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What Is Raspberry Pi For? 14 Cool Uses In 2021

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Last Updated on August 19, 2021 by Calvin C.

A Raspberry Pi is a small, affordable, single-board computer that uses a standard mouse and keyboard. It is manufactured by Raspberry Pi Foundation (UK), a charitable foundation which was founded in 2008. 

What is Raspberry Pi for and how does it work? Read to the end and learn everything you need to know about this amazing tech.

There is no limit to its access and founders of the project describe the Pi as a way “..to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world.”

Hardware and technology

Don’t let the small size fool you because a Pi is a complete computer that performs tasks carried out by a regular computer.

In other words, you can watch HD videos and perform tasks like word processing, spreadsheets, browsing the internet and more.

The single board can be as small as a credit card and variations of a version usually fall into four groups:

Model A > Model A+ > Model B > Model B+ (> = “better than”)

Untitled Diagram
Raspberry Pi 400 (Keyboard with a built-in Pi 4)

Other hardware components that you find on the Raspberry Pi board are as follows:

  • RAM that can be as high as 8 GB
  • ARM series CPU
  • GPU to accelerate graphics rendering
  • Ethernet port (Model B) where you can connect the router
  • Power source connector for the power supply
  • GPIO pins to connect electronic components or even other boards
  • Xbee socket for wireless connection
  • UART (Universal Asyncronous Receiver/Transmitter) 
  • SD card with operating system, usually Linux-based.
  • Ports for external devices. You can connect a composite or HDMI cable to link the Raspberry Pi to a TV or LCD monitor.
  • 3.5 mm jack for audio

In addition, peripheral devices are connected to the board via ports e.g. a monitor, USB keyboard and a USB mouse.

what is raspberry pi for

Why do you need a Raspberry Pi

A Raspberry Pi was created to encourage learning of computers and innovation, particularly in children/students.

It is easily modified to perform many cool things and the following uses show you how valuable a Raspberry Pi is:

  • Build your own Alexa speaker. Yes, you can do that with a Raspberry Pi by following this tutorial
  • Kids can get their hands on their first computer. They can connect the components together to build a first computer and learn the basics of operating one. This brings the power of computing to children as young as 6 years.
  • Stream online content on your TV. Connect your Raspberry Pi to a TV and access video-on-demand services. This is a great alternative to a Fire Stick and Roku.
  • Share files with everyone in your home. To make that possible, you attach a USB external hard drive to your home network via the Raspberry Pi.
  • Fully functional laptop. A Raspberry Pi can be encased in a 14-inch laptop shell, complete with a screen and keyboard. It’s called a pi-top, a fully functional Raspberry Pi computer with a battery that lasts up to 8 hours!
  • Retro gaming. There are kits available on the market to create awesome games and controllers.
  • Security camera. Create a cheap, effective wireless camera system. To do that, you need compatible cameras and tutorials can be found online on how to set things up.
  • Custom robots. You can hook sensors, electric motors etc to a Raspberry Pi and build amazing robot projects.
  • DIY wireless speakers. Connect speakers in different rooms wirelessly and save a lot of money. There is software that can be installed on a Raspberry Pi to create an awesome audio system.
  • As a web server. It doesn’t require cooling fans and can run 24/7 without overheating. Power consumption is low which means you don’t get a hefty electricity bill at the end of the month.
  • Automate simple processes. You can hook up sensors and turn specific devices on and off automatically e.g. moisture sensors can control when plants need to be watered.
  • Extend WiFi range. Instead of struggling to find the best spot for your router, use a Raspberry Pi to maximize WiFi coverage in your house. 
  • Rejuvenate your old printer. With a Raspberry Pi in place, you can convert an old printer to a wireless printer and connect it to a home network so that all devices can share the printer.
  • Learn coding basics in a fun environment.

Operating systems that are supported

The operating system you choose to install on the SD card depends on your needs and these are:

  1. Raspberry Pi OS (Raspbian) – Recommended
  2. Ubuntu MATE
  3. Android
  4. Kali Linux
  5. And many more..

If you are a Windows OS fan, you are in luck because there is a detailed tutorial on how you can install Windows 11 on a Raspberry Pi.

How do I set up a Raspberry Pi?

The process of setting up this small computer is easy, which is perfect for beginners.

As in any computer, an operating system is needed for a Raspberry Pi to run.

However, instead of booting from a hard disk, it uses an SD card, USB flash drive or USB external hard drive.

