. Also, while I was able to run every application I needed, I mainly rely on web apps, and those who use more specialized local applications could find they're not supported on the Pi's predominantly Linux-based OSes.
However, the Pi works well as a thin-client, as I found when I tested its capabilities when running as a thin client for Windows 10, with performance being almost indistinguishable from running a modern Windows 10 PC, save for the very slow transfer of data to USB sticks.
- Full Windows 10 on a Raspberry Pi thin client: Here's how it compares with a desktop
- Windows 10 face-off: Raspberry Pi thin client vs modern laptop
Can I browse the web using the Raspberry Pi 3?Yes, the latest version of the Raspberry Pi's official OS has the Chromium browser, the open-source browser that Chrome is based on. It's performance is reasonable, as long as you don't open too many script-laden websites, and there are extensions that allow for smooth playback of video on YouTube and other sites.
Can I use the Raspberry Pi 3 as a media center?Yes, there are various options if you want to use the Pi 3 as a media center but the most popular choices are the Kodi-based OSes OSMC or LibreElec.
The Pi 3 has the added advantage of a slightly faster graphics processor, which the Raspberry Pi Foundation has said is able to play local H.264-encoded video recorded at 1920x1080 resolution and 60 frames per second. Another advantage is built-in support for Wi-Fi makes it easier to stream content to the Pi, while native Bluetooth simplifies the hooking up peripherals.
Can the Raspberry Pi 3 run PS1, N64, SNES, NES and other classic console games?Yes, a wide range of vintage games will run on the Pi with the help of emulators like RetroPie, including some games from all of the systems listed above, although the more recent the system, the more likely it is that more demanding titles will struggle.
Which operating systems can I run on the Pi?The Pi can run the official Raspbian OS, Ubuntu Mate, Snappy Ubuntu Core, the Kodi-based media centers OSMC and LibreElec, the non-Linux based Risc OS (one for fans of 1990s Acorn computers). It can also run Windows 10 IoT Core, which is very different to the desktop version of Windows, as mentioned below.
However, these are just the officially recommended operating systems, and a large array of other weird and wonderful OSes also work on the Pi.
- Hands-On: First impressions of the Raspberry Pi 3
- Hands-on with Raspbian GNU/Linux Stretch for Raspberry Pi
Can the Raspberry Pi 3 run Windows 10?Yes, but it's nothing like the full desktop version of Windows 10 that most people are familiar with. Instead the Pi 3 runs Windows 10 IoT Core, a cutdown version of Windows 10 that doesn't boot into the graphical desktop and is designed to controlled via a command line interface on a remote computer. It can only run a single fullscreen Universal Windows Platform app at a time, for example a kiosk app for a retail store, although other software can run in the background.
However, the Pi can act as a Windows 10 thin client, where Windows 10 is run on a server and streamed to the Pi and, with a powerful enough server, the experience can be virtually identical to running a Windows 10 machine.
Can the Raspberry Pi 3 run Windows 10 desktop apps?The Pi 3 can run Windows desktop apps, although it requires you to buy the ExaGear Desktop software and spend some time setting it up.
Performance is also poor, with the tools needed to run Windows apps on the Pi sucking up so much processing power that you're basically restricted to running 20-year-old Windows apps and games, and simple modern text editors.
Basically, while it's technically possible, it's not something you'll probably want to do.
- How to run Windows apps on the Raspberry Pi
- Yes, Windows apps will run on the Raspberry Pi: But why would you bother?
Can the Raspberry Pi 3 run Ubuntu?It can run Ubuntu with various desktops, with the Raspberry Pi Foundation highlighting Ubuntu Mate and Ubuntu Snappy Core as standouts.
What are the Raspberry Pi 3's specs?
- Chipset: Broadcom BCM2837
- CPU: 1.2GHz quad-core 64-bit ARM cortex A53
- Ethernet : 10/100 (Max throughput 100Mbps)
- USB: Four USB 2.0 with 480Mbps data transfer
- Storage: MicroSD card or via USB-attached storage
- Wireless: 802.11n Wireless LAN (Peak transmit/receive throughput of 150Mbps), Bluetooth 4.1
- Graphics: 400MHz VideoCore IV multimedia
- Memory: 1GB LPDDR2-900 SDRAM
- Expandability: 40 general purpose input-output pins
- Video: Full HDMI port
- Audio: Combined 3.5mm audio out jack and composite video
- Camera interface (CSI)
- Display interface (DSI)
How can I get the most from my Raspberry Pi 3?It's good advice to get a case to protect the Pi from damage, especially if you're going to be carrying the Pi around with you.
If performance is important to you, you can also invest in a high-speed micro SD card, as outlined below.
While the Pi can run a lot of different operating systems, if you're after stability and performance then the official Raspbian operating system is a good choice, having been tuned to get the most from the Pi, and bundling a fast web browser and a decent selection of office and programming software.
If you didn't install the Raspbian OS using the Noobs installer, and you're running out of space, you can also go into the terminal and type 'sudo raspi-config' and then select the option to 'Expand root partition to fill SD card', which will ensure you're using all available space on the card.
How can I get help with the Raspberry Pi 3?With more than 15 million boards sold since the first Pi launched in 2012, the board now boasts a strong community, which helps other users via the official Raspberry Pi site and forums.
How do I keep the Raspberry Pi 3 up to date?If you're running the Pi's official Raspbian operating system then keeping the Pi up to date is relatively straightforward. Just open the terminal and type sudo apt-get update. Once the update is complete, then type sudo apt-get dist-upgrade.
What is the power consumption of the Raspberry Pi 3?According to tests, the peak power consumption of the Pi 3 when under heavy load is about twice that of the Pi 2 (750mA vs 360mA), though for less-demanding workloads it should be broadly similar to earlier boards.
What Raspberry Pi 3 kits are available?There's no shortage of Raspberry Pi kits available, that add everything from speech recognition, to robotic arms to build-it yourself laptops for kids to virtual assistants to the $35 board.
Due to the success of the Pi, if you've got an idea for a project, there's probably a kit out there to suit your needs.