Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi: A Comparison of Microcontrollers and Single-Board Computers
By Eliot Steele
November 2, 2023
With the rise of Do-it-Yourself (DIY) hardware and software projects, hobbyists worldwide are crafting useful everyday aids such as garage door remotes or temperature sensors, as well as game-changers like drones, robots, or custom gaming consoles. Central to these creations are specific hardware components from various suppliers, designed precisely for this purpose. Apart from their compact nature, they're often characterized by their incredibly affordable prices, typically ranging from single to double-digit dollar amounts.Among these tech miniatures, the British single-board computer Raspberry Pi and the Italian microcontroller Arduino undoubtedly lead in recognition. Even though they fundamentally cater to different niches, they're often viewed as competing solutions.
Raspberry Pi vs. Arduino: Different Approaches to DIY Components
When the first iteration of the Raspberry Pi hit the market in early 2012, the debut of the initial Arduino board had been seven years prior. The Italian physical computing platform, named after a bar in Piedmont (a regular hangout for some of the project's founders), is considered iconic among hobbyists. The standard Arduino setup involves a blend of open-source software and hardware components, enabling users to manipulate standalone interactive objects and interface seamlessly with computer applications. A typical I/O board (input/output) comes standard with an Atmel microcontroller, commonly from the Atmel-AVR series like the ATmega328, accompanied by an integrated development environment. This setup is coded in Java and offers its code editor, along with a variety of libraries to simplify C and C++ programming.
|Table header 0||Arduino||Raspberry Pi|
|Type||Microcontroller||Single board computer|
|Power supply||USB, external power supply||USB, external power source|
|Software||Integrated development environment based on Java||Optional (special operating systems like Raspbian)|
While Raspberry Pi's name doesn't stem from a bar, its phonetic similarity to "raspberry pie" hints at a culinary preference. Adopting the raspberry as its official emblem aligns with the naming tradition of early computer manufacturers like Tangerine Computer Systems, Apricot Computers, or Apple, who apparently had a penchant for fruity names. The "Pi" stands for "Python interpreter," referencing the original intent to offer an onboard Python programming language interpreter for the Raspberry Pi. Unlike Arduino, Raspberry Pi models boast not just a more potent processor but also their RAM and video output capabilities. This British microcomputer can run independently, requiring only an installation of the Raspberry Pi operating system to operate applications.
Comparison between Arduino and Raspberry Pi:
The most significant distinction between Arduino and Raspberry Pi is that the former is a microcontroller that can only execute compiled C code, whereas the latter can optionally function as a standalone system. Nevertheless, for various DIY endeavors, the Raspberry Pi doesn't always emerge as the better choice, as evidenced by their strengths and weaknesses, application scenarios, and respective communities.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Arduino:
Arduino boards primarily shine in two aspects: First, they offer pre-installed processing capabilities, inclusive of peripherals (input/output and interfaces), appealing even to those with limited electronics knowledge. Second, a key edge these Italian-made platforms hold in the "Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi" debate is their purpose-built development environment, featuring a programming interface stocked with ready-to-use libraries, streamlining the coding process. Moreover, as the IDE is written in Java, it's cross-platform, boasting consistent interfaces across Windows, Linux, and macOS. This makes Arduino components particularly favored in educational settings like schools, universities, and other institutions.
Hint: Beyond simplified C code, Arduino enthusiasts can also craft traditional code or employ alternative development environments. Hence, these boards present experts with a cost-effective and time-saving alternative.
However, the simplicity of Arduino boards isn't always an advantage. While the integrated development environment robustly backs hardware drives, budding coders might find it challenging to glean knowledge about traditional code-writing via this route. In essence, relying solely on ready-to-use libraries poses a risk of sidestepping independent programming, potentially narrowing the scope of possible actions. Another limitation with Arduino is the occasional necessity to expand the microcontroller board's default setup through additional interfaces and input/output functionalities. Though standardized hardware permits easy upgrades via Shields, the project costs can escalate when incorporating add-ons like Ethernet, LEDs, and other modules.
|Ready-to-use hardware/software setup||Low learning factor in electronics and programming (when using the IDE)|
|Own development environment with various libraries (cross-platform)||Upgrading with shields can be expensive|
Pros and Cons of Raspberry Pi:
Raspberry Pi's hallmark lies in offering a ready-to-deploy hardware setup, sparing users the grunt work of piecing together a tech foundation for DIY projects. Contrasted with Arduino boards, Raspberry Pi encompasses all requisite components, permitting standalone operation of this mini-computer. Furthermore, most models come with standard networking functionalities (Ethernet, WLAN, or both)—only the Pi 1's A and A++ versions, along with the stripped-down Pi Zero, lack these interfaces. Owing to such features, Raspberry Pi can double as a programming platform and a hub for applications, ranging from private clouds and web servers to VPN servers on Raspberry Pi.
