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      • Published 22 Mar 2023
      • Last Modified 29 Aug 2023
    • 5 min

    What are Raspberry Pi and Arduino?

    Find out all you need to know about the development tools Raspberry Pi and Arduino.

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    Reviewed by Jay Proctor, Technical Support Team Leader (September 2022)

    If you’re working on a new project or designing a new product, development tools are a great way to test out your ideas. From improving computer programming skills to trying out some code on a circuit board, microcontrollers, single-board computers, and open-source platforms are invaluable for designers and developers and are highly accessible, even to beginners. 

    Thanks to their straightforward but highly capable design, Raspberry Pi and Arduino are two of the most commonly used development tools. This article will explain exactly what they are and how you can use them most effectively. 

    What are Development Tools?

    Development Tools

    Development tools are kits that combine software and hardware to help users test, prototype and evaluate electronic boards without needing to manufacture a printed circuit board. These kits can include microcontrollers, processors and single-board computers that will connect to programming software for users to code specific functions. 

    Depending on the type of tool, you can start to experiment with new electronic computing projects, prototype new ideas, or evaluate established designs. Some of the development kits are suitable for open-source code, meaning you can personalise the board to your needs using source code that is made freely available and can be redistributed. Other development kits are high-powered processors that enable you to perform complex functions, however, the source code is fixed and not freely available to re-distribute. 

    What is a Raspberry Pi?

    Developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity that aims to make computing skills more accessible to everyone, Raspberry Pi are a series of single-board computers used to program, code and develop open-source projects, all in a device the size of a credit card. Since the launch of the Pi 1 in 2012, there have been many generations and models released, with the latest Pi 400 offering a quad-core 64-bit processor and 4GB of RAM. 

    Each Raspberry Pi computer is designed to be easily accessible, powerful, and low-cost. Able to plug into any monitor or TV, they’re personal computer kits designed to help people develop their computing skills.

    Raspberry Pi Logo

    What Can You Do with a Raspberry Pi?

    Designed to replace a personal computer in a compact, powerful form, Raspberry Pi devices can be used for anything you’d use a desktop for. From the development of IoT (Internet of Things) systems to connecting to your home network and printing off documents or setting up a web server, Raspberry Pi devices are perfect for anyone looking to improve their programming skills or explore their computing creativity. 

    Raspberry Pi runs on Linux and can control electronic components, automate systems, and develop programmes in Scratch and Python. However, its closed-sourced nature means you can’t personalise it to the same level as microcontrollers. 

    What is Raspberry Pi Software?

    Previously known as Raspbian, Raspberry Pi OS is the operating software used to run these single-board computers. Three levels of this operating system are available, Lite, Desktop, and Desktop and Recommended Software. Each of these systems includes different apps, with Desktop and Recommended Software offering more than 2,000MB worth of capabilities. However, the accessible nature of these computers means you can run other operating systems depending on your needs or preferences. 

    What is Arduino?

    Arduino Logo

    Arduino combines a physical circuit board with software to create an open-source platform designed to help users test and develop electronic systems. Specifically designed as a microcontroller for electronics projects, it enables users to create a device that can automate real-world tasks. 

    By reading an input and interpreting this into a specific output, Arduino boards can perform a range of automation such as ringing an alarm when an object comes close to a sensor or, with a few additions, powering robots. There are several models of Arduino boards available to suit a range of user requirements, making these microcomputers a great option for anyone just starting in electronic computing. 

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    What Language Does Arduino Use?

    The Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is the main software used to program Arduino devices. The code used on this software is C++ which can be built into ‘sketch’ files (.ino), minimalist programmes used to run the Arduino hardware. The open-source nature of Arduino IDE also means that additional libraries can be imported into the software to increase the capabilities of the device.

    What is Best, Arduino or Raspberry Pi?

    If you’re not sure which one of these microcontroller development tools would best suit your needs, then there are some key differences between Arduino and Raspberry Pi that you need to consider: 

    • While the Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer, Arduino is a microcontroller. With its powerful processor, the Raspberry Pi can be used for complex tasks while the Arduino can only run single tasks repeatedly unless additional hardware is added
    • The software and hardware of Raspberry Pi are closed source and not freely available, while Arduino’s are open source, meaning that the latter offers more potential for personalisation
    • Arduinos only use Arduino IDE to program code, whereas Raspberry Pi can use any IDE that it’s possible to run on its operating system Linux. This means you can use the language you prefer on a Raspberry Pi, though it is possible to import libraries into Arduino IDE
    • Due to its higher processing power, Raspberry Pi has greater power requirements than Arduino devices. While you can plug and run an Arduino from another computer, Raspberry Pi needs its own power output
    • The cost of Raspberry Pi models is higher than Arduino devices, although both have options at a range of price points

    In short, if you want to improve your electronic computing skills and experiment with small prototyping projects, then Arduino devices are a great option. However, if you want to take on more complex projects or run multiple tasks at once from an IDE you trust, then a Raspberry Pi will be a better option. 

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