What Is Raspberry Pi? Models, Features, and Uses


Raspberry Pi is defined as a minicomputer the size of a credit card that is interoperable with any input and output hardware device like a monitor, a television, a mouse, or a keyboard – effectively converting the set-up into a full-fledged PC at a low cost. This article discusses the Raspberry Pi models available today, their key features, and use cases. 

What Is Raspberry Pi?

Raspberry Pi is defined as a minicomputer the size of a credit card that is interoperable with any input and output hardware device like a monitor, a television, a mouse, or a keyboard – effectively converting the set-up into a full-fledged PC at a low cost. 

The first generation of computers came as massive processing systems built with vacuum tube technology. Over the years, more compact and less expensive versions of what a computer would come to look like sprung up. Today, we have minicomputer gadgets such as smartphones in our pockets. Even though computers have become so commonplace, they are still not widely accessible in developing countries. This imbalance in access to computers and programming technology led to the development and creation of the Raspberry Pi computer. 

Raspberry Pi is a small, low-cost, single-board computer the size of a credit card that allows people from different backgrounds and levels of expertise to experience and learn to compute. It is an enhanced motherboard developed in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi foundation, now widely accepted as a part of evolving computer technology. The minicomputer can connect with other peripheral hardware devices such as a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. 

One can use Raspberry Pi for various purposes, including learning programming languages and orchestrating network management. It is multifunctional and gained even more popularity in the past few years than initially projected. 

How does Raspberry Pi work?

Raspberry Pi is a programmable device. It comes with all the critical features of the motherboard in an average computer but without peripherals or internal storage. To set up the Raspberry computer, you will need an SD card inserted into the provided space. The SD card should have the operating system installed and is required for the computer to boot. Raspberry computers are compatible with Linux OS. This reduces the amount of memory needed and creates an environment for diversity. 

After setting up the OS, one can connect Raspberry Pi to output devices like computer monitors or a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) television. Input units like mice or keyboards should also be connected. This minicomputer’s exact use and applications depend on the buyer and can cover many functions.

See More: What Is Network Management? Definition, Key Components, and Best Practices

Top 6 Models of Raspberry Pi 

For anyone interested in getting one of these single-board computers, the myriad models and generations released can be difficult to sort through. Nonetheless, the most notable models of Raspberry Pi available on the market are:

1. Raspberry Pi Zero

This is the cheapest Raspberry model produced by the company. One can get it for as low as $5, which is quite impressive considering the extent of its functionality. Although not the first model to be released, it boasts a smaller, more compact size than the Raspberry Pi 1. Raspberry Pi Zero has the same processor and RAM (512 MB) as the Pi 1 Model B+. The Raspberry Pi Zero does not come with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but it can be made internet accessible via USB. 

Its slightly more expensive version, Raspberry Pi Zero W, comes with Bluetooth 4.0 and a built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity. For projects that require GPIO pins, other versions of Raspberry Pi may be more suitable. 

2. Raspberry Pi 1

Raspberry Pi 1 Model B was released in 2012. It served as a baseline in size for future releases. Initially, it had 26 GPIO pins, 256MB RAM capacity, and a single CPU core. You couldn’t use it for heavy tasks with high processing needs. In 2014, the Raspberry Pi B+ was released with a starting RAM capacity of 512MB and 40 GPIO pins, becoming standard across all other models. Raspberry Pi Model B+ is sold at $25 and comes with four USB ports and an Ethernet connection. Pi 1 Model A+ ($20) can be considered for faster CPU processing speed, but it comes without an Ethernet connection. 

3. Raspberry Pi 2 B

In February 2015, Raspberry released the 2B model. Compared to the prior releases, Raspberry Pi 2 B significantly improved, specifically in memory and speed. The RAM capacity was increased to 1GB. Pi 2B comes in the standard size, with 4 USB ports. It is currently priced at about $35, which is pretty affordable. 

4. Raspberry Pi 3

Raspberry Pi 3 B was released in 2016. The B+ version, which came out in 2018, can boast a faster processing unit, Ethernet (802.11ac), and Wi-Fi than the earlier version. Generally, Raspberry PI 3 offers the user a wide range of use. It comes with the standard HDMI and USB ports, 1GB RAM, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections in addition to the already functional Ethernet. One remarkable thing about this model is that it doesn’t generate much heat or consume too much power. This makes it suitable for projects that require passive cooling and can be acquired at $35.  

