Which Raspberry Pi model is best for your next project?

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has been a pioneer in tiny computing ever since the very first Raspberry Pi hit the market in 2012. Since then, Raspberry Pi computers have only gotten more powerful, and more and more features are making their way onto the cladding boards.

You have a number of options to choose from when choosing the Raspberry Pi for DIY projects. But which Raspberry Pi model is best suited for the project you want to tackle? Let’s find out below.

Raspberry Pi 1

The first Raspberry Pi model came out in 2012. This tiny computer is low-power, cheap, and runs a proprietary operating system called the Raspberry Pi OS. Originally launched as the Model A and Model B, later upgrades rendered the older models obsolete. However, the Model A+ and B+ variants are still worth checking out.

Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+/B+

The Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+/B+ uses the same BCM2835 SoC as its predecessor, but this model has 40 GPIO pins instead of 26. It features 512MB of RAM, Fast Ethernet (B+ only), an HDMI port, four USB ports, and a handful of other IO ports.

As the earliest Raspberry Pi not to be discontinued, it should come as no surprise that this board isn’t as powerful as the others on this list. Despite this, it can still be an excellent choice for projects with a tight budget or low power requirements.

Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+/B+ Project Ideas

  • Raspberry Pi digital clock: Clock making is one of the easy Raspberry Pi projects for beginners. Your Raspberry Pi 1 can make a great foundation for a digital clock, especially with the A+ and B+ models that have 40 GPIO pins for LED displays. This guide from The Pi shows you how to create an interesting LED clock with a HAT for your RPi1.

Raspberry Pi 2

The Raspberry Pi 2 is very similar to the Raspberry Pi 1, except that it has an upgraded 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU and 1GB of memory. This board offers more power than its predecessor, making it great for affordable projects that require a little more power. Unlike other RPi models, this one doesn’t have an A or B variant.

Raspberry Pi 2 project ideas

  • Raspberry Pi 2 Wall Calendar: Paper calendars are a thing of the past with this cool Raspberry Pi project. This wall-mounted Google Calendar for Raspberry Pi on Instructables takes advantage of the RPi 2’s built-in Fast Ethernet and is an easy way to free up some wall space with something useful.
  • Raspberry Pi 2 Digital Photo Frames: The RPi 2 has plenty of storage space for photos and enough processing power to show them off in all their glory. Like the calendar above, this easy RPi 2 Digital Photo Frame project on Instructables is tons of fun.

Raspberry Pi 3

The original Raspberry Pi 3 Model B was released in 2016 as a major upgrade over the Raspberry Pi 2, now offering wireless connectivity for the popular mini PCs. Following this, 2018 A+ and B+ models of the Raspberry Pi 3 were released, offering great options for DIY enthusiasts looking for a more powerful mini PC.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+/B+

The RPi 3 Model A+ and B+ both use a Cortex-A53 (ARMv8) 64-bit SoC as the main chip on the board. The A+ model has 512MB of memory, while the B+ model has 1GB. The A+ model has one USB port and the B+ model has two, but the B+ model has an Ethernet port. Both boards have CSI camera ports and DSI display ports for connecting external devices.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+/B+ Project Ideas

  • Raspberry Pi 3 OctoPrint: OctoPrint is an open-source web interface for 3D printing that allows you to remotely control a printer. The Raspberry Pi 3 has enough power to keep OctoPrint running smoothly, making it relatively easy to give cheap 3D printers the features that much nicer models offer. This guide can help you get OctoPi working with your RPi.
  • Raspberry Pi 3 Hardware VPN: A VPN keeps your browsing safe, but why pay for monthly services when you can build your own? This Raspberry Pi Wireguard guide is simple, fun, and a good learning tool for those new to RPi boards.

Raspberry Pi 4

Originally released in 2019, the Raspberry Pi 4 is the current flagship mini PC from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This generation of RPis offers more variants and better connectivity than ever before, with a range of different storage options on the table and dual-band WiFi.

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B

The RPi 4 Model B is the most powerful mini PC in its family, with a quad-core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC under the hood and a choice of 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB R.A.M. The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B also features a Gigabit Ethernet port, dual-band WiFi, and two micro-HDMI ports that support 4K displays.

Raspberry Pi 400

Unlike the other Raspberry Pi options available, the RPi 400 is designed to offer a full PC experience in a small package. This kit includes a Raspberry Pi 4-based board, keyboard and mouse, and 4GB of memory.

Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Project Ideas

  • Raspberry Pi 4 All-in-One PC: RPi 4s pack a surprising amount of power considering their small size. For those performing simple tasks like word processing, web browsing, and even programming, a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B could be an affordable DIY all-in-one computing solution.
  • Raspberry Pi 4 weather station: For something a little different, the RPi 4 can form the backbone of a home weather station. This guide from the Raspberry Pi Foundation website shows you how to create your own Raspberry Pi 4 weather station using a dedicated HAT.

2W Raspberry Pi Zero

The Raspberry Pi Zero is a small form factor board that’s half the size of a Model A+ without sacrificing the performance you’ve come to expect from an RPi. Both the Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W feature the same BCM2835 SoC as the original Raspberry Pi, but the W version has wireless functionality.

Despite being just as small, the Zero 2W is just as small as the original Raspberry Pi Zero. With a 1GHz quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 CPU and 512GB of memory, this tiny PC is powerful enough to meet the needs of many desktop users.

Raspberry Pi Zero 2W Project Ideas

  • Raspberry Pi media server/streamer: Building your own media service or turning an old TV into a smart one is easy with the tiny Raspberry Pi Zero 2 board. With mini HDMI and MicroSD connections, this little PC fits perfectly in many 3D printable cases that can be hung on the back of a TV. This Raspberry Pi media server guide can help you get started.

Raspberry Pi Pico microcontroller board

The Raspberry Pi Pico is the only microcontroller board offered by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This small and affordable device has become a favorite among electronics hobbyists and is also used by experts in product development and prototyping.

The Pico microcontroller board features a dual-core ARM Cortex-M0+ processor and RP2040 microcontroller chip, as well as 264KB of internal RAM and 2MB of QSPI flash memory. It has 26 GPIO pins, two SPI controllers, two I2C controllers and 16 PWM channels and offers numerous connection options.

What is a microcontroller board?

Microcontroller boards are similar to computers, but they’re programmed to perform specific tasks and lack things like display outputs. Most electronics in your home – from washing machines to digital speakers – have microcontroller boards replacing old-fashioned circuitry. The Arduino line of microcontroller boards is the most well-known on the market.

Raspberry Pi Pico Project Ideas

  • Raspberry Pi USB devices: Like many other popular microcontroller boards, the RPi Pico can be used as a Human Interface Device (HID) over USB, meaning it can operate as a keyboard, mouse, or any other peripheral you can dream up.
  • Other electronics projects: The Raspberry Pi Pico is a great replacement for products like Arduino boards and they work well for a variety of electronics projects. Just make sure the features you need are available before you buy your Pico.

Which is the best Raspberry Pi model for your projects?

Choosing the best Raspberry Pi for your next project can be difficult with the multitude of options available to you. Processing power, form factor, and connectivity all play a role when choosing a mini PC, and the Raspberry Pi Pico only makes it more confusing. The project ideas in this article are designed to help you figure out which board is best for you.

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