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Raspberry Pi: Tutorials, Models, How to Get Started

Raspberry Pi
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

With more than 34 million units sold, the Raspberry Pi is not only one of the world’s most popular computers; it’s also one of the most important. Originally designed to help kids learn about technology, this inexpensive single-board system is the leading choice for makers, developers and hobbyists who want to do everything from building industrial robots to setting up retro arcade machines.

Whether you’re eight or 80, if you love technology, the Raspberry Pi is made for you. And with models ranging in price from $5 to $75, anyone can afford to buy one. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of Raspberry Pi.

Choosing a Model and Getting Started with Raspberry Pi

If you don’t own a Pi, you should definitely get one. We have a detailed guide to help you decide which Raspberry Pi to buy, but if you just want the quick answer: get the Raspberry Pi 4 B, ideally with 4GB of RAM ($55), though you can settle for the 2GB ($35) config if you want to save money. You can also splurge for the new Raspberry Pi 4 (8GB) if you want to future-proof your investment, though few apps take advantage of all that memory. You’ll also need:

  • A compatible AC adapter. For the Pi 4, you need a USB Type-C charger with 5 volts and at least 3 amps. For earlier Pi models, a 2.5 amp, 5-volt charger with a micro USB interface fits the bill.

If you choose to do a Raspberry Pi headless install, which lets you control the Pi from another computer, those are the only things you’ll need.

However, if want to use the Pi as standalone, you will obviously need:

  • Keyboard / Mouse: The Pi has USB ports you can use to connect these. All recent models except the Raspberry Pi Zero (non-W) have Bluetooth you can use as well. We like using wireless keyboards that have built-in pointing devices for our Pi, and the best of these is the Lenovo ThinkPad Trackpoint Keyboard II, which is super compact and connects via both Bluetooth and 2.4-GHz.
  • Screen: While you can buy screens that attach to the Pi’s GPIO pins, the easiest thing is to run an HDMI cable from the Raspberry Pi to a monitor or TV. If you have the Pi 4, you’ll need a micro HDMI to HDMI cable, because that board has micro HDMI out. The Pi Zero / Zero W use mini HDMI out.

We’ve got a detailed article that explains how to set up your Raspberry PI for the first time. The whole process should take no more than 10 minutes. If you want to save money and desk space, we recommend trying a headless install of the Pi and logging into your Pi from your primary PC.

What You Do with a Raspberry Pi

The idea of sub-$50 computer sounds cool at first, but what exactly do you do with one? For most adults, even the highest-end Raspberry Pi, the Raspberry Pi 4, isn’t powerful enough to serve as a primary PC. However, its small size, low-power usage and ability to connect to all kinds of electronic components via its 40-pin GPIO port make it ideal for tasks that a PC couldn’t perform.

Every month, we document the best new Raspberry Pi projects. The list of best Raspberry Pi projects for August 2020 includes a trash delivery robot, a biscuit dipper and a working geiger counter with a steampunk aesthetic  Here are a few notable use cases that most people can try at home or work.

  • PC Webcam or IP Camera: With USB webcams in short supply, it's good to know that you can use a Raspberry Pi as a PC Webcam or follow similar steps to use the Pi as an IP camera that broadcasts from anywhere.  You just need a Raspberry Pi camera module, which is easy to get, and costs anywhere from $10 to $30.

Raspberry Pi as Webcam

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
  • Retro emulation machine: Due to the popularity of emulation environments, such as Retropie and Lakka, you can easily build a gaming console around your Raspberry Pi that can play old arcade games and titles on classic systems, like the Nintendo 64, Atari 2600 and Gameboy Advance.

    If you want to play old games, see our tutorial on how to set up RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi Running RetroPie

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
  • Kids’ learning computer: The Raspberry Pi was originally designed to get children interested in programming by giving them an inexpensive, infinitely configurable computer. The Raspberry Pi runs Scratch Desktop, the offline version of the kid-friendly Scratch programming language and has built-in Python support. It’s also powerful enough for kids to surf the web, play some games or write school papers.

