By Gabriel Aldous
Technology can be used to perform impressive tasks in the modern era. Tech companies are constantly pushing the boundaries of what digital computers are capable of. In a technological age dominated by large corporations, it seems unlikely that a single person could use technology to create their own ‘smart’ projects. The Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive circuit board about the size of a credit card that is ideal for learning more about computers or creating electronically controlled projects without spending hundreds of dollars. The latest version of the Raspberry Pi, the Raspberry Pi 4, released in June of this year and boasts impressive upgrades over the previous boards. For many tinkerers this raises the question of whether the Raspberry Pi 4 or the Raspberry Pi 3B+ is a better value.
What can the Raspberry Pi do? The Raspberry Pi can be act as a web server for running your own websites, a desktop computer, or as a streaming device for applications like Spotify. In addition, the Pi can serve as an internet of things (IoT) device allowing it to connect to ‘smart’ devices and can even run Alexa. The Pi can also be used for robotics projects because of its general-purpose input/output (GPIO) pins. Combined, these functionalities have allowed individuals to make interesting projects like laser tripwires, and retro video game emulators, or sillier projects like controlling a drone using a child’s programming language.
What allows the Raspberry Pi boards to be so versatile? The most important part of the Pi is the central processing unit (CPU). The CPU is the ‘brains’ of a computer, and both versions of the Raspberry Pi boast impressive processors. However, the Pi 4’s processor is about 50% faster than that of the Pi 3B+ and can support two monitors instead of just one (Adams, James). These improvements to the Raspberry Pi 4’s CPU make it much more versatile than the Pi 3, allowing it to perform faster in most situations. Other features allowing the boards facilitate the creation of projects are the 40 GPIO pins, which can be connected to other parts like servo motors, temperature sensors, and distance sensors. In addition, both boards have Bluetooth and Ethernet capabilities allowing for easy connection to other devices like speakers and WIFI networks (“Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+”). The ability for both boards to be programmed with the Python programming language make writing programs for the boards quick. While both boards have similar features, the Pi 4 is more versatile in its capabilities. In addition to the faster CPU, the Pi 4 has both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports while the Pi 3 only supports USB 2.0 (“Raspberry Pi 4 Computer Model B”). The wide array of features allows the Pi to be used in a plethora of technological projects.
While the Pi 4 seems like the perfect tool for many small-scale developers, there are a few drawbacks. The relatively recent release of the board means that many software applications commonly used on earlier models are not yet compatible. Some of these applications are very useful for simplifying programming, improving user interfaces, or providing entertainment. One of these applications is RetroPie, a retro game emulator software that was popular on the Raspberry Pi 3B+. As of the most recent update, RetroPie is not compatible with the Raspberry Pi 4 (“RetroPie 4.5.1 Update”). While the Pi 4 has some pre-downloaded software included with the operating system, the scope of what is available for the Pi 3B+ online is far greater. Additionally, since the Pi 4 is so new, people haven’t had the chance to fully document the board’s capabilities or how some programs work. Without full documentation/tutorials on the Pi 4’s functionalities, using the Raspberry Pi 4 could be much trickier than the previous boards. Due to this, some individuals might decide it is better to wait for more documentation and applications to support the Pi 4 before obtaining one to experiment with.
Having recently purchased and set up a Raspberry Pi 4, I can state that the Pi was easy to set up and is a powerful tool for self-made projects. The operating system was easy to install because of detailed instructions provided by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Starting out with the Raspberry Pi 4 does not require any previous knowledge of technology or circuitry but having experience with it does help. Online tutorials for Raspberry Pi boards and the Python programming language are available online, and online forums answered any questions I had while making my first project. I’m currently in the process of finishing my first project using the Pi 4, which has taken about 3 weeks to finish.
Both Raspberry Pi boards offer similar functionality in many respects, and that is what makes the choice of if the new edition is worth it so challenging to decide. Is it better to experiment with the new board, despite the lack of documentation at the moment, or is it better to use the old board which has less functionality? It is my opinion that the clear choice is the Raspberry Pi 4 because of its superior hardware and performance. The lack of online resources for the board will be fixed as more software is updated to support the Pi 4 and as more users become familiar with the product.
Header photo from raspberrypi.org
Adams, James. “Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (REDUCED)”. www.raspberrypi.org, Raspberry Pi Trading Ltd. https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/hardware/raspberrypi/schematics/rpi_SCH_4b_4p0_reduced.pdf
“Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+”. www.raspberrypi.org, Raspberry Pi Trading Ltd. https://static.raspberrypi.org/files/product-briefs/Raspberry-Pi-Model-Bplus-Product-Brief.pdf
“Raspberry Pi 4 Computer Model B”. www.raspberrypi.org, Raspberry Pi Trading Ltd. https://static.raspberrypi.org/files/product-briefs/Raspberry-Pi-4-Product-Brief.pdf
“Raspberry Pi 4 Tech Specs”. www.raspberrypi.org, Raspberry Pi Trading Ltd. https://www.raspberrypi.org/products/raspberry-pi-4-model-b/specifications/
“RetroPie 4.5.1 Update”. https://retropie.org.uk, https://retropie.org.uk/2019/07/retropie-4-5-1-update/