Which Raspberry Pi should you choose?

In the first article in our series on getting started with Raspberry Pi, learn the three criteria for choosing the right model for you.
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Vector, generic Raspberry Pi board

This is the first article in a 14-day series on getting started with the Raspberry Pi. Although the series is geared towards people who have never used a Raspberry Pi or Linux or programming, there will definitely be things for more experienced readers—and I encourage those readers to leave comments and tips that build on what I write. If everyone contributes, we can make this series even more useful for beginners, other experienced readers, and even me!

So, you want to give the Raspberry Pi a shot, but you don't know which model to buy. Maybe you want one for your classroom or your kid, but there are so many options, and you aren't sure which one is right for you.

Raspberry Pi boards

My three main criteria for choosing a new Raspberry Pi are:

  • Cost: Don't just consider the cost of the Raspberry Pi board, but also factor the peripherals you will need in order to use it. In the US, the Raspberry Pi's cost varies from $5 (for the Raspberry Pi Zero) to $35 (for the Raspberry Pi 3 B and 3 B+). However, if you pick the Zero you will probably also need a USB hub for your mouse and keyboard, possibly a wireless adapter, and some sort of display adapter. Unless you have most (if not all) of the peripherals needed for whatever you want to do with your Raspberry Pi, make sure to add those to your Pi budget. Also, in some countries, a Raspberry Pi on its own (even without any peripherals) may be a cost burden for many students and teachers.

  • Availability: Finding the Raspberry Pi you want can vary depending on your location, as it may be easier (or harder) to get certain versions in some countries. Availability is an even bigger issue after new models are released, and it can take a few days or even weeks for new versions to become available in your market.

  • Purpose: Location and cost may not affect everyone, but every buyer must consider why they want a Raspberry Pi. The eight different models vary in RAM, CPU core, CPU speed, physical size, network connectivity, peripheral expansion, etc. For example, if you want the most robust solution with more "horsepower," you probably will want the Raspberry Pi 3 B+, which has the most RAM, fastest CPU, and largest number of cores. If you want something that won't require network connectivity, won't be used for CPU-intensive work, and can be hidden in a small space, you could go with a Raspberry Pi Zero.

Wikipedia's Raspberry Pi specs chart is an easy way to compare the eight Raspberry Pis models.

Now that you know what to look for in a Raspberry Pi, in the next article, I will explain how to buy one.

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Anderson was introduced to Linux by his uncle back in 1996. In the early 2000s, he transitioned from being a developer to a system administrator. Today, Anderson leads the Red Hat Information Security Incident Response team. He is also an active Fedora package maintainer.

9 Comments

Don't forget a memory card when adding up the costs. I would suggest skipping over the low end camera cards and going for one of the faster versions so as not to slow the processor down too much. I currently have a Sandisk Ultra Plus 16GB card in my 3B+. It started with the NOOBS installer, and now has the full Raspian with all recent updates. However, I am considering switching it to SlackwareArm, since all of my other computers are running Slackware.

You can occasionally find a Pi at a Hamfest flea market. I picked up the 3B+ in a clear case and a new Zero W for US$45 last summer. Two tailgates away I found a couple of large breadboards to go with them.

Half of the models can be ignored in the buying decision. Unless you are buying to replicate an old system design or replace a broken Pi, or you're offered a good deal from a local source, there is no longer any reason to buy a Raspberry Pi 1, 2, or 3. The 3+ models are the same price and more powerful.

That cuts down the number of models you need to consider to four: 3 A+, 3 B+, Zero, and Zero W. As for the reasons for your decisions among those, we'll wait for the next article in the series!

Hi Shirley,

Depending on the country where you leave, the older versions of the Pi are a lot more affordable. So, I'd argue that there is a reason...

In reply to by Shirley Dulcey (not verified)

Good to know. Here in the US the current models and the older ones are usually the same price. Sometimes the new ones are CHEAPER; at the store where I buy them, a 3B+ costs $5 less than a 3B.

In reply to by Anderson Silva

Anderson, I would like to give a Pi to my oldest grandson who is 8. What do you recommend?

I read this article that i found so interesting I wanted to improve upon it and make it bigger so i can use it for my final year project. The article was about using a Pi 3b+ as mobile vpn for individuals and small businesses. I want to know if it’s possible to use any of the other Pi models other than the 3b+ since its difficult to get some in my country

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