To install an operating system, you need an SD card, a computer with a card reader and Raspberry Pi Imager software.

When you buy a Raspberry Pi, it may or may not come with an SD card and for most general purposes, you need at least 4 GB of storage.

First you download and install Raspberry Pi Imager from the official page.

There is desktop software available for Windows, MacOS and Ubuntu X86.

Once you download it on on your computer, run it and insert an SD card.

Save the selected operating system on the SD card and it is ready for use on your Pi.

For completeness sake,  I will go through each Raspberry Pi generation so that you appreciate how it has evolved:

Model Year of release Specs
Raspberry Pi 1 Model BFebruary 2012ARMv6 single core CPU 700 MHz
RAM 512 MB
2x USB 2.0
No Bluetooth
No WiFi
Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+July 2014ARMv6 single core CPU 700 MHz
RAM 512 MB
4x USB 2.0
No Bluetooth
No WiFi
Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+November 2014ARMv6 single core CPU 700 MHz
RAM 512 MB
1x USB 2.0
No Bluetooth
No WiFi
Raspberry Pi 2February 2015ARMv7 quad core CPU 900 MHz
RAM 1 GB RAM
2x USB 2.0
No Bluetooth
No WiFi
Raspberry Pi ZeroNovember 2015ARMv6 CPU quad core 1 GHz
RAM 512 MB
1x USB 2.0
No Bluetooth
No WiFi
Raspberry Pi 3February 2016ARMv8 (64-bit) quad core CPU 1.2 GHz
RAM 1 GB
4x USB 2.0
Bluetooth 4.1 LE
WiFi available
Raspberry Pi Zero WFebruary 2017ARMv6 CPU 1 GHz
RAM 512 MB
1x USB 2.0
Bluetooth 4.1
WiFi available
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+March 2018ARMv8 quad core CPU 1.4 GHz
RAM 1 GB
4x USB 2.0
Bluetooth 4.2 BLE
WiFi available
Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+November 2018ARMv8 quad core CPU 1.4 GHz
RAM 512 MB
1x USB 2.0
Bluetooth 4.2 BLE
WiFi available
Raspberry Pi 4 Model BJune 2019ARMv8 (64-bit) quad core CPU 1.5 GHz
RAM 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB or 8 GB
2x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Bluetooth 5.0 BLE
WiFi available
Raspberry Pi 400November 2020ARMv8 (64-bit) quad core CPU 1.8 GHz
RAM 4 GB
2x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Bluetooth 5.0 BLE
WiFi available
Raspberry Pi 4 PicoJanuary 2021ARM Cortex-M0+ dual core CPU 133 MHz
RAM 264 Kb
USB C
No Bluetooth
No WiFi

How much does a Raspberry Pi cost?

1. Raspberry Pi 4 – Most powerful Pi. Cost $35

This is the best, most powerful Pi at the moment, perfect for general purpose projects. RAM can be increased to 8 GB and it supports screens with 4K.

2. Raspberry P400 – Ultimate portable computer. Cost $70 (with no accessories)

This is a variant with a Pi 4 built into a keyboard (see image above) and acts as a portable computer. Simply plug the peripherals and you go to work. It still has pins for connecting components for your project.

For an extra $30 you get:

  • USB mouse
  • USB-C power supply
  • micro-HDMI cable for a display
  • SD card with the official Raspberry Pi OS preinstalled
  • Beginner’s guide

3. Raspberry Pi 3 – Perfect for retro-gaming $49

Fast response and provides excellent value for money.

10 alternatives to Raspberry Pi

These are alternatives to Raspberry Pi that are available on the market. I won’t go into much detail about them. The best examples are:

1. Onion Omega 2+

2. NanoPi NEO4

3. Le Potato

4. ASUS Tinker Board S

5. Banana Pi M3

6. Pocket Beagle

7. UDOO BOLT

8. RockPi 4 Model C

9. Odroid – XU4

10. NVIDIA Jetson Nano Developer Kit

Conclusion

Although there is competition from other manufacturers, Raspberry Pi has made a name for itself and it continues to release products that cater for a wide range of applications.

The cheap prices enables the Foundation to put many computers in the hands of people, young and old. 

Do you use a Raspberry Pi? Leave comments below and share the article with friends and family on social media.

Remember, getting a new computer for your kid shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. Get a top spec Raspberry Pi at a fraction of a cost.

Tech writer and VPN expert. DIY enthusiast and loves anything to do with space science.

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