What Is A Raspberry Pi? — Complete Cheat Sheet To Get Started Today!

A handy guide for new Raspberry Pi users!

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What is a raspberry Pi_

Who in the past would’ve imagined computers becoming so mainstream that everybody would carry at least one in their pockets or have a credit card-sized, fully-fledged computers on their desks? This is due to the revolution in nanotechnology, which has completely changed the world and the way we live our lives. One of the engineering marvels that have made computers accessible to everyone is Raspberry Pi.

In this article, let’s look at what is a Raspberry Pi and what makes it so special. In the end, we’ll also be looking at some of the things you need to know if you’re new to the Pi topic and don’t know from where to start. Let’s get started.

What Is A Raspberry Pi?

If you’ve ever built a computer before or if you’ve ever glanced at the crucial components needed to build one, here’s what you’ll end up buying for the build.

  • CPU
  • GPU
  • RAM
  • Power supply
  • Motherboard

Now, imagine connecting all of these components so that the end-product doesn’t exceed the size of a typical credit card. Impossible, right?

What if I told you that a Raspberry Pi packs all these components while weighing just 0.1 pounds or under 50 grams? Although performance takes a hit due to cramping everything into a smaller form factor, Raspberry Pi is powerful enough to be used as a mini personal computer.

The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost single-board computer that can help you with DIY projects and learn to program. You can even use it as your daily computer to browse the internet, watch videos, play retro games, stream movies using Kodi, and above all, you can even set up SSH and access your Pi remotely at any time, anywhere.

Raspberry Pi 4 B is the 4th and the latest addition to the Raspberry Pi series of boards. Desktop computing in the previous models left us much to be desired because of less powerful processors. The Raspberry Pi 4 B is the most powerful Raspberry Pi to date and is the device to go for if you want to use it for desktop computing.

If you want to know more about Raspberry Pi 4 B’s specifications and features, make sure to check out our in-depth Raspberry Pi 4 B review and how it stacks up compared to previous generations of Raspberry Pi’s.

What Is A Raspberry Pi Used For?

You can do anything on the Raspberry Pi except running resource-demanding applications. Wait, you can do that too by making a Raspberry Pi cluster. In the end, you’ll have a Raspberry Pi supercomputer that can do anything that you throw at it with ease.

Use It As A Regular Computer

If you buy the latest Raspberry Pi 4 B with 4/8GB of RAM, thanks to the powerful Broadcom 2711 based on powerful Cortex-A73 cores, the Raspberry Pi 4 B can become your daily driver provided you don’t use distros like vanilla Ubuntu that hog a lot of system resources. Instead, you can try out Ubuntu MATE.

It can also replace your old potato PC that struggles to load basic apps and lags a lot. Sure, you wouldn’t be able to run Windows on the Raspberry Pi, but it will at least be less annoying and function smoothly.

potato PC vs Raspberry Pi

If you own a Raspberry Pi and want to taste the goodness of Ubuntu MATE, do make sure to check out our how to install Ubuntu MATE on Raspberry Pi 4 B article.

Use It As An Android Device

Yes, you heard that right. With around half of the world’s devices running Android on ARM-based processors and thanks to Android’s open-source nature, developers have ported Android to Raspberry Pi’s in the form of LineageOS.

LineageOS-home

We have previously covered an article explaining how to install Android on Raspberry Pi 4 B, so if you’re curious, do check it out. TL;DR, we installed LineageOS 17.1 and were quite surprised with the performance. You can also run most Android applications after installing Google Play Services and the Google Play Store.

Convert It Into A Retro Gaming Device

Retro games were great, weren’t they? What’s even better is the satisfying slap of nostalgia that you can get by playing them even today. While you can install emulators on your Android/iOS devices and play old games with ease, having a separate gaming console and playing on large screens is an experience in itself.

What if we told you that you could invest $35 in a Pi and convert it into a fully-fledged retro gaming console? Retropie is a Raspbian-based Linux distro that can help you play old games with ease. It supports almost all the controllers, and all you need to do is download older games, load them, and start playing.

Use It As A Media Center

Do you want to buy a media streaming device but don’t want to spend much on Chromecast or Amazon Firestick? You can buy a Pi, install Kodi distros like OSMC or LibreELEC, install add ons, and enjoy free movies, TV shows, and even games. All of this at just $35 (provided you have a TV or any display to view the content on, of course).

Use It Remotely As A Storage Device

One of the fundamental and most popular use cases of the Pi is, you can use it remotely from any part of the world at any time. Isn’t that cool? This is achieved through SSH. For starters, SSH stands for Secure Shell, which, as the name suggests, helps two or more devices securely.