    We recently published a review of the Elecrow CrowPi2, a fully-functional Raspberry Pi laptop and learning kit that has a smorgasbord or sensors available when you lift up the keyboard. It comes with a series of helpful lessons for both Scratch and Python 3 that show kids how to manipulate those sensors via code. 

Raspberry Pi Laptop Elecrow CrowPi2

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
  • Hand-Washing Timer: You can create a variety of smart-home devices, including ones that will open your garage door, but one of our favorites is a device that activates when you have your hand in front of it and makes sure you are washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. See how to build a Raspberry Pi Hand Washing Timer and you can make it yourself.

Raspberry Pi Hand Washing Timer

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
  • Body Camera: Whether you're hiking, playing with the kids or need to capture video from a protest, you can build an inexpensive ($40 - $50) but highly-effective Raspberry Pi Body camera that uses a Pi Zero W. The camera will upload to the cloud so your footage will be saved even if something happens to the camera.

Raspberry Pi Zero-Powered Body Camera

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
  • Robot:  You can attach lights, motors and sensors to the Raspberry Pi, allowing it to power just about any kind of robot, from a Raspberry Pi-powered robotic security guard to a mechanical arm that can pick up objects.  

    A maker named Vlad recently designed a Raspberry Pi-powered robot that can retrieve balls, which it identifies using image recognition.

Raspberry Pi Robot

(Image credit: The Wonderful World of Vlad/YouTube)
  • A.I. Camera: Higher-end Raspberry Pis are powerful enough to recognize objects and classify them, based on machine learning. For example, Engineer Robert Lucian Chiriac has designed a Raspberry Pi License Plate detector that reads the plates of every car on the road.

Raspberry Pi Using AI to Detect License Plates

(Image credit: Robert Lucian Chiriac)

Adding Raspberry Pi HATs

Pimoroni Explorer HAT Pro for Raspberry Pi

Pimoroni Explorer HAT Pro for Raspberry Pi (Image credit: Pimoroni)

If you want to do make some really cool Raspberry Pi projects, it helps to wear a HAT. A HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) is an expansion board that plugs directly into the Raspberry Pi's 40 GPIO pins and gives you additional functionality such as lights, motors, sensors, cameras or a screen. 

We maintain a list of the best Raspberry Pi HATs, which includes everything from general-purpose boards that let you add sensors easily to HATs that have colorful LED matrixes. Our favorite HAT overall right now is the Pimoroni Explorer HAT Pro, which has built-in motor controllers, four analog inputs (for potentiometers or joysticks) and four capacitive touch pads.

Noteworthy Raspberry Pi Models

There have been over  different Raspberry Pi models released since the original, the Model B, launched in spring 2012. The company continues actively manufacturing all of them but the original Model A and B, because there are some companies that still use these legacy boards in their own products. However, there are really only a few models that the average shopper should consider getting right now.

  • Raspberry Pi 4 B with 2, 4 or 8GB of RAM ($35, $55 or $75): This is the latest model, and the 8GB edition is the top-of-the line. If you are planning to do physical computing (build a robot or gadget), 2GB should be fine, but 4GB is better if you plan to do web surfing and run programs on the Pi itself. The 8GB model is overkill for most current users, but as more software and a 64-bit OS come out, it will become more useful. See our Raspberry Pi 4 B guide for a lot more detail on the top-of-the-line Raspberry Pi.
  • Raspberry Pi Zero W ($10): This is the least powerful Pi, but it’s also super tiny (about the size of a USB Flash drive) and super cheap, so you can use it in a lot of different projects. It has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so it can connect to your network and devices.

    There’s also a Raspberry Pi Zero that has no wireless connectivity, but we wouldn’t recommend that because it’s not much cheaper and in some places is the same price as the Zero W. If you plan to use the GPIO pins, you will need to attach your own (unless you buy one with them presoldered, which is rare).  See our Raspberry Pi Zero guide for more information on how to get started with Zero and what you can do with it.
  • Raspberry Pi 3 B / 3 B+ ($35): These were the current-generation Raspberry Pis up until June 2019 and they are still easy to find for sale. They are slower than Raspberry Pi 4s, but they have some pluses in that they use regular HDMI cables (rather than micro HDMI), and they run cooler than the Pi 4. While they are similar, the 3 B+ is 200 MHz faster than the 3 B and has better Wi-Fi. 