5. Raspberry Pi 4B

Released in 2019, Raspberry 4B is a vast improvement from its predecessors, with a varying memory capacity from 2GB RAM to 8GB RAM. It also has a faster 1.5GHz processor and a good mix of 2.0 and 3.0 USB ports. Pi 4B is an ideal Raspberry model as it is suitable for virtually every use case with higher RAM capacity to satisfy even the most dedicated programmers. Depending on memory, the price ranges from $35 to $75, but each comes with all connectivity options. 

6. Raspberry Pi 400

This model is unique as it comes in the form of a keyboard. It was launched in 2020 and operated with 4GB RAM. It comes with standard USB ports and needs just a monitor and mouse to make it a home computer set. Pi 400 costs $70 and can be used effectively in classrooms.     

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Top 10 Features of Raspberry Pi

For a non-savvy computer user, first contact with Raspberry Pi designs can be a little confusing. Several features are embedded on the board, each with its specific uses. Overall, the different features control the general criteria of a standard 21st-century computer: processor speed and quality, Bluetooth, connection and peripheral ports, and software compatibility. The features of Raspberry Pi computers that make all these possible include:

Features of Raspberry Pi

1. Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Every computer has a Central Processing Unit, and so does the Raspberry Pi. It is the computer’s brain and carries out instructions using logical and mathematical operations. Raspberry Pi makes use of the ARM11 series processor on its boards. 

2. HDMI port 

Raspberry Pi board has an HDMI or High Definition Multimedia Interface port that allows the device to have video options of the output from the computer displayed. An HDMI cable connects the Raspberry Pi to an HDTV. The supported versions include 1.3 and 1.3. It also comes with an RCA port for other display options.

3. Graphic Processing Unit (GPU)

This unit, GPU or Graphic Processing Unit, is another part of the Raspberry pi board. Its primary purpose is to hasten the speed of image calculations. 

4. Memory (RAM)

Random Access Memory is a core part of a computer’s processing system. It is where real-time information is stored for easy access. The initial Raspberry Pi had 256MB RAM. Over the years, developers gradually and significantly improved the size. Different Raspberry Pi models come with varying capacities. The model with the maximum capacity presently is the Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB RAM space. 

5. Ethernet port

The Ethernet port is a connectivity hardware feature available on B models of Raspberry Pi. The Ethernet port enables wired internet access to the minicomputer. Without it, software updates, web surfing, etc., would not be possible using the Raspberry Pi. The Ethernet port found on Raspberry computers uses the RJ45 Ethernet jack. With this component, Raspberry Pi can connect to routers and other devices. 

6. SD card slot

Like most other regular computers, Raspberry Pi must have some sort of storage device. However, unlike conventional PCs, it does not come with a hard drive, nor does it come with a memory card. The Raspberry Pi board has a Secure Digital card or SD card slot where users must insert SD cards for the computer to function. The SD card functions like a hard drive as it contains the operating system necessary for turning the system on. It also serves to store data.  

7. General Purpose Input and Output (GPIO) pins

These are upward projecting pins in a cluster on one side of the board. The oldest models of the Raspberry Pi had 26 pins, but most have 40 GPIO pins. These pins are pretty sensitive and should be handled carefully. They are essential parts of the Raspberry Pi device as they add to its diverse applications. GPIO pins are used to interact with other electronic circuits. They can read and control the electric signals from other boards or devices based on how the user programs them.

8. LEDs

These are a group of five light-emitting diodes. They signal the user on the present status of the Raspberry Pi unit. Their function covers:

  • PWR (Red): This functions solely to indicate power status. When the unit is on, it emits a red light and only goes off when the unit is switched off, or disconnected from the power source.
  • ACT (Green): This flashes to indicate any form of SD card activity.
  • LNK (Orange): LNK LED gives off an orange light to signify that active Ethernet connectivity has been established.
  • 100 (Orange): This light comes on during Ethernet connection when the data speed reaches 100Mbps. 
  • FDX (Orange): FDX light also comes during Ethernet connection. It shows that the connection is a full-duplex.

9. USB ports 

Universal service bus (USB) ports are a principal part of Raspberry Pi. They allow the computer to connect to a keyboard, mouse, hard drives, etc. The first model of Raspberry Pi had only two USB 2.0 ports. Subsequent models increased this number to four. Raspberry Pi 4 and Pi 400, much newer models, come with a mix of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports. 

10. Power source 

Raspberry Pi has a power source connector that typically uses a 5V micro USB power cable. The amount of electricity any Raspberry Pi consumes depends on what it’s used for and the number of peripheral hardware devices connected. 

