Raspberry Pi: Which Model Should You Buy? [Updated]

With the announcement and surprise availability of the Raspberry Pi 3, we've updated this story to include and compare the newest of Raspberry Pi's single-board computers, along with updated pricing and availability on comparable models.

About four years ago now, we got our first glimpse of the Raspberry Pi. An instant hit with homebrew tinkerers and the education community, the UK-developed single-board computer was marked by its portability (roughly the size of a credit card), affordability (typically around $40 in Australia) and of course all the insanely cool stuff you could use it for. We compare the four main models on the market: the Raspberry Pi 3, Raspberry Pi 2, Raspberry Model B+ and Raspberry Pi Zero.

Photo: Raspberry Pi

Since the launch of the first Raspberry Pi in 2012, the company has released no less than five new boards, including two last year: the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, its most powerful computer to date, and the even cheaper Raspberry Pi Zero, which can be snapped up for around $20. This year's update in the Raspberry Pi 3 adds another impressive board to its roster.

With so many different models to choose from, we thought it was high time to take a look at how the four most recent boards — the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ and Raspberry Pi Zero — compare. Let's take take a look at the key specifications and explore some additional considerations to help you pick the best Pi to bake with.

Hardware

The Raspberry Pi 3 has topped the processing power of its predecessor with a new Broadcom SoC, BCM2837, with a a custom-hardened 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53. This update boasts a 50-60% increase in performance over the Pi 2 Model B, and a factor of ten over the original Raspberry Pi.

RASPBERRY PI 2 MODEL B

The Raspberry Pi 2 maintains the compact form factor of other Pi models, but there's one key difference — it's shedloads more powerful. The board's new Broadcom SoC boasts a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU running at up to 900MHz, easily topping the 700MHz single-core ARM CPU found in the previous chipset.

RASPBERRY PI 1 MODEL B+

A Videocore IV GPU remains a constant in both products, but memory is doubled in the latest model, with the Pi 2 coming with 1GB of RAM compared to the B+'s 512MB. More RAM, more CPU cores, higher clock speed — the Raspberry Pi 2's hardware is superior to the B+ in pretty much every way.

RASPBERRY PI ZERO

As it's significantly cheaper, you might expect the Pi Zero to come with vastly inferior hardware, but it actually matches up reasonably well on paper, packing a Broadcom SoC capable of running at up to 1GHz, 512MB of RAM, and the same VideoCore IV GPU found in other models. All of the Raspberry Pi boards feature a 40-pin GPIO connector, though the Pi Zero's is unpopulated.

Connectivity and Storage

The Raspberry Pi 3's biggest selling point for many will be its wireless functionality, which has been able to be fit into nearly the same form-factor as the Pi 1 Model B+ and Pi 2 Model B. The only change is the movement of the LEDs which will be on the other side of the SD card socket to make room for the antenna.

It, along with the Raspberry Pi 2 and Pi 1 B+, features four USB ports, one HDMI output, an ethernet connection and a 3.5mm audio jack. The Pi 3 has still not added fixed storage, which is lacking in all of Raspberry Pi's boards. Instead, they favour an integrated microSD card slot.

Raspberry Pi 2 ports

The Pi Zero doesn't offer nearly as many connectivity options. While it also comes with a microSD slot and HDMI output, it doesn't feature an audio jack or ethernet port, and only fits in one micro USB port.

Price and Availability

Despite being recently announced, the Raspberry Pi 3 is already available from RS Components. Although the US pricing for the Pi 3 is the same as the 2 Model B ($US35), there's a slight difference in Australian pricing, with the 3 selling for $56.18 and the 2 for $51.45. Still, with the increase in processing power and wireless functionality, the new model is clearly intended to replace the Raspberry Pi 2.

The Pi 1 B+ is still a little cheaper, if not significantly, sitting at $37.78 from RS Components. If the extra processing power and wireless connectivity are not necessary for your project, it could still be a viable option.

The Pi Zero, of course, is famously cheap, costing under $20 for the board itself, but the trade-off is that it's sold out everywhere! The Pi 2 and Pi 1 Model B+ are widely available from retailers including element14 and RS Components.

Which Should I Buy?

It looks like the Raspberry Pi lineup will now be headlined by the new Pi 3, but the Pi 1 Model B+ is sticking around as a cheaper option, as are earlier boards like the Model A+, which is available as an entry-level model. The Pi 2, on the other hand, seems to have been superseded completely. So which should you buy?

