Which Raspberry PI Should I Buy?
By Sean McManus
Previously, I blogged here about the Raspberry Pi, the pocket-sized computer that is being used in homes, schools, and workplaces for learning computer science and electronics. It’s particularly suitable for this because it comes with programming tools and has a set of pins you can use to connect your own electronics projects to it. (You might think including workplaces is a bit of a stretch there, but a friend’s company gave them all Raspberry Pis and put them in teams to see what they could do with them, as part of a team-building exercise. That certainly beats the traditional three-legged race!)
There are now several different Raspberry Pi models and versions you can choose from, with four different products currently in production, and a thriving second-hand market. So what’s the difference between them? Here’s the run-down on the different models and versions:
- Model B with 256MB: I list it first, because it was the first Raspberry Pi to launch in February 2012, and for a year it was the only Raspberry Pi in the world. The Model B includes an Ethernet port for connecting to the Internet and two USB sockets.
- Model B with 512MB: The Raspberry Pi Foundation doubled the memory on the Model B in October 2012. On this model, some software performs better, especially software that’s graphically intensive. This model superseded the previous Model B, which is no longer in production.
- Model A: The Model A is a cut-down Raspberry Pi. It has a single USB socket (to which you can connect a USB hub), and there’s no Ethernet port. Like the first Model B, it has 256MB of memory. It’s proven popular with electronics hobbyists because it uses much less power than a Model B, which means it’s better suited to applications like robots that can’t have a cable-based power supply. The Model A came out in February 2013.
- Model B+: This latest evolution came out in July 2014, and represents a final refinement and upgrade of the Model B. It still has 512MB of memory, but the number of USB ports has doubled to four, and the power consumption has been lowered. There are more GPIO pins you can use for interacting with your electronics projects, too. One key difference is that this model uses MicroSD cards for its storage, while all the others use SD cards.
- Compute Module: The Raspberry Pi Compute Module is a quite different project to the other Raspberry Pi models listed above. This one isn’t really designed for home use. It’s more suited to people who build industrial projects, so it’s a lot less user-friendly than the models above.
So which model should you go for? Here are some tips on choosing:
Are you sure you need the Compute Module? If you’re not sure whether this is for you, it isn’t. The only people who will find this useful are likely to be engineers working on industrial projects.
Are you building a battery-powered project? Choose the Model A because it requires less power. Note, though, that providing a stable battery power supply can prove challenging and the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s FAQ advises against it unless you know what you’re doing.
Are you following a tutorial for a specific project? Check which model it requires. There were some changes in the GPIO pins between the Revision 1 (February 2012) and Revision 2 (September 2012) Raspberry Pi Model B Boards, so early tutorials might require a Revision 1 board to work, or need user modifications. Later tutorials will hopefully be written with both revisions in mind.
Are you connecting to a specific add-on? If so, you might need a Model B. The Model B+ is electronically compatible with the Model B, but the extra pins mean that some add-ons don’t physically fit. The Model B is being kept in production for the time being partly for this reason.
Still haven’t chosen? Then go with the Model B+. It is the same price as the Model B and represents better value. It’s the most versatile Raspberry Pi, and a perfect choice for your first one.
Sean McManus is the co-author of the bestselling Raspberry Pi For Dummies and author of Scratch Programming in Easy Steps. Visit his website at www.sean.co.uk for free sample chapters and other fun Raspberry Pi resources.