Further down the page, we have a complete table of all the Raspberry Pi models ever made.

Tutorials and Support

Perhaps the best thing about the Raspberry Pi is the community of enthusiasts that stand behind it. If you’re looking for help, you can find support on Tom’s Hardware’s own Raspberry Pi forum, the Raspberry Pi’s official forums or on Reddit’s /r/raspberry_pi.

There are tons of great tutorials on the Internet that help you customize the Pi and use it for your specific needs. We have published a few helpful how-tos here at Tom’s Hardware:

GPIO Pins

Perhaps the most important feature of the Raspberry Pi is its set of 40 GPIO (General Purpose Input / Output) pins. The Raspberry Pi GPIO pins allow you to connect to all kinds of electronics, including LED lights, sensors, motors and controllers.

Each of the 40 pins serves a different purpose; some are grounds, others provide 3.3 or 5 volts of juice and still others can send data to different kinds of devices.
To learn what each pin does, see our article and chart on the Raspberry Pi GPIO pinout.

Raspberry Pi GPIO Pinout

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Overclocking the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi was built for people who like to tinker so all current models are unlocked for overclocking, which is really easy to do. We’ve got an article that shows you how to overclock any Raspberry Pi, including pushing the Raspberry Pi 4 all the way up to 2.147 GHz, but you’ll definitely want to add a fan like the Pimoroni Fan Shim or the 52Pi Ice Tower Cooler.

Brief History of Raspberry Pi

Eben Upton

This world-conquering computer has some humble origins. In 2008, Raspberry Pi Founder Eben Upton started working on the project in an attempt to simply increase the number of young people applying to Cambridge University’s computer science program. Upton only planned to make 1,000 units in total, but when the Pi launched in 2012, there was so much interest from adult makers that the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the non-profit which develops the computer, had to mass produce it.

In 2014, the Foundation released the Raspberry Pi 1 A+ and B+, which were the first to have the 40-pin GPIO set all models still have today (earlier models had a 26-pin set). In 2015, the Raspberry Pi 2 launched, moving to a faster processor and 1GB of RAM (earlier models had up to 512MB). Also in 2015, the Pi Zero, a tiny model that’s the size of a USB stick and costs $5, hit the market. That same year a pair of rugged Raspberry Pis were installed at the International Space Station as part of a program that lets kids submit code to be run on them.

2016 saw the launch of the Raspberry Pi 3 B, which offered a faster processor with a 1.2 GHz clock speed. In 2017, the Pi Zero W, which adds Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to the Zero, appeared. And in 2019, the Raspberry Pi 4 B launched, upgrading to a quad-core, Cortex A-72-powered CPU, providing dual micro HDMI outputs and, for the first time, 2GB and 4GB RAM capacities. In 2020, an 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 joined the lineup.

Today, after more than 34 million Raspberry Pis have been sold, half of the units are being used by businesses that need them to perform industrial tasks or use them as part of products. However, children and schools are still a core constituency. According to the Pi Foundation, 250,000 kids a week take part in Raspberry Pi competitions, clubs or other programs.

All Raspberry Pi Models

Here’s a list of all major Raspberry Pi models released since 2012. Note that the Compute Modules have no ports, because they are designed to plug into custom PCBs and are usually used by businesses that build them into products.