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Top 10 Uses of Raspberry Pi 

Raspberry Pi has reached an unprecedented level of popularity. Originally created for educational purposes, it has become a go-to solution for tech enthusiasts looking for something to tinker with. This has led to the emergence of several relevant use cases. They are:

1. Constructing a desktop PC

One can use Raspberry Pi to construct a typical desktop personal computer. The hardware includes Raspberry Pi, a micro SD card with an operating system installed, a constant power source, and an output display device like an old monitor or television. It is also essential to have a USB mouse and keyboard. With all these, the user can work with fully functional devices for a very cheap cost.

2. Enabling media usage

Among the many uses of the Raspberry Pi, it has found profound popularity as a Kodi media player. Kodi software is a free, open-source media player that can be installed from official sites. One must install other add-ons. However, the user must be careful when using Raspberry Pi as a Kodi media center, as it can predispose the unit to security problems. This is easily prevented using a virtual private network (VPN) for data encryption.

3. Controlling IoT robots

Robotics is a vital part of today’s technology that promises to strongly influence the future, particularly the Internet of Things (IoT). Raspberry Pi, therefore, is playing a crucial role in the technology of the future. Currently, there are several robot controller Raspberry Pi projects. Anyone can order fully packaged robot parts with DIY instructions and programs from many Pi communities. You can also choose to build your robot from scratch. 

Raspberry Pi provides the best core a robot can have. Its miniature, lightweight nature, combined with the unit’s low price, makes it simply perfect. The Pi Zero is very popular for robotics because it boasts an even slimmer and more compact size than other Pi models. 

4. Acting as a printer server

Raspberry Pi can also be used as a printer server. This is especially important for older printers. Setting this printing server up requires installing CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) file-sharing software. CUPS gives the user access to multiple printer drivers, which should be installed depending on the type of printer. 

5. Replacing web servers

One other practical application of the Raspberry Pi computer is its use as a web server. This simply means configuring the computer to be able to host HTTP websites. It can function as a web server on the internet directly or in a local network such as a home or office. To do this, one must install specific software – the complete LAMP stack comprising Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. After this, one can use the www directory to save HTML files, and the Raspberry Pi can function as a fully functional web server. 

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6. Converting into retro gaming machines

Users can also make Raspberry Pi into a gaming console. Without any additional modification, Minecraft comes with the default Pi operating system, Raspbian. Beyond Minecraft, other multiplayer games can also be set up on Raspberry Pi. One can achieve the best gaming experience by using multiple Raspberry Pis with one dedicated as a server. 

7. Attaching to surveillance cameras 

Businesses, offices, and even homes need surveillance cameras to prevent and apprehend security threats. For some, this can be very expensive, especially for small businesses. However, Raspberry Pi comes in as an excellent alternative. Combining it with a camera module allows anyone to set up their personal surveillance system.

8. Supporting digital signage 

Most businesses now use digital signage to achieve a great deal of marketing. Information like the latest product, restaurant menus, adverts, appropriate behavior, maps, etc., can be displayed on large screens or specialized platforms. Raspberry Pi is not left out in this application – the minicomputer is perfect for displaying text and images. It can also display animations but will require more power and data consumption. Overall, using Raspberry Pi for digital signage is a cost-effective process. 

9. Conducting network penetration tests

Computer and network security is a big deal for everyone in today’s hyperconnected society. Personal and financial information stored on various sites may get into the wrong hands. This has created a massive market for cybersecurity software. But the only way to ensure that you have adequate security is to test it. With Raspberry Pi, you can create an offensive security hacking tool to ‘attack’ your network. Any breach found is immediately repaired and closed down. 

10. Providing data to business intelligence dashboards

Business intelligence dashboards, in one form or the other, are a vital part of any successful organization. It is a data visualization and analysis tool that displays the status of business metrics and key performance indicators of an organization or team. With Raspberry Pi, any business can display real-time data on a dashboard. The computer helps collect data from multiple sources using business intelligence apps like Power BI. 

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2022 marked the tenth year of Raspberry Pi, during which time the minicomputer sold 46 million units as per Eben Upton, the CEO of Raspberry Pi Limited. The device remains extremely popular, and a Raspberry Pi 5 model is in the works. IT professionals can leverage the device for various purposes, from testing new software in challenging conditions to testing their networks and multiple components. According to a 2020 press release, business users and the industrial market comprises 44% of Raspberry’s annual sales, indicating its immense potential. 

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