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How the Raspberry Pi Works


Why Choose the Raspberry Pi and Not Something Else?

The Raspberry Pi has a few competitors, although the foundation encourages people to clone its idea, so competitor might not be the right word. They include BeagleBoard and PandaBoard (which are both the names of the companies and their main devices). Both are nonprofit organizations but with slightly different goals than the Raspberry Pi Foundation. BeagleBoard is geared toward adult hardware tinkerers, and PandaBoard aims to make a mobile software-programming platform available at a reasonable price.

Like Raspberry Pi, they're both exposed boards with ARM processors and are HD video capable. But BeagleBoards and PandaBoards have more connectors and connection headers (bits of the board that can be used by soldering additional hardware) than the Raspberry Pi, and both devices are a bit larger. The following aren't exhaustive lists of components, but here are some features that differ from the Pi:

BeagleBoardandBeagleBoard-xM

  • Cortex A8-based processor made by Texas Instruments, running from 600 MHz to 720 MHz on the BeagleBoard (depending upon version) and 1 GHz on the xM.
  • 128 MB RAM on the original BeagleBoard, but 256 MB and 512 MB RAM on the newer boards, respectively.
  • DVI-D monitor connector
  • S-video connector
  • Audio in and out (not just audio out)
  • One USB port on BeagleBoard and four USB ports on the xM
  • USB and DC power
  • No RCA or HDMI connector

PandaBoard and PandaBoard ES

  • Dual-core ARM Cortex A9 MPCore processor, also manufactured by Texas Instruments, running at 1GHz on the PandaBoard and 1.2 GHz on the ES
  • 1 GB RAM
  • DVI-D monitor connector
  • LCD expansion header
  • Audio in and out
  • One USB on-the-go port and two standard USB ports
  • WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity
  • USB and DC power
  • No RCA connector

For its intended educational purposes, the Raspberry Pi has two major advantages over the others. First, it was conceived to be a complete working computer. You simply need to insert an SD card containing the OS, connect the peripherals and power, and it's ready to go. BeagleBoards and PandaBoards require hookup to a host computer for initial setup, and though they have similar processing capabilities, they take a little more know-how to get them fully functional.

Second, the other devices are much more expensive than the Raspberry Pi. For example, in April 2012, the pricing was $125 to $149 for the two main BeagleBoard models, and $174 to $182 each for the two PandaBoard models. These prices are a far cry from the $25 and $35 base prices of the Raspberry Pi. This doesn't mean that the other devices aren't for you. You just have to examine the specs and determine which machine best suits your needs. Given its functionality and price, the Raspberry Pi seems better poised to get computing power to the masses.

Hardware aside, software-based educational resources are available for anyone wishing to learn programming on current computers.