ModelReleaseCPURAMI/O PortsConnectivity
Raspberry Pi 4 BJun 20191.5-GHz, 4-core Broadcom BCM2711 (Cortex-A72)1 / 2 / 4 / 8GB2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, 2 x micro HDMI, 3.5mm audio802.11ac, Bluetooth 5, Gigabit Ethernet
Compute Model 3+ LiteJan 20191.2-GHz, 4-core Broadcom BCM2837B0 (Cortex-A53)1GBN/AN/A
Compute Model 3+Jan 20191.2-GHz, 4-core Broadcom BCM2837B0 (Cortex-A53)1GBN/AN/A
Raspberry Pi 3 A+Nov 20181.4-GHz, 4-core Broadcom BCM2837B0 (Cortex-A53)512MB1 x USB 2.0, HDMI, 3.5mm audio802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Raspberry Pi 3 B+Mar 20181.4-GHz, 4-core Broadcom BCM2837B0 (Cortex-A53)1GB4 x USB 2.0, HDMI, 3.5mm audio802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, Ethernet
Raspberry Pi Zero WFeb 20171-GHz, 1-core Broadcom BCM2835 (ARM1176JZF-S)512MB1x micro USB, mini HDMI802.11n, Bluetooth 4.1
Compute Module 3 LiteJan 20171.2-GHz, 4-core Broadcom BCM2837 (Cortex-A53)1GBN/AN/A
Compute Module 3Jan 20171.2-GHz, 4-core Broadcom BCM2837 (Cortex-A53)1GBN/AN/A
Raspberry Pi 2 B (v 1.2)Oct 2016900-MHz, 4-core, Broadcom BCM2837 (Cortex-A53)1GB4x USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio, HDMI802.11n, Bluetooth 4.1, Ethernet
Raspberry Pi Zero (v 1.3)May 20161-GHz, 1-core Broadcom BCM2835 (ARM1176JZF-S)512MB1x micro USB, mini HDMIN/A
Raspberry Pi 3 BFeb 20161.2-GHz, 4-core, Broadcom BCM2837 (Cortex-A53)1GB4x USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio, HDMI802.11n, Bluetooth 4.1, Ethernet
Raspberry Pi Zero (v 1.2)Oct 20151-GHz, 1-core Broadcom BCM2835 (ARM1176JZF-S)512MB1x micro USB, mini HDMIN/A
Raspberry Pi 2 BFeb 2015900-MHz, 4-Core Broadcom BCM2836 (Cortex-A7)1GB4x USB, 3.5mm audio, HDMIEthernet
Raspberry Pi 1 A+Nov 2014700 Mhz, 1-core Broadcom BCM2835 (ARM1176JZF-S)512MB1x USB 2.0, 3.5mm audio, HDMI, composite videoN/A
Raspberry Pi 1 B+Jul 2014700 Mhz, 1-core Broadcom BCM2835 (ARM1176JZF-S)512MB4x USB 2.0, HDMI, composite videoEthernet
Compute Module 1Apr 2014700 Mhz, 1-core Broadcom BCM2835 (ARM1176JZF-S)512MBN/AN/A
Raspberry Pi 1 AFeb 2013700 Mhz, 1-core Broadcom BCM2835 (ARM1176JZF-S)256MB1x USB 2.0, HDMI, composite video, 3.5mm audioN/A
Raspberry Pi 1 BMar 2012700 Mhz, 1-core Broadcom BCM2835 (ARM1176JZF-S)512MB2x USB 2.0, HDMI, 3.5mm audioEthernet
  • Math Geek
    my dad has been wanting to get a Pi but has no idea what to do with one. i forwarding him to this and he's now trying to figure out how many things one Pi can do at once or if he needs many of them.

    he's having fun and loves to see the updated projects as they come out.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Pi is great. I got the original model B, within 6 months of its release. And I love what they've done with the Pi v4.

    However, this may come as no surprise to some, but I'm an unabashed ODROID fan. They're everything you love about Pi, but better.

    So, what's the catch? Well, the boards are generally somewhat more expensive. Also, while they tend to have more features, sometimes you lose things like built-in wifi (easily remedied with an inexpensive USB adaptor).

    Depending on price point, you'll want to consider either the N2 or the new C4.

    https://www.hardkernel.com/shop/odroid-n2-with-4gbyte-ram/https://www.hardkernel.com/shop/odroid-c4/

    The ODROID-GO Advance also deserves a mention, for those interested in handheld game emulators:

    https://www.hardkernel.com/shop/odroid-go-advance/

    You can order directly from HardKernel or their US distributor, AmeriDroid.

    https://ameridroid.com/collections/odroid
    Reply
  • nubro01
    I wish somebody would explain how to make a Pi into a domain controller, like I did in de past with Zentyal on a Zbox. I now use the PI as DNS with PiHole, but ldap support would be the thing to control all of my network access. Running a dedicated server was 60 euro each month on electricity, bit stupid, but ok. Pi uses much less and already runs 24x7, so...
    Reply
  • bit_user
    nubro01 said:
    I wish somebody would explain how to make a Pi into a domain controller,
    Maybe you can find some good documentation on how to do this with Samba (a package most often used to enable Windows filesharing on linux). I've long used Samba, but never as a domain controller.

    nubro01 said:
    ldap support would be the thing to control all of my network access.
    I think LDAP originally started out in the UNIX world. I don't know how it relates to Windows, but maybe one of Linux' LDAP server options can do the job.

