Raspberry Pi and Arduino are popular devices enthusiasts use for DIY electronics projects.
Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer capable of running Linux, so it’s ideal for software-intensive tasks, such as browsing the web or running programs.
Arduino is a microcontroller board best suited for simpler tasks that involve direct interaction with hardware, like controlling a sensor or motor. The choice between Raspberry Pi vs Arduino largely depends on the nature of your project and what you need the device to do.
Unsure whether to go with Raspberry Pi or Arduino for your next DIY project?
This article provides a clear comparison of the two devices, helping you understand their differences and make an informed decision.
Microcontroller vs. Microprocessor
It’s pretty important to get your head around what we mean when we say “microcontroller” and “microprocessor”. If you’ve heard of Arduino or Raspberry Pi before, you’re halfway there. These terms are basically the bread and butter of these systems.
So, let’s start with a microprocessor. Think of it as the computer’s heart. Just like how our hearts keep us alive by pumping blood everywhere, a microprocessor keeps a computer running by processing instructions and making sure everything’s working as it should.
Whether you’re typing up a report for work or beating your high score in your favorite game, your microprocessor is the invisible hero. It tirelessly runs the software that makes all this possible.
It’s not a one-person show, though. A microprocessor relies heavily on other parts to do its job effectively, like memory (or RAM) for data storage and input/output devices (your keyboard or monitor) to let you interact with it.
Now, microcontrollers are a slightly different story. You can think of a microcontroller as a small, self-contained computer on a single chip. It’s specially designed to control electronic devices.
Unlike its cousin, the microprocessor, which relies on external components to work properly, a microcontroller is a one-stop shop. It packs a processor, memory, and input/output parts all into one tiny chip.
Microprocessors and microcontrollers have their own strengths and are better suited for different tasks. While a microprocessor is perfect for big jobs that need lots of processing power, like running an operating system or playing video games, a microcontroller is all about control.
It’s perfect for tasks that need to interact directly with hardware or devices, like switching a light on and off or adjusting the speed of a motor.
Let’s bring it back to Arduino and Raspberry Pi.
The Raspberry Pi uses a microprocessor, which is why it can run a full operating system like Raspberry Pi OS and even act like a mini desktop computer.
Arduino, on the other hand, uses a microcontroller. It can’t run an operating system, but it’s great for reading sensors and controlling motors, lights, or other devices. This is exactly why it’s such a hit for hardware projects.
Understanding the Working Mechanism of Arduino
So, you know how we use a remote control to tell our TV to switch channels or change the volume? Imagine a similar power, but instead of controlling the TV, you’re controlling or observing various household gadgets or processes.
It could be as simple as an automated light bulb or as meticulous as tracking room temperature changes. Arduino helps turn this imagination into reality.
Arduino is like a pocket-sized, approachable computer you can program to interact with the world. Officially known as a microcontroller board, it’s a mini-computer specifically designed to command electronic devices.
When you first see an Arduino board, you’ll notice multiple pins poking out from it. Think of these pins as connectors. You can link Arduino to various sensors (temperature, motion, light, and more) and devices, like motors, lights, or even your everyday kitchen appliances.
Once your chosen sensors or devices are hooked up to the Arduino, the real fun starts. Now you can write a program that gives Arduino instructions on what to do with these connections.
Maybe you want to tell it, “Hey Arduino, if the room turns into a pitch-black scene, do me a favor and switch on the light.”, or, “If the room feels like a sauna, turn on the fan, will you?”
If you’re someone who has played around with electronics but is a bit daunted by programming or Linux-based operating systems like Ubuntu or Debian Linux, Arduino is your friend. It offers a friendly and affordable entry into the world of open-source development.
Arduino uses its own programming language, which is just a pared-down version of C++, a widely used programming language. The smart cookies that created Arduino were on a mission to make controlling physical devices as easy as pie, even for those who’ve never written a line of code before.
To help you get your program onto the Arduino board, there’s a free software tool, the Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment). It’s your programming playground, ready for your commands.
Just like Raspberry Pi, Arduino comes in a variety of models. Some are beginner-friendly, while others come with advanced features for bigger, more complex projects.
Keep in mind when you get an Arduino board, it’s just the beginning. Depending on your project’s needs, you’ll likely have to pick up some extras like sensors, cables, and a power supply.
Arduino boards are all about simplicity. They are “bare-bones” controllers, doing what they do best without unnecessary bells and whistles.
