Which Raspberry Pi Should I Buy?

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Which Pi to Buy?

Bundle of Raspberry Pis
Choosing your first Raspberry Pi can be confusing for new enthusiasts. Richard Saville

If you've recently discovered the Raspberry Pi you might well be considering making a purchase. After all, they're one of the cheapest computers out there.

Many people in this situation quickly realize that there isn't just one Raspberry Pi model for sale. There are older models, newer models, smaller models, models with fewer ports and even one that came free with a magazine!

It can be a bit tricky working out which Pi to buy, so I've put together this list of the main models released to date to help you make an informed purchase.

I've included the older models as some of you will be tempted to grab a second-hand bargain through online auction sites. However, I haven't covered the 'exotic specials' (special color editions, the Compute Module etc) as you're unlikely to find or want these at this stage.

Let's go shopping!

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The Model B Revision 1

Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 1
The Model B Rev 1 - the first publically released Raspberry Pi. Richard Saville

Summary & History

The original Raspberry Pi!

It's now years old and has been succeeded many times since its release, but the Rev 1 Model B is still perfectly capable of handling code, LEDs, sensors and lots of other projects. It has 14 fewer GPIO pins than the latest models but still has the usual HDMI, Ethernet, camera connections and micro USB power.

They’re not quite selling as expensive collectors' items yet, but I’m pretty sure you won’t find any new examples of these for sale anywhere. Second-hand examples on online auction sites are your best bet, but consider a later model of Pi before rushing out for one of these - there shouldn’t be much difference in price.

Should I Buy This Pi?

The original Model B is pretty dated now and will be quite hard to find one for sale. It's probably only worth buying one if you want to own the full collection of Pis. The lack of mounting holes makes it a little awkward for some projects.

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The Model B Revision 2

Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2
The Raspberry Pi Model B Rev 2. Richard Saville

Summary & History

Mostly identifiable by the addition of mounting holes, the second revision of the original Model B is very similar to its predecessor, however packing double the RAM (on boards produced after 15th October 2012) and the addition of mounting holes (as well as some other subtle changes).

Should I Buy This Pi?

The Rev 2 will be a little easier to find than the Model B Revision 1, but still not likely to be sold new in shops.

Online auction sites are your best bet again. The increased RAM and addition of mounting holes make the Rev 2 Model B a little more useful, but unless it's going very cheap I’d still be looking for a more recent Pi.

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The Model A

Raspberry Pi Model A
The Raspberry Pi Model A. Richard Saville

Summary & History

The first Raspberry Pi Model A maintained the same shape PCB as the Model B before it but came with fewer components and reduced hardware specification. RAM was halved to 256MB, the Ethernet port was removed and only 1 USB port was installed.

Why? To create a cheaper Raspberry Pi with a slightly lower profile. With some users not requiring the full performance and connectivity of the Model B, the Model A was designed to reduce the cost and power consumption of the board.

Should I Buy This Pi?

Whilst I still love the original model A, it really isn’t ideal for beginners.

The lack of an Ethernet port makes it difficult to download packages and update Raspbian (without setting up a WiFi USB adapter manually), and having only 1 USB port leaves you to choose either a mouse or keyboard (or a USB hub if you want both - more expense).

However, if you’re already the proud owner of a Model B, the Model A is a nice cheap way to dedicate a Pi to a project. You're unlikely to find a new model in the shops, but online auction sites are bound to produce some from time to time.

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The B+

Raspberry Pi B+
The Raspberry Pi B+. Richard Saville

Summary & History

The Raspberry Pi B+ was big news in the Pi world. Everyone’s favorite microcomputer had undergone a massive upgrade - 14 more pins added to the GPIO, 2 more USB ports, a move to micro SD card, rounded PCB edges, lower power consumption and more.

Despite the A+, Pi 2, Pi 3 and Pi Zero all being released since this model came out, I still see it as a very relevant board due to the fact that it shares the same layout and footprint of the latest models.

Should I Buy This Pi?

The B+ is still a very good choice for the beginner.

It shares its layout and form factor with the most recent Pi 3, so any newly released cases and HATs are going to fit. You’ll also benefit from the additional USB ports and GPIO pins, as well as the use of micro SD cards which you can use in a newer Pi if you feel the need to upgrade. 

The B+ should also be cheaper than more recent models due to stock clearance sales, but this may also make it increasingly difficult to find new examples in the shops. Failing that, online auction sites should have plenty going cheap as existing users choose to upgrade.

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The A+

Raspberry Pi A+
The Raspberry Pi A+. Richard Saville

Summary & History

The Raspberry Pi A+ was released just 4 months after the B+, giving users an updated version of the ‘lighter’ Pi, and bringing all models up to the new 40-pin GPIO standard.