    I know it's not much help, but there are two leads for you to follow.
    Reply
  • UhOhChongo
    nubro01 said:
    I wish somebody would explain how to make a Pi into a domain controller, like I did in de past with Zentyal on a Zbox. I now use the PI as DNS with PiHole, but ldap support would be the thing to control all of my network access. Running a dedicated server was 60 euro each month on electricity, bit stupid, but ok. Pi uses much less and already runs 24x7, so...
    You could try installing FreeIPA -- you might have to do this on a 64-bit OS vs 32-bit, but FreeIPA provides LDAP, DNS, Kerberos, and several other services to provide a "domain controller" like environment on Linux. Not sure of the memory footprint etc., but it might work for your needs -- check it out...
    Reply
  • CooliPi
    There's a new model of Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB RAM, the article should be updated.

    For most adults, even the highest-end Raspberry Pi, the Raspberry Pi 4 B (4GB), isn’t powerful enough to serve as a primary PC.I disagree with that sentence from the article. I use Raspberry Pi 4 with 4GB of RAM as a PC (although overclocked to 2GHz) and it's usable for daily use as a main computer. It all depends on what you expect from it.

    It's absolutely quiet, browsing the internet with Chromium or Firefox is good, you can have lots of tabs open (thanks to 4 or 8GB of RAM), video playback is good, has 4k output etc. One advice for novice users - you can actually increase Firefox rendering speed by disabling smooth scrolling. This feature on slower computers adds latency when scrolling - if you turn it off, the latency is shorter.

    So, if your daily work consists of reading emails, browsing the internet, even watching some online videos, downloading - then Raspberry Pi 4 with 4 or 8GB of RAM can replace your PC. It doesn't cost a lot in terms of electricity consumption, so it can be left powered on, perhaps finishing long downloads while acting as a file server.

    I've even cut a 10 minute CooliPi LN2 submersion video at 1080p/60 using OpenShot, it was a pain until I figured that it got short on memory on a 32bit OS - so I used 64bit Ubuntu with 5GB of swap and then the final export succeeded, allocating some 8GB of ram for the process. Be warned that the new, experimental 64bit Raspberry Pi OS has a 64bit kernel, but 32bit applications, until they recompile it all to 64bit. The new 8GB version should be much better memory wise.

    My verdict - it can be used as a PC for daily work and children may use it for remote education in these troubled coronavirus times as a PC (if they don't have enough resources to get a PC to every child in a family) - hook a Raspberry Pi to a TV and voila - another child can have it's own PC for doing homework.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    CooliPi said:
    it was a pain until I figured that it got short on memory on a 32bit OS - so I used 64bit Ubuntu with 5GB of swap and then the final export succeeded, allocating some 8GB of ram for the process. Be warned that the new, experimental 64bit Raspberry Pi OS has a 64bit kernel, but 32bit applications, until they recompile it all to 64bit.
    Thank you! This is what I've been saying.

    Sadly, if they haven't gone to 64-bit userspace by now, I don't think they will. At least, not for the initial release.
    Reply
  • jtremblant
    bit_user said:
    Pi is great. I got the original model B, within 6 months of its release. And I love what they've done with the Pi v4.

    However, this may come as no surprise to some, but I'm an unabashed ODROID fan. They're everything you love about Pi, but better.

    So, what's the catch? Well, the boards are generally somewhat more expensive. Also, while they tend to have more features, sometimes you lose things like built-in wifi (easily remedied with an inexpensive USB adaptor).