Understanding the Working Mechanism of Raspberry Pi
Imagine shrinking your bulky desktop PC to the size of a credit card without losing any functionality.
Sounds futuristic, right?
Yep, that’s a Raspberry Pi for you – a teeny-tiny, budget-friendly, but powerful computer.
So, what’s packed into this pocket-sized wonder?
Raspberry Pi has a central processing unit (CPU) which is the thinking piece that carries out instructions. It has also got some random access memory (RAM) which is like a temporary scratchpad where it stores data while it’s powered up. Plus, it’s got all the slots and ports to hook up a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
One cool thing about the Raspberry Pi is that it uses an SD card as its hard drive. You know, like the one on your camera or phone. That’s where the operating system lives and where to store all your files.
Speaking of operating systems, these are the big bosses of the computer world. They manage everything going on with the hardware and software.
Most people who play around with a Raspberry Pi use Raspberry Pi OS, the official supported operating system. Raspberry Pi OS is built on the solid foundation of Linux.
Now, don’t worry about being stranded on a digital island. The Raspberry Pi is well-connected. It comes with built-in WiFi and Bluetooth. If you need a wired connection, it’s got an Ethernet port. It also has USB ports for peripherals, an HDMI port to hook up to your monitor, and an audio jack for when you want to pump up the volume.
Raspberry Pi is also pretty versatile. People use it to learn how to code, build smart home systems, and even recreate classic gaming consoles. It’s not just for fun, though. Professionals use Raspberry Pi for some serious stuff, like monitoring and controlling industrial systems.
When you buy a Raspberry Pi, it comes bare, just a circuit board. You’ll need to grab a few extras like a power supply, an SD card, and a protective case.
Raspberry Pi vs Arduino: A Detailed Breakdown
So, which one is better between Raspberry Pi and Arduino?
Here’s the deal: it’s not about which one is ‘better,’ it’s about which one fits your needs.
Let’s walk through it.
Arduino takes the lead in the open-source world. You can modify and even manufacture Arduino boards yourself, as its hardware schematics are freely accessible.
Raspberry Pi doesn’t have open-source hardware, but it compensates by offering open-source software.
At the heart of Arduino, there’s a control unit from the Atmega family. This choice is not by accident. The Atmega microcontrollers are famous for their reliability, simplicity, and efficient power consumption. These qualities make Arduino a star player in controlling hardware.
Raspberry Pi opts for a control unit from the ARM family. ARM cores are powerful and flexible, enabling Raspberry Pi to run multiple complex applications simultaneously.
Let’s talk about speed. Raspberry Pi operates at a clock frequency of up to 1.5 GHz (in the case of Raspberry Pi 4 B). This allows it to tackle intensive processing tasks, opening up possibilities for multitasking and running resource-demanding applications.
Arduino operates at a 16 MHz frequency (in the case of Arduino UNO). While significantly slower, this speed is perfectly adequate for the tasks Arduino is designed for, such as reading sensors or controlling motors.
RAM and CPU Architecture
With a hefty RAM of up to 8GB (in its latest model) and a 64-bit CPU, Raspberry Pi is more than capable of running full-fledged software applications akin to what you’d find on a desktop computer.
Arduino, with its dedicated focus on hardware control, thrives even with a much smaller 2kB RAM and an 8-bit CPU. Its simplicity translates to lower power consumption and a more straightforward programming environment.
Logic level refers to the voltage at which a device recognizes a signal as HIGH (1) or LOW (0). Arduino operates at a 5V logic level.
In contrast, Raspberry Pi operates at a 3.3V level. This difference is important when working with different devices, as voltage incompatibility can lead to damage or non-functioning equipment.
Power conservationists will love Arduino since it sips about 200 MW of power. On the other hand, Raspberry Pi requires more juice. Due to its broader capabilities, it consumes about 700 MW of power.
Arduino boasts a simple, user-friendly hardware structure that’s designed for efficient input/output operations. It’s intended to be accessible and easy to interface with a range of additional hardware.
Raspberry Pi emulates a mini-computers architecture with its more complex hardware structure. It comes with a number of inbuilt peripherals like USB ports, HDMI output, and audio output, which might take a bit more getting used to.
Arduino is programmed using the Arduino IDE, which uses a variation of C/C++. This makes it easier to control hardware and create simple applications.
