This article is an introduction to the Raspberry Pi. Learn what is a Raspberry Pi and what can you use it for. Explore its features, set it up, and install the operating system.
Introducing the Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a small computer board about the size of a credit card. It was developed in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to promote basic computer science teaching in schools. Since its first general sale in 2012, more than 46 million Raspberry Pi boards have been sold by February 2022.
The Raspberry Pi has become tremendously popular among kids and electronics hobbyists, experienced makers, tinkerers, and even computer scientists.
The Raspberry Pi is hackable and small. So, it’s the perfect solution for tinkerers!
Note: The Raspberry Pi board used to cost around 35$. However, increasing demand, constraints in the supply chain, and a shortage of chips caused the Raspberry Pi price to skyrocket to more than 150$. Additionally, in many cases, you may need to wait a lot to get one.
Raspberry Pi (Desktop Computer vs Headless)
In some way, you can look at the Raspberry Pi like a normal computer, it has a processor, RAM, USB ports to plug a keyboard and a mouse, an HDMI port to plug a TV or monitor, and you can even connect it to the internet.
You can do most things you do with a regular computer like web browsing, document editing, playing games, coding, and much more. The figure below shows the Raspberry Pi 3 set up as a desktop computer.
Raspberry Pi Headless
However, you don’t even need those accessories (mouse, keyboard, and monitor) if you don’t want to set it as a Desktop computer. It can run headless and you can control it remotely using Linux commands via a Terminal after establishing an SSH connection, for example.
Raspberry Pi GPIOs
The Raspberry Pi board has one special feature that normal computers don’t: General Purpose Input Output (GPIOs) Pins. These GPIOs let you interact with the real world allowing you to build great electronics projects. Inputs can read data from sensors. Output signals can be sent to actuators to turn something on and off.
Applications for Your Raspberry Pi
There are no limits to what you can do with your Raspberry Pi. Here are just some examples:
- Write your own programs;
- Create your own electronics projects;
- Build your own web server;
- Build a home automation system;
- Use it as a local server for Home Automation applications;
- Set it up as a gateway for your IoT projects;
- Use it as a private cloud storage;
- Host an MQTT broker;
- Build a retro gaming console;
- Use your Pi as a desktop computer;
- Make your own CCTV system;
- And much more.
You can also read our article dedicated to Raspberry Pi uses: 11 Clever Uses for Your Raspberry Pi
Different Raspberry Pi Boards
There are different releases of the Raspberry Pi board. Here’s a list of the most relevant:
- February 2012: Raspberry Pi 1 Model B (Rev. 1)
- April 2012: Raspberry Pi 1 Model B (Rev. 2)
- February 2013: Raspberry Pi 1 Model A
- July 2014: Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+
- November 2014: Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+
- February 2015: Raspberry Pi 2 Model B
- November 2015: Raspberry Pi Zero
- February 2016: Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
- February 2017: Raspberry Pi Zero W
- 2016: Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
- March 2018: Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+
- June 2019: Raspberry Pi 4 Model B
If you don’t have a Raspberry Pi board yet, we recommend you get a Raspberry Pi 4 (preferable) or a Raspberry Pi 3 B+.
The Raspberry Pi 4 offers a choice of memory capacities. You can get a Pi with 1GB, 2G, 4GB, or 8GB of RAM.
Raspberry Pi 4 Features
|Architecture||ARM v8-A 64-bit|
|CPU||1.5 GHz 64-bit|
quad-core ARM Cortex-A72
|RAM||1GB, 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB LPDDR4-3200 SDRAM (depending on model)|
|Wireless LAN||2.4GHz and 5GHz|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 5.0 and BLE|
|Supports PoE||Yes (requires separate PoE HAT)|
|Ports||2x micro HDMI|
3.5 mm analog audio-video jack
2x USB 3.0, and 2x USB 2.0
Camera Serial Interface (CSI)
Display Serial Interface (DSI)
|Where to Buy?||Get a Raspberry Pi|
Official Raspberry Pi Website
Exploring the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Board
The figure below shows the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B annotated.
Here’s a glance at what each component of the Raspberry Pi does:
- USB ports: to connect a mouse, a keyboard, or other peripherals. It comes with two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports;
- Ethernet port: to connect to the internet using an Ethernet cable;
- Audio jack: to connect an audio device;
- CSI connector: to connect a camera with a CSI ribbon;
- HDMI connector: to connect a monitor or TV;
- Processor: is the brain of the Raspberry Pi;
- MicroSD card slot: to insert a microSD card to store your files and your operating system;
- MicroUSB power input: to power up your Pi;
- DSI connector: to connect DSI-compatible displays;
- Antenna: picks up wireless LAN and Bluetooth signals;
- GPIOs (general purpose input output pins): connect devices to interact with the outside world like sensors and outputs like LEDs and motors.