It all depends on your priorities. The Raspberry Pi 3 is now the Foundation's most powerful and fully featured board, so if you want to bake fairly sophisticated projects, that's the one to go for — yes, it costs a little bit more, but for the price of a few beers, we think the extra power is worth it.

Turn a Raspberry Pi Zero Into Just About Any USB Device You Can ImaginePi Zero

If the Pi 3 trumps the Pi 2 and the Pi 1 B+, where does the Pi Zero fit in? Well, if you can get your hands on one, it's obviously a great deal and the perfect starting point if you're new to tinkering. The reduced size will also be a bonus for certain projects. But its lack of connectivity features mean that it won't be for everyone, as most advanced recipes and anything requiring an Internet connection will be off limits.

Still, if you just want to see if the Raspberry Pi is something you could get in to, it's worth the shrapnel — if you can find it.


This post originally appeared on Lifehacker UK, which is gobbling up the news in a different timezone.


Comments

    If you're asking this question, the answer is the Raspberry Pi 2. The Pi Zero is much cheaper, but it does not "actually matches up reasonably well on paper", because it has half the memory, and only a single-core ARMv6 processor, compared with a quad-core ARMv7 processor in the Pi 2. This latter is noticeably faster.

    The Pi Zero also doesn't have all the useful things you'd want for your first Pi, like GPIO access and an Ethernet port. By the time you factor in the price of a USB hub to get your Keyboard, Mouse and WiFi adapter plugged in, you should've bought the Pi 2.

    Also, since we can't get an ETA from any suppiers and demand is expected to outstrip supply for the next few months, you can have a Pi 2 now, or a Pi Zero in June.

    So, If you have to ask "Raspberry Pi: Which Model Should You Buy?", the answer is: The Pi 2 Model B.

      Don't listen to the above post as both of them have their uses, if your looking for a small form factor board that has a bit of processing power then you can use the Pi Zero, the Pi Zero does in fact have GPIO pins you just need to solder the pins in, also not all projects require a network port.

      if your looking for a raspberry pi media server then get the raspberry Pi 2 as it has the most processing power.

        I wasn't saying there's no application for the Pi Zero, I was saying if you need a Pi Zero, you'll know you need a Pi Zero and won't be reading lifehacker to find out which Pi you want.

        The Pi Zero is on backorder everywhere, and it's really just an evolution of the Raspberry Pi Model A, which was sold in extremely low numbers; so unless you know enough already to know you want a Pi Zero for your application (and you're happy to wait an undefined amount of time to get your hands on it) - you need a Pi 2.

          Yes, I agree with you. A bit surprised not more mention is made though of the Zero's main advantage, and that's it's smaller size (well demonstrated though in the photo above). I doubt that so many are worried about saving the extra $20; it's mainly when getting really small is critical that I think some might pass on the obvious advantages of the Pi 2.

    I think it depends on what you want to do with it. If processor power isnt a factor, get the zero, if interaction is expected, get a Pi 2.

    I bought a Pi 2 for Christmas. Its sitting on my desk waiting for me to decide its fate (flipping between NAS, VPN, or arcade rig), and for the necessary parts cost around $100. That included the Pi 2 (note: cost $57 for the board itself), 8 Gb microSD, power supply, and case.

      I've tried emulation on a pi b+ and was woeful.
      So for an arcade machine I'd guess pi 2 minium. I used one as a nas for about a year it did its job but was still overall slow (have a atom based system now) as for audio on the pi 'so not sure about the 3 but the earlier used a pwm output not a dac so the audio quality is fairly low.

      Last edited 02/03/16 9:06 pm

        Thanks man. I have a pi2, and it's still sitting there :). In no real rush though, and am still deciding what to do with it.

          I'm buying a touch screen from 4dsystems and have a nes style control from adafruit. Looking at a pi3 for a handheld emulator. I think it'll do the job.

    As luck would have it, ordered a pi 2 on the weekend (on element 14 while searching for a battery for a financial calculator!) with the surprise announcement of the pi 3 on Monday!

    I was disappointed in the associated article NOT to see a table comparing the different models - as that can supply valuable information at a glance. especially for the technically minded!

    Although happy with the previous 3 - yes 3! - pi B+'s in our household, as raspbian and command line interface rocks (we are a Linux household!). My plan is to build an Internet radio receiver with a PiFace control and (lcd) display add-on board - not sure which version of pi I will apply to this project! :)

    My oldest son (12 years old) has one of pi B+ with access to Scratch - amazing what he can produce with a little imagination.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now