Raspberry Pi vs Arduino: Which One Should You Buy?

Although the Raspberry Pi and Arduino are sometimes mentioned in the same breath and both products can be counted as the same electronics hobby products, they are really two different products with their own applications. Raspberry Pi vs Arduino: What Are The Differences And What Do You Use For What?

If you are interested in (programmable) electronics hobby products, you will soon come across the Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Both products are designed as printed circuit boards on which various chips are placed and the dimensions of, for example, a Raspberry Pi 3 (8.5 × 5.6 cm) and the popular Arduino Uno R3 (6.9 × 5.3 cm) are quite comparable. Yet these are two very different products, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. In this article we will discuss the differences between the two platforms.

Computer vs Microcontroller

Basically, the difference is easy to explain: an Arduino is a microcontroller, while the Raspberry Pi is a full-fledged computer. A microcontroller does not run an operating system and only one program can run at a time. A computer is equipped with an operating system and can run several programs at the same time.

You can therefore recognize all parts of a full-fledged computer in a Raspberry Pi and alternative single-board computers such as the Orange Pi. For example, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is equipped with USB ports, a network connection, an HDMI connection and sound output. Even wifi and bluetooth are available. Thanks to all these connections, you can connect a monitor and input devices, just like on any computer, after which you can use the Pi in combination with a suitable operating system as a desktop PC for browsing or word processing. Compare that to the average Arduino or similar microcontroller board: those boards basically only offer pins that serve as digital and analog inputs and outputs that are connected directly to the microcontroller with which you can switch things.

An Arduino is a microcontroller, while the Raspberry Pi is a full-fledged computer.

What is a Raspberry Pi?

The Raspberry Pi was originally developed by Briton Eben Upton as a cheap computer ($35) to teach children the basics of computers, electronics and programming. However, computer hobbyists also saw plenty of uses for the cheap Raspberry Pi. The basis of a Raspberry Pi is in all cases a SoC from Broadcom that combines an ARM processor with the VideoCore IV GPU and also provides all connections such as the USB ports and the HDMI output. The chip for the network connection is then connected via USB 2.0. This is also the reason that the gigabit network connection on the latest Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ achieves a speed between 200 and 300 Mbit/s instead of a full gigabit speed.

A Raspberry Pi has no storage, you need an SD card on which the desired operating system is installed. The Raspberry Pi Foundation recommends at least a Class4 card, but in our experience a faster card with Class 10 or even UHS Class 1 from a good brand is a better idea. In any case, do not buy an unbranded card, as there is a good chance that the card will become corrupt during use.

Versatile Operating Systems

You can install an operating system on the SD card yourself. The default operating system is the Debian-based Raspbian, a Linux distribution that allows you to use the Raspberry Pi as a desktop computer. In addition, there are also more specialized Linux-based distributions that allow you to use the Pi as a game console (such as RetroPie) or media player (such as OpenELEC).

Most operating systems for the Pi are based on Linux, but in the form of Windows IOT Core or RISC OS, for example, there are also other types of operating systems. The flexible Linux operating systems enable many advanced applications. For example, you can use the Raspberry Pi as a smart speaker with Google Home, you can use it as a download server or even as a central ad blocker in your home network.

As mentioned, the Pi is also excellent as a media player for video or streaming audio. The mini computer is even so powerful that you can also use it as a retro game console from the Raspberry Pi 2 in combination with, for example, RetroPie. He then effortlessly emulates game consoles such as the NES, SNES, MegaDive and Commodore 64.

High Compatibility

After the first Raspberry Pi came on the market in 2012, all kinds of different versions with faster processors have now appeared. Where the first Raspberry Pi had a single-core processor with a clock speed of 700 MHz, the latest 3+ is equipped with a 1.4 GHz quad-core processor. However, one thing has remained the same in all those Raspberry Pis, the SoC is provided by Broadcom. There is some difference between the ARM cores used, but the VideoCore IV GPU is the same in all SoCs used. According to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the VideoCore is the only publicly documented GPU for ARM SoCs and therefore important for the Pi project. There is something in that, because an important disadvantage of other SoCs on alternative boards is that the graphics options are usually poorly supported. The Raspberry Pi Foundation places a strong emphasis on compatibility between the different generations of Pis. The proprietary operating system Raspbian is therefore still fully compatible with all variants of the Pi.