Accessories You Need To Get Started
When you buy a Raspberry Pi board, you only get a bare electronic board that doesn’t do much on its own. You need several accessories to get started.
There are a lot of accessories for the Raspberry Pi, but you need at least a microSD card and a power supply. Without these accessories your Raspberry Pi is useless.
- Power supply: you need a power adapter that provides 2.5A 5V
- MicroSD card: we recommend getting a microSD card with at least 16GB, class 10. You need a microSD card to store your files and the Pi’s operating system. The Pi doesn’t have a hard drive*, so everything you do on your Pi is saved on the microSD card, even the operating system. You can get a microSD card with the operating system preloaded or install the operating system yourself (which we recommend).
* you can get an expansion board that lets you add a SATA hard disk drive (HDD) or solid-state drive (SSD).
There are also useful accessories you may consider getting like an HDMI cable to connect a monitor, and a Raspberry Pi case to protect your board. A spare mouse and keyboard can also be useful to set your Raspberry Pi as a desktop computer.
Getting a Raspberry Pi Starter Kit
If this is your first time around the Raspberry Pi, you may consider getting a Raspberry Pi starter kit that comes with the essential accessories to get started. You can also read our post about the Best Raspberry Pi 4 Starter Kits.
Installing the Operating System
There are several operating systems suitable for the Pi. The official distribution for the Raspberry Pi is Raspberry Pi OS and that’s the one we recommend you install (specially if you’re a beginner, because it is the most supported).
1) Start by connecting the microSD card to your computer.
2) Go to the Raspberry Pi Software page.
3) Select and download the Raspberry Pi Imager (a tool to flash the OS on the microSD card) for your computer’s operating system.
4) Click on the downloaded file to install the Raspberry Pi Imager.
5) When the installation is complete, the Raspberry Pi Imager will open.
6) Click on Choose OS to select the Operating System. Select the Raspberry Pi OS, or the Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit under the Raspberry Pi OS (other) option.
7) Choose storage. You must choose the microSD card where you want to install the OS.
8) The Raspberry Pi Imager allows you to access advanced settings to configure hostname, SSH, Wi-Fi, among others—click on the gear icon to open advanced settings. If your window doesn’t show the gear icon, press Ctrl–Shift–X to open the advanced setting window.
9) You can set hostname (the default will be raspberrypi), enable SSH, and set a password for SSH connection. If you want to use the Raspberry Pi as a desktop computer, you don’t need to enable SSH.
10) Additionally, set up Wi-Fi with your local network credentials, so that you can connect to your Raspberry Pi using Wi-Fi later on.
11) Set up your country and time zone. Finally, click Save.
12) After selecting the operating system, storage, and advanced settings, click on write to start installing the operating system on the microSD card.
13) Wait a few seconds while it installs the Operating System.
14) When the installation is complete click on Continue. It will eject the microSD card safely.
15) Now, remove the card from your computer and insert it into your Raspberry Pi. Then, apply power to the Raspberry Pi to start it.
Then, if you’re running the Raspberry Pi headless, you can establish an SSH connection with your Pi to install software, run programs, create folders, and files, etc.
- Learn how to establish an SSH connection with the Raspberry Pi
- Raspberry Pi Cheat Sheet with Basic Linux Commands.
Raspberry Pi GPIOs Pinout
The following figure shows the Raspberry Pi 3 GPIOs pinout that you can use for future reference.
This pinout is the same for Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+, Raspberry Pi Model B+, Raspberry Pi Zero, and Raspberry Pi Zero W.
Raspberry Pi 1 Model A and the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B Rev.2 only have the first 26 pins.
You can also use the following simple graphical Raspberry Pi GPIO pinout as a reference.
We hope you’ve found this getting started guide useful. If you don’t have a Raspberry Pi yet, you’re missing out some cool projects. So, check the best Raspberry Pi kit for you here.
You may also like other related getting started guides:
- Build a Home Automation System
- Install Raspberry Pi OS, Set Up Wi-Fi, Enable and Connect with SSH
- Install Node-RED on Raspberry Pi
- Install InfluxDB 2 on Raspberry Pi
- More Home Automation Projects…
Thanks for reading.