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Raspberry Pi Pico: Tutorials, Pinout, What You Need to Know

Raspberry Pi Pico
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Raspberry Pi Pico is a radical change from previous Pis, because it’s not a Linux computer, but a a microcontroller board like Arduino . The biggest selling points of the Raspberry Pi Pico are the price, $4 and the RP2040 chip which provides ample power for embedded projects and enables users of any age or ability to learn coding and electronics. If you have a Windows, Apple, Linux computer or even a different Raspberry Pi, then you are already well on your way to using the Raspberry Pi Pico in your next project. 

Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Pico 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Raspberry Pi Pico is vastly different from any model before it. It is the first device to use RP2040 “Pi Silicon” which is a custom System on Chip (SoC) developed by the Raspberry Pi team which features a dual core Arm Cortex M0+ running at 133 MHz, 264KB of SRAM and 2MB of flash memory used to store files. 

The one downside of the Raspberry Pi Pico is that there is no wireless connectivity. The RP2040 is the first microcontroller in the Pi range and this brings with it a new way of working. The Pico is not a computer, rather we need to write code in an external application on a different computer and “flash” the code to the microcontroller over USB. In our tutorial on how to get started with Raspberry Pi Pico, we explain how to connect a PC to the Pico and use it to upload MicroPython code.

Coding with the Raspberry Pi Pico 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Pico and third-party RP2040 boards can use a variety of programming languages, include MicroPython, CircuitPython, C/C++ and Arduino language. There's even Piper Play, a block-based version of Python for the Pico.

MicroPython and C/C++ are the officially supported languages from the Pi Foundation, but CircuitPython, which is similar, has certain advantages such as its built-in support for USB HID, which means that you can turn your Pico into a keyboard, mouse or joystick that's recognized by a PC.

MicroPython on Raspberry Pi Pico 

MicroPython is a version of Python 3 for microcontrollers. It was created by Damien George and first used with the PyBoard development board back in 2014. Since then, more devices have adopted this easy to use language and there is a further fork of MicroPython,CircuitPython created by Adafruit which adds further enhancements for their range of boards.  Writing MicroPython code for the Raspberry Pi Pico is possible using the Thonny Python IDE, which is available for all the major OSes, and it is the most accessible way to get started with your Pico. 

A fork of MicroPython, CircuitPython has been released for RP2040 boards. Created by Adafruit, CircuitPython has an impressive library of pre-written modules for sensors, LCD / OLED / LED screens and output devices such as thermal printers. Flashing CircuitPython to the Raspberry Pi Pico is as simple as flashing MicroPython, and it is reversible should you wish to revert back to MicroPython or C/C++.

C/C++ 

Writing code in C/C++ is made possible via two methods. Firstly we can write the code directly in a text editor of our choice and then follow a workflow to build the files which are then flashed to the Pico. Or we can use a graphical workflow and have Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code handle the creation, build and flash process in one application. 

You can now now use the Arduino IDE to write code for your Pico. Arduino code is loosely a version of C/C++ so this might be a simpler way to write and upload your code.

Raspberry Pi Pico GPIO Pinout 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
  • 26 × multi-function 3.3V GPIO pins
  • 2 × SPI, 2 × I2C, 2 × UART, 3 × 12-bit ADC, 16 × controllable PWM channels
  • 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support.
  • Castellated module allows soldering directly to carrier boards.

Operating at 3.3V, the Raspberry Pi Pico has a 40 pin GPIO, but it does not share the same form factor as the Raspberry Pis before it. We have GPIO pins for digital inputs / outputs, pulse width modulation (PWM) and for specialist communication protocols such as I2C, SPI, UART/Serial. The GPIO also has three Analog inputs, something other Raspberry Pis lack,  that use variable voltages to connect to, for example, a potentiometers, joystick or light-dependent resistor.  

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The GPIO pins themselves feature castellations, small cutouts that permit the Raspberry Pi Pico to be soldered in place into a project or carrier board.  

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

More importantly, we can also solder header pins to the Pico and use it in a breadboard. See our tutorial on how to solder Raspberry Pi Pico pins for more details. 

What You Do With a Raspberry Pi Pico 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Retailing for $4, the Raspberry Pi Pico is a cost effective means to tinker with electronics projects and study physical computing. 