    Depending on price point, you'll want to consider either the N2 or the new C4.

    https://www.hardkernel.com/shop/odroid-n2-with-4gbyte-ram/https://www.hardkernel.com/shop/odroid-c4/
    The ODROID-GO Advance also deserves a mention, for those interested in handheld game emulators:

    https://www.hardkernel.com/shop/odroid-go-advance/

    You can order directly from HardKernel or their US distributor, AmeriDroid.

    https://ameridroid.com/collections/odroid
    Please tell us what you use your Odroids for. Retro gaming, CoreELEC?
    You sound like a fan boy. FYI, I have 4 Odroids(N2Plus, N2(x2) and C4) and 3 Rpi4's.
    Odroids are theoretically more powerful than Rpi4. However, All those allegedly advantages goes to water if you are enable to use them as you would with a Rpi4. Ex. A Desktop Experience OS with HW acceleration.
    See the pathetic example of RK3399 boards, which offer more way more features than Odroids at comparable prices, however most of them are unsupported/alpha versions/partially work with 4.4 legacy kernels only.
    What I like from Odroids:

    Top notch tech support from official forums
    Latest Odroids work great booting from eMMC, not from uSD or USB3 SSD.
    Top performance compare to RK3399 boards with N2Plus.
    Clear, professional and informative technical Docs published at their Wiki site.
    Low Price. See how much more money a comparable Vim3 Pro with a S922X(A311D) CPU from Khadas cost.
    Amazing 1080p/4K video reproduction w/HW acceleration(On CoreELEC only)
    Innovative and unique software solutions/implementations tailored to Latest Odroids.
    What I dislike from them:

    Like most ARM SBC's with the sole exception of Raspi's, these development boards are experimental and required the user base to beta test, report bus/glitches and pray it eventually gets fixed or implemented.
    Poor I/O features on latest odroids, like N2 and C4. Also, N2/N2Plus have a well known USB3 issue which hasn't been fixed yet, probably never will.
    Latest Odroids perform poorly from USB3 SSD, specially when booting from them(4.9, 5.8 kernels, it doesn't matter, same issue). Transfer speeds(reading and writing) are below par too.
    No NVMe option
    No BT/Wifi built in requiring unnecessary expense and potential compatibility issues with OS' like linux(Ubuntu-desktop, Ubuntu-mate, Armbian, Manjaro, ArchLinux), android(lineage), CoreELEC(Kodi), etc.
    No BT/Wifi built in like Rpi4, also requires you buy an additional USB powered HUB because you will only have 2 available USB ports for it. Yes, the first USB Hub you're going to need, doesn't need to be powered goes to the N2/C4 OTG port unless you plug an official HK USB GPS module there.
    AMlogic CPU's on latest Odroids(N2 and C4) share all 4 USB ports with 1 lane only. It's better to put off all your USB dongles, as BT and WIFI and plug them via USB 2.0 OTG port. Also, to reduce compatibilities with the problematic USB host controller on N2/N2Plus when using multiple external hard drives and/or to squeeze and extra bit of performance out of your SSD drives, but they don't tell you that.
    C4 is a total disappointment, 4 x A53 cores even at 2.1Ghz(Overclocked) are too slow to handle modern 64bit linux OS like Ubuntu-desktop and Manjaro. C4 is more suitable like a Android TV box or a HTPC machine with CoreELEC due its low performance processor. C4 also lacks a SPI ledger and BT and WIFI built in. It's possible to put a petiboot image on uSD, boot from it and will act like a regular Petiboot but you will lose your uSD slot on C4, However, updates on uSD petiboot require to manually update it. I truly regret buying a C4 on release date.
    Last but not least, Odroids require a lot of tinkering, extra accessories, and certain knowledge at hardware and software level. Accessories you need to use an Odroid Properly: USB to UART module kit, multiple eMMC cards and multiple uSD cards to be able to troubleshot them when things go south, and thrust me, they eventually will. You also need a digital voltmeter, a spare HDMI cable, a spare monitor/TV, a spare PSU(official one) and a Laptop/desktop PC so you can flash Odroid images on it, debug your boot logs from Odroids and eventually compile/build your OS from sources. You can replace your Laptop/PC with a Raspberry pi 4 too as I do. The only thing you can't do with a Rpi4 is build a OS from sources because requires a running x86 linux distro for it.
    Reply