Raspberry Pi supports multiple programming languages It can support multiple programming languages, from Python to Java, making it more versatile. It also supports a full operating system, most commonly Raspberry Pi OS, a Linux-based system.
Given its simplified hardware structure and functionalities, Arduino boards are generally cheaper, providing a cost-effective solution for simple DIY projects.
Raspberry Pi is a bit pricier but offers extensive functionalities for more complex projects.
Handling Power Drops
Here’s an essential difference that often goes unnoticed. Arduino devices begin executing code the moment they power on. When power is cut off, you don’t risk a corrupt operating system or errors. The code simply resumes from the start when power returns.
Raspberry Pi requires a proper shutdown to prevent the corruption of data or the operating system. This is similar to how you would treat your computer or gaming system.
Current Drive Strength
Arduino is built to drive a higher current, which is vital when controlling various hardware like motors or lights.
Raspberry Pi has a lower current drive strength, so you may need additional components like driver circuits for certain hardware applications.
While Arduino shines in executing single tasks repeatedly, Raspberry Pi is a multitasking wizard. This distinction makes Arduino excellent for projects like automated gardening systems, where you might need to monitor moisture levels and control watering consistently.
Raspberry Pi can run multiple processes simultaneously, so it works wonders in tasks that require multitasking. For example, you can use it in a home media center, where it could be streaming media, downloading files, and managing playback all at once.
Raspberry Pi is compatible with Bluetooth and WiFi, so you can use it for any project where you need to get online or communicate without wires.
Arduino? Not so much. It doesn’t come with any built-in wireless capabilities. But don’t worry, if you’re really keen on getting your Arduino project online or connected, you can add on separate shields to get it talking to the world. This way, you can tailor it to just what your project needs.
The applications of these two platforms are extensive. Arduino finds its strengths leveraged in projects such as traffic light countdown timers, parking lot counters, and weighing machines. Raspberry Pi has advanced capabilities to excel in applications like robot controllers, game servers, stop-motion cameras, and more.
Arduino is often favored in an educational setting because of its straightforward hardware and easy-to-use software libraries, making it a more accessible platform for beginners.
Raspberry Pi is an excellent tool for students venturing into more advanced projects.
The versatility of both platforms makes them adaptable to various projects, from simple to complex. The choice between Arduino and Raspberry Pi will depend on your specific project requirements, budget, and the level of complexity you’re comfortable with.
Is Arduino or Raspberry Pi better for IoT?
In the context of IoT, neither the Arduino nor Raspberry Pi is inherently “better”—it’s all about choosing the right tool for your specific project and needs.
Raspberry Pi excels when your IoT project needs a full operating system, needs to perform complex processing, handles high volumes of data, or requires network connections.
On the other hand, Arduino is a better choice when your IoT project is about controlling simple devices or interacting with specific hardware, and real-time responses are necessary. Arduino shines in power efficiency and real-time operations.
You can actually use both in tandem. The Arduino can manage hardware interaction and real-time responses, while the Raspberry Pi can handle complex processing, visualization, and network connections.
Why is Raspberry Pi faster than Arduino?
The Raspberry Pi’s CPU operates at a much higher clock speed than the Arduino’s. For instance, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B has a CPU that can run at a clock speed of up to 1.5 GHz.
This high clock speed enables it to execute instructions quickly, thus processing more data in a given amount of time.
As we’ve seen, these two aren’t rivals, but rather two sides of the same coin – the incredible world of DIY electronics.
Arduino is your go-to mini-computer for singular, hardware-driven, and repetitive tasks. On the other hand, Raspberry Pi is a versatile, full-fledged computer for multitasking, internet-based projects, and software applications, as it has beefier specs and inherent connectivity options.
But remember, the choice isn’t about picking the ‘better’ one. It’s about aligning the board’s capabilities with your project needs, your comfort with the technology, and your budget.
So, in this Raspberry Pi vs Arduino debate, consider your unique needs and choose accordingly.
Related article: now that you have learned about Raspberry Pi and Arduino, have a look at some of the programmable robot kits available based on these two amazing platforms!
Claudio Sabato is an IT expert with over 15 years of professional experience in Python programming, Linux Systems Administration, Bash programming, and IT Systems Design.
With a Master’s degree in Computer Science, he has a strong foundation in Software Engineering and a passion for Robotics with projects that include Raspberry Pi and Arduino platforms.