We can use the power of Pico at the heart of robotics and motorized projects, collect data using sensors for temperature, humidity, light and pollution and we can learn the basics of programming and electronics.

The RP2040: Raspberry Pi Silicon

The Raspberry Pi Pico is the first but not the only board to use RP2040. There are around a dozen third-party boards that have been announced and three that we know have hit the market thus far. 

Our favorite third-party RP2040 board is Adafruit's Feather RP2040, which features 16MB of storage (versus 2MB on the Pico), 4 ADC channels (versus 3 on the Pico), an RGB light, a built-in Lipo battery connector and, most importantly, the ability to connect to Adafruit's huge ecosystem of Featherwing add-on boards.

We've also tested the Pimoroni Tiny RP2040, which is an extremely-small board that sports 4 ADC channels, 8MB of storage and an RGB light. SparkFun's MicroMod RP2040 puts the SoC on a tiny M.2 board which you can plug into a variety of carrier boards with different features.

Adafruit has also announced an ItsyBitsy 2040, which follows the "ItsyBitsy" form factor and a tiny QT Py 2040 board. Arduino have announced that they are working on the Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect, a variant of the RP2040 with WiFi and Bluetooth. In addition to the MicroMod, SparkFun has two other RP2040 boards coming out. 

RP2040 Board Comparison

Raspberry Pi PicoAdafruit Feather RP2040Adafruit ItsyBitsy RP2040Adafruit QT Py RP2040Adafruit Trinkey QT2040Arducam Pico4MLArduino Nano RP2040 ConnectCytron Maker Pi PicoCytron Maker Pi RP2040Pimoroni Keybow 2040Pimorono Pico LipoPimoroni Tiny 2040SparkFun MicroModSparkFun Pro MicroSparkFun Thing Plus
GPIO26 × multi-function GPIO pins 2 × SPI, 2 × I2C, 2 × UART, 3 × 12-bit ADC, 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support Castellated module allows soldering directly to carrier boards.21 × multi-function 2 × SPI, 2 × I2C, 2 × UART, 4 × 12-bit ADC, 16 × controllable PWM channels 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support. Castellated module allows soldering directly to carrier boards. 23 GPIO pins 16 x PWM outputs 10 x Digital I/O, 4 x Analog 12-bit ADC, 2 x I2C, SPI, 2 x UART, 10 x Programmable IO11 GPIO pins. 7 x Digital I/O, 4 x Analog 12-bit ADC, 2 x I2C (including Stemma QT), SPI, UART, 6 x Programmable IO.Stemma QT / Qwiic connector26 × multi-function GPIO pins 2 × SPI, 2 × I2C, 2 × UART, 3 × 12-bit ADC, 16 × controllable. 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support20× multi-function 3.3V GPIO pins 1× SPI, 1 × I2C, 1 × UART, 8 × 12-bit ADC, 20 × controllable PWM channels 8× Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support. 1x User LED (GPIO 13)26 × multi-function GPIO pins 2 × SPI, 2 × I2C, 2 × UART, 3 × 12-bit ADC, 16 × controllable. 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral supportNo direct GPIO access, 7 x Grove connectors provide GPIO access 4 x Servo headers, can be used as GPIOA small selection of GPIO is broken out for use. I2C, Serial / UART. Access to these pins requires soldering.26 × multi-function GPIO pins 2 × SPI, 2 × I2C, 2 × UART, 3 × 12-bit ADC, 16 × controllable. 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support12 GPIO pins. 7 x Digital I/O, 4 x Analog 12-bit ADC, 2 x I2C, SPI, UART, Debug30 × multi-function GPIO pins 2 × SPI, 2 × I2C, 2 × UART, 3 × 12-bit ADC, 16 × PWM controllable. 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support20 × multi-function GPIO pins 1 × SPI, 1 × I2C (Qwiic), 2 × UART, 4 × 12-bit ADC, 10 × PWM controllable. 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support18 × multi-function GPIO pins 2 × SPI, 2 × I2C (Qwiic), 2 × UART, 4 × 12-bit ADC, 8 × PWM controllable. 8 × Programmable I/O (PIO) state machines for custom peripheral support
Flash Storage2MB8MB8MB8MB8MB2MB16MB2MB2MB2MB4 / 16MB8MB16MB16MB16MB
Wi-Fi / BluetoothN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/ANina W102 uBlox Wi-Fi module Bluetooth / BLE 4.2Via ESP01 / ESP8266N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
Extra FeautresN/A1 x WS2812B Neopixel STEMMA QT / Qwiic connector Onboard battery charging and support for hot swappable LiPo and Lilon batteries.1 x WS2812B NeoPixel1 x WS2812B NeoPixel Stemma QT / Qwiic connectorUSB A connector Stacking Stemma QT boardsHiMax HM01B0, Up to QVGA (320 x 240 @60fps) 0.96 inch LCD SPI Display (160 x 80, ST7735) 3-Axis Gyroscope 3-Axis Accelerometer 3-Axis Compass Mems MicrophoneST LSM6DSOXTR 6-axis IMU ST MP34DT06JTR MEMS Microphone ATECC608A-MAHDA-T Cryptographic CoprocessorMicro SD card reader 6 x Grove Connectors Onboard test LEDs Audio output via 3.5mm jack and buzzer RGB LED User ButtonsMX1508 Motor Controller with two DC motor outputs and motor test buttons LiPo charging 2 x WS2812B NeoPixel RGB LEDs16 Kailh hot swappable keys 16 RGB LEDsMCP73831 charger with 215mA charging current. XB6096I2S battery protector Stemma QT / Qwiic Connector Power button LED Status IndicatorsUser controllable RGB LEDMicroMod follows an M.2 form factor and as such is designed for use in carrier boards that add extra features.WS2812 Addressable LED Qwiic / Stemma QT breakoutLiPo battery charging Charge and Status LEDs WS2812 Addressable LED
USB PortMicro USBUSB-CUSB-CUSB-CUSB-AMicro USBMicro USBMicro USBMicro USBUSB-CUSB-CUSB-CCarrier board dependentUSB-CUSB-C
Dimensions51 x 21 mm50.8 x 22.8 mm36 x 18 mm22 x 18 mm2.54 x 17.8 mm51 x 21 mm45 x 18 mm94 x 68 mm88 x 64 mm76 x 76 mm53 x 21 mm22.9 x 18.2 mm22 x 22 mm33 x 17.8 mm58.4 x 22.8 mm