Following a similar trend to the original Model A, the A+ once again came with no Ethernet, 256MB of RAM and just 1 USB port. The board is the only Pi to have an almost square shape, smaller than both the original Model A and the newer B+.

Should I Buy This Pi?

If you’re wondering why you would buy an A+ over a model A, it mostly comes down to the additional GPIO pins, smaller form factor, ​and reduced power consumption.

It’s no better for a beginner than the original Model A due to the continued lack of an Ethernet port and only holding 1 USB port, but I really like the size and shape of the A+. It's also compatible with all the latest 40-pin HATs which edges it over the original Model A.

It hasn’t been replaced with a revised version following the Pi 2 and Pi 3 releases (yet…) so you may still be able to find some new examples in the shops.

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The Raspberry Pi 2 Model B

Raspberry Pi 2
The Raspberry Pi 2. Richard Saville

Summary & History

The Raspberry Pi 2 was another big release from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, this time due to the move to a quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM. Other than the overall increase in grunt, the board size, layout and connections didn’t change much from the B+ before it.

The updated processor also allowed the use of new operating system distributions such as Windows 10 IoT (not the desktop Windows OS you have on your PC).

Should I Buy This Pi?

The Pi 2 is still very much available to buy, and still very competitive in terms of performance. If you can find one going a good rate cheaper than a Pi 3, it’s definitely a good choice for beginners and experienced users alike.

However, with the Pi 3 released and still selling for a similar price to the Pi 2 at most retailers, it’s not worth looking at unless you get a decent discount.

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The Pi Zero

Raspberry Pi Zero
The Raspberry Pi Zero. Richard Saville

Summary & History

The Raspberry Pi Zero set the world on fire when, for the first time ever, a computer was given away on the front of a magazine!

The Zero is the smallest Raspberry Pi available without much compromise. It runs the same processor as both of the Model A Pis, but clocked at a faster 1GHz. It also offers 512MB of RAM - double that of the Model A options.

It’s perfect for small embedded projects and comes at the ridiculously low price of $5, although you do have to buy and solder your own 40 pin header. It's equipped with a single micro USB port for data, which you’ll need to use an adapter with if you want to connect a normal USB device.

Should I Buy This Pi?

If you’re buying your first Pi, I’d recommend steering clear of the Zero until you’ve owned a Model B. Setting one up without Ethernet could be tricky for updates, and having to solder your own header might not be the easiest introduction to the world of Raspberry Pi.

Then again, at that $5 price point, maybe you can afford a soldering mistake or two?

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The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

Raspberry Pi 3
The Raspberry Pi 3. Richard Saville

Summary & History

The current top dog. The head honcho. King Kong.

The Raspberry Pi 3 changed the game yet again and in more than one way. The new quad-core processor offers 1.2GHz - the fastest Raspberry Pi to date. Alongside this are new on-board connectivity options offering WiFi and Bluetooth. All of this for the same price as the previous version!

Once again the size and shape remain the same, with 40 GPIO pins, 4 USB ports, and an Ethernet connection.

Should I Buy This Pi?

With the Pi 3 being sold at the same $35 price as the previous versions, including very handy WiFi and Bluetooth onboard, it’s a no-brainer to choose this as your first Pi if budget allows.

There may be cheaper ways to get started with the Raspberry Pi considering the number of older models going cheap, but for ease of use I really recommend investing in this killer board.

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Take Your Pick

Confused Man
Time to make a decision... Getty Images

Depending on your reason for buying a Pi, your wallet, ​and local availability, there are a number of models to choose from. It really isn't just a case of buying the latest model.

General Interest

If you can see yourself casually trying out the Pi, making some projects and seeing if it’s for you - go for the B+.

You should still be able to find them cheap online, and as a casual user you’re not going to need the power of the new Pi 3. Save yourself some money and go for the older model, and if you decide to upgrade later on, most of the add-ons or cases you buy will fit the latest Pi 3 anyway.

On a Budget

If you’re feeling the pinch, get yourself a Pi Zero for $5. It’s not going to be the easiest way to get started if you’re a beginner, but the money savings may well be worth it.

Nervous Beginner

If you’re already a bit worried about your ability to use the Raspberry Pi, save yourself some headaches and grab a Pi 3.

The on-board WiFi will make it easy to get connected to the internet without messing around with cables or adapters, and you'll also benefit from the full complement of USB ports for your keyboard and mouse.

Good Luck!

Whatever model you buy, good luck, and welcome to the wonderful world of the Raspberry Pi!

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