Raspberry Pi vs Alternatives

The Raspberry Pi is not the only single board computer on the market. Following the success of the Pi, other, mostly Chinese, manufacturers are also launching 'clones' of the Raspberry Pi on the market. Sometimes these plates have a name of another piece of fruit combined with the word Pi such as the Banana Pi or Orange Pi. Earlier in this paragraph we deliberately wrote 'clones', because unlike most clones of an Arduino, they are not about exact copies. The Raspberry Pi uses a SoC from Broadcom, while alternative boards have a SoC from another manufacturer such as Allwinner, Rockchip or MediaTek. Like the Broadcom SoC used in the Raspberry Pi, these SoCs are based on an ARM processor, but that's where the similarity really ends. For example, other elements of the SoCs (such as the GPU) are different. In practice, this means that an operating system specially made for the Raspberry Pi such as Raspbian or RetroPie will not work directly on one of the alternative boards.

Alternative board manufacturers usually provide their own Linux distribution (sometimes a modified version of Raspbian), but you can often opt for Armbian as well. This is a special Linux distribution made especially for singleboard computers. Incidentally, Armbian does not support the Raspberry Pi. Although alternative singleboard computers are more powerful or cheaper than the Raspberry Pi and therefore certainly have a right to exist, they are usually not such a good idea for beginners. Documentation from the (Chinese) manufacturers is usually limited. Another problem is that all capabilities are usually not fully supported by the Linux distributions that are suitable for the boards. For example, you can sometimes not choose all resolutions, which is difficult if you just got a screen with an unsupported resolution. Another problem is that the number of users per alternative board is relatively low, so in case of problems you cannot fall back on an active community. The large number of users and the good support from the Pi community is a very big plus, especially for beginners.

The large number of users and the good support from the Pi community is a very big plus, especially for beginners.

accessories

There is another argument for choosing the Raspberry Pi and not one of the other single board computers. There are many accessories for sale for the Raspberry Pi. You have a wide choice of housings in all colors and shapes. Want to build your Pi into a case that looks like a retro game console? No problem, there are cases that look like a Nintendo NES or SNES. In addition, there are also all kinds of extensions for sale for the Raspberry Pi. With this you can, for example, add a good (digital) sound output, a touch screen, small screen or LED matrix. The expansion modules are also called HAT, which stands for Hardware Attached on Top. The expansion modules connect to the GPIO, which is the array of pins on the Raspberry Pi. Those pins can also be used to connect sensors and other components.

What is an Arduino?

The Arduino is an example of a microcontroller: a very simple computer that can run one program at a time. So there is no operating system running on a microcontroller. You program the microcontroller with the program you want, after which this program is executed. A microcontroller is therefore extremely suitable for smaller repetitive tasks such as automatically opening a door or switching on a light when there is movement. But more advanced things are also possible, such as a self-driving robot that determines its movement on the basis of sensors.

When we talk about an Arduino, we are talking about more than just the microcontroller. An Arduino board contains all the components you need to use the microcontroller present (usually a variant of Atmel, but other brands are also used) in a simple way. For example, most Arduino boards have a USB connection. This is used to transfer a program to the microcontroller via a PC. In addition, the Arduino boards contain pins to which you can connect components such as sensors and motors.

An example of a project you can build is a light that responds to movement or dusk, as we show here. But in combination with an Arduino with WiFi, you can also set up a weather alarm. Or you build a paper umbrella that opens automatically when it rains.

Robust

An advantage of a microcontroller such as an Arduino is that little can go wrong with software after programming. As soon as you connect the power supply, the code programmed in the microcontroller will be executed. It does not matter if you just disconnect the power supply, after reconnecting the program will simply run again. This is emphatically not the case with a single-board computer such as the Raspberry Pi. If you just pull the power from a Raspberry Pi, there is a good chance that the files of the operating system will get corrupted and your Pi will no longer boot. Just like a Windows PC, for example, you have to shut down a Pi properly to turn it off.

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