Accessories and Add-ons

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Pimoroni Pico Accessories

(Image credit: Pimoroni)
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Pimoroni Pico Accessories

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Pimoroni Pico Accessories

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Pimoroni Pico Accessories

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Pimoroni Pico Accessories

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Pimoroni Pico Accessories

(Image credit: Pimoroni)

First and third part accessories are the life blood of the Raspberry Pi and maker communities. They bring extra features and enable projects to be realised more easily. 

With the Raspberry Pi Pico's new form factor there is a need for new accessories and the first to market at Pimoroni, a UK based official Raspberry Pi reseller. They have released 12 new accessories for the Pico that range from simple breakout boards enabling multiple addons to be used at once, to advanced audio output devices and a VGA Demo board which uses the Programmable IO of the RP2040 to create DVI video signals. If your interests are more LED inclined then the Unicorn Pack sees 112 RGB LEDs ready to dazzle your eyeballs. 

We've had a chance to review several Pico accessories, including:

Tutorials and Support

The best things about Raspberry Pi is the great community and the thousands of tutorials that have been created. From basic to complex there are great tutorials to help you learn new skills. 

In the relatively short time that the Pico has been on the market, the Raspberry Pi community has already developed a ton of resources. At Tom's Hardware, we've been publishing our fair share of Pico how-tos, which you can find below. 

  • I Eat Beans
    Yeah, that cool.. but can it run cyberpunk at 8k I'm looking for my next gaming computer and was wondering if this is better than the 3090.
    Reply
  • GeorgesRiverJack
    I Eat Beans said:
    Yeah, that cool.. but can it run cyberpunk at 8k I'm looking for my next gaming computer and was wondering if this is better than the 3090.
    Yeah ,but its less to 10bucks USD ... Can yours program a, wing ding to flip a wang dang on the head of a needle ...or blink a led even ,I love my Pico
    Reply