From its inception, the Raspberry Pi Foundation (the organization behind this mini-computer) envisioned furnishing hardware and coding access to those with minimal know-how. While this aspiration is largely mirrored in the initiative, especially the setup process can test one's patience. It demands not just selecting and downloading an OS but also transferring it to an appropriate SD card. The subsequent software installation and configuration might not be as beginner-friendly as some Raspberry aficionados might anticipate.
Hint:Numerous vendors offer pre-loaded SD cards (at a price) with a bootable Raspberry Pi OS, typically Raspbian.
Another drawback: the base price, varying by model and provider, hovers between $5 and $40. Yet, to get Raspberry up and running, various paid add-ons like power supplies and HDMI cables become indispensable.
|HDMI- and network-capable by default (except for some models)||Software is not part of the package and therefore has to be downloaded and set up by the user himself|
|Suitable for both simple and complex tasks||For standalone operation a lot of additional parts with costs are needed|
Community Comparison: Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi
People planning and developing projects using hardware like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino often delight in sharing their results with other enthusiasts. Video platforms like YouTube or Vimeo and DIY sites such as hackster.io showcase thousands of tutorials and guides—offered by users for users. In this regard, both the Arduino and Raspberry Pi are well represented. Each, one being a microcontroller and the other a mini-computer, has amassed a large community. As a result, not only can one readily find information on realized works, but they can also get assistance with questions about their own projects.
Tip:The previously mentioned Arduino-Shields, which extend the technical base of the electronic board, are mainly developed by members of the Arduino community.
Key websites related to Arduino projects include:
- Reddit: A dedicated Arduino channel on Reddit allows users to share project ideas, post images or videos of their results, or pose questions about the microcontroller board.
- Official Arduino Forum: With over 1000,000 registered members discussing various Arduino models, use cases, and technical issues across almost as many threads.
- Arduino Playground: A comprehensive Wiki where any interested user can post their code snippets, tutorials, tips, and suggestions, showcase projects, or simply browse.
For those wanting to connect with other Raspberry Pi enthusiasts, the following sites offer ideal platforms:
- Raspberrypi.com: Not only the go-to site for anyone looking to get this mini-computer, the “HELP” section provides visitors with a multitude of guides (covering both software and hardware) as well as detailed online documentation. Moreover, the site's forum boasts over 200,000 registered members discussing a wide range of Raspberry Pi topics.
- RPi Hub: Located on eLinux.org, RPi Hub offers a plethora of information for beginners and advanced users alike, from guides on purchasing, setting up, and launching, to tips and advice on both software and hardware. Reading recommendations and links to major community sites round out this comprehensive platform.
- element14: One of the most successful electronic project community sites. In its Raspberry Pi section, members discuss current topics and offer reviews on supplemental hardware and software. Lists of recommended and popular posts are shown to newcomers, giving them a quick overview of the topics worth exploring. In addition, in-house blogs frequently post on Raspberry Pi-related subjects.
Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi: Application Scenario Comparison
One major similarity between Arduino and Raspberry Pi is that they're both plug-and-play, eliminating the need for constructing and testing electronic circuits or soldering circuit boards. This ease is a significant reason why they're so popular for DIY projects in schools, universities, and private domains: they offer beginners a rapid path to initial results and provide advanced users with a comprehensive hardware framework.
The divergence in their real-world applications mainly stems from the fundamental differences between the Raspberry Pi and Arduino: Arduino boards, being microcontrollers, can execute pre-defined applications with almost no latency. They come with their development environment, stocked with a plethora of ready-to-use libraries, saving a significant amount of programming effort. On the other hand, the Raspberry Pi, as a mini-computer with its OS, can perform more complex tasks, like running multiple applications either in parallel or serially. Moreover, it comes standard with a variety of interfaces and ports (HDMI, WiFi, LAN), whereas Arduino boards require add-on Shields to provide these functionalities.Simply put, Arduino is especially suitable for projects that require repetitive execution of simple tasks. For instance, if you're just looking to measure outdoor temperature and display it on a screen, a microcontroller is perfect. But if you wish not only to measure the outdoor temperature but also view a weather forecast and activate a garden sprinkler system based on predefined conditions (e.g., high temperature and low rain probability), the Raspberry Pi would be a better fit.
It's not always necessary to choose between Raspberry Pi and Arduino
Both Arduino boards and Raspberry Pi computers have their strengths and weaknesses. In smaller projects, it makes sense first to consider which components you need and then select one of the foundational elements. If the budget allows and if the planned project surpasses simple remote controls, using a combination of Arduino and Raspberry models is entirely feasible.For example, an Arduino might first be used to execute a specific application, followed by computations on the Raspberry Pi. Conversely, the task of an Arduino microcontroller might be to trigger a complex process on the Raspberry Pi.