You can plug an NVMe or SATA SSD using a USB NVMe adapter or a USB 3.0 to SATA cable for storage. Now, all you need to do is enable SSH on your Pi and VNC (if you want to access the desktop).

Raspberry Pi as a remote storage device
Credits: The MagPi Magazine

Easier said than done, right? That’s why we have a complete guide on Raspberry Pi headless setup so, make sure to check it out. Also, make sure to check out this incredible guide to a Raspberry Pi NAS (Network-attached-storage) by The MagPi Magazine.

There are so many use cases that we could keep writing about them, and this article would never end. If you’re planning to use it for any of the above-mentioned use cases, believe us, a Pi is all you’ll need.

What Is Raspbian/Raspberry Pi OS?

Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian) will probably be the first thing you’ll install on Pi if you just got your hands on it. Here’s how to install and set up Raspbian/Raspberry Pi OS using NOOBS for the first time.

Based on the Debian branch, Raspberry Pi OS is a distro specially made for Raspberry Pi by the Pi Foundation. Unlike other distros, it’s a very barebones OS that still packs many features and is greatly optimized to run on the Pi.

Which Raspberry Pi Should You Buy?

If you’re a DIY enthusiast, older versions of the Pi like the 3 B+ or 2 B will do the job. But it’s recommended to get the latest version of the board to future-proof yourself and use the same board in future projects.

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy older Raspberry Pis. For more information on the previous-gen Pi’s, do make sure to check out our Part-1 of Raspberry Pi for beginners series, where we have explained the specifications of all the Pi’s released to date. Also, to know which components you’ll need to get started, we have explained everything in our Part-2 of Raspberry Pi for beginners series.

The Pi Foundation recently released the Pi Pico, which competes with the likes of Arduino. You can buy a Pi and Pi Pico, connect both of them, and make fun and interesting projects. If you want to know more about what you can do with an RPI Pico, check out Gary Sims’s RPI Pico video on the Gary Explains YouTube channel.

Build Amazing Projects Using A Pi

Have an idea in your mind that you want to see in action? Bring ideas to life using a Pi. How many kinds of projects, you ask? The sky’s the limit. Thanks to the GPIO (General Purpose Input Output) pins, you can attach accessories like sensors, stepper motors, external displays, cameras, etc. You can add life to the project by writing code in Python (Python comes built-in in the Raspberry Pi OS). Want to know more about GPIO pins? Check out our brief guide about GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi.

Pi is a device that every Computer Science undergraduate should have and must try to learn to use. All it takes to get started is a Pi and fundamental knowledge of the Python programming language. Don’t worry about directly learning the advanced concepts or building advanced projects. Start from basics and build up your knowledge, and you’ll be a pro in no time.

Choose The Perfect Linux Distro For Your Raspberry Pi

There are a lot of Linux distros that you can install on Pi. It’s pretty hard to recommend one good Linux distro as different Linux distros are good at different things. Hence, to help you choose the best Linux distro for your needs, we’ve composed an article on the best Linux distros for Raspberry Pi; make sure to check it out.

If I had to sum up which distro would be the best for each use case, the list would look like this.

Use caseLinux Distro(s)
Desktop computingUbuntu MATE, Manjaro ARM Linux XFCE, Ubuntu
Building projectsRaspberry Pi OS
Running Android appsLineageOS 17.1 Unofficial
For gamingRetropie, Lakka Linux
For video streamingKodi app, LibreELEC, OSMC
For Ethical hackingKali Linux

If you want to install Manjaro ARM, check out how to install Manjaro ARM Linux on Raspberry Pi 4 article.

All you need to do to install a Linux distro is flash an SD card using the Raspberry Pi Imager, insert it into your Pi, turn it on, and go through the installation setup. You can also boot through a USB drive by enabling the USB boot option. Here’s how to enable USB boot on Raspberry Pi.

Start your Raspberry Pi journey today!

So, that was pretty much all the info you need to get started with Pi. We’ve covered many tutorials on how you can install necessary tools and distros on your Raspberry Pi, whose links are provided in the article at desired places.

The information that this article delivers just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you want to know more about what you can do with your Raspberry Pi, Google is your best friend.

We plan to do more content on Raspberry Pi so, stay tuned and, as always, if you have any doubts, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

Mohammed Abubakar

Mohammed Abubakar

Abubakar is a passionate tech writer whose love for tech started in 2011 when he got a Dell Inspiron 5100. When he's not covering Linux and open-source, you'll find him binge-watching anime or Tech content on YouTube.

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