The BeagleBone, Raspberry Pi and Arduino are all solid microprocessor options for a range of DIY projects. They are accessible, affordable and easy to work with, whether you’re new to the world of electronics as a hobby, or if you’re a pro looking for a more advanced project.
Each microprocessor also has its own strengths and weaknesses too. It depends what you want to do with your board. So, we’ve broken down each offering in terms of its pros, cons and potential for your work.
Arduino: For beginners looking to interface with multiple devices
The Arduino Uno is suited to simple projects where you want to understand what is really going on “under the hood” of your microcomputer. It’s designed specifically for beginners, so it’s intuitive to setup, use and connect to external components. It’s best suited to single-purpose projects where you interface with a physical object. For example, you could set up a video doorbell system or a smart fridge.
However, the Arduino Uno does not have a lot of computing power (only 2KB of RAM compared to 512MB for the other two). There’s also no GUI to guide you as you use this board. Instead, you have to write the code directly and it is then stored on the Arduino. But the Arduino and its programming language are open source and you can connect it to just about anything, which means anyone can do pretty much anything with it.
Pros: The Arduino is an affordable option, only costing $29 for the board. It consumes little power so you can run it all day long, it’s highly flexible and it is very simple to set up. Perfect for small projects, there’s also a very active community so it’s easy to find potential projects, tutorials and support.
Cons: The Arduino is not suitable for complex projects that need a control panel/touchscreen to work or where you want to run a lot of different processes at once. The lack of a GUI and, therefore, a familiar operating system could also cause confusion. Also, the Pi and BeagleBone are better suited to applications that connect to the internet as the Arduino has no Ethernet port – and no USB port, video output or audio output either.
Raspberry Pi: An all-rounder suited to multimedia projects
The Raspberry Pi was created to address the discrepancy between the huge number of people who use computers and technology, and the few who understand the inner workings of such gadgets. This foundation in education means there’s a great community for the Pi.
It’s a great micro-computer, which runs Linux from an SD card so you can run a variety of DIY projects. The Raspberry Pi 3 also features two USB ports, an Ethernet port and a HDMI port so you can connect your mouse, keyboard and monitor to use the Pi – and you don’t have to rely on setting up a wireless connection.
It’s essentially a low-cost ($35) and low-powered Linux computer. You can’t do anything overly complicated, but this board is a great choice for hobbyists both new and experienced.
Pros: The Raspberry Pi is cheap to buy, incredibly versatile and familiar to use. You can also change the operating system easily to suit your needs. Suited for beginners and pros alike, the Pi is particularly suited for multimedia-based projects where you want to connect to a display and/or use audio. Also, has a great online community where you can source projects ideas and help.
Cons: The Pi is not as adaptable (compared to the Arduino and Beaglebone) if you want to interface with external sensors and buttons. It only has eight GPIOs (the Arduino Uno has 16 and the BeagleBone Black has 66). The setup can also be a little more labor intensive compared to the Arduino and Beaglebone.
BeagleBone Black: Great for interfacing with many devices
The BeagleBone Black is a system-on-a-chip (SOC) device, which means it performs all the duties of a computer on a single chip and it only costs $45.
The setup is also incredibly simple, but don’t be fooled into thinking the BeagleBone is a simple microcomputer. It contains two 46-pin headers and has a total of 92 possible connection points. That’s a huge number of interface options – better than the Pi and the Arduino. It’s also a powerful system (with a 1GHz processor, compared to the 700MHz processor on a Pi) and doesn’t require a display to set up.
Pros: Essentially, the BeagleBone combines the external interfacing options of the Arduino with the power and full Linux environment of the Raspberry Pi. Supports a range of operating systems and is ready to use out of the box.
Cons: More targeted at advanced users and serious developers, so can take a while to get used to. Fewer USB ports compared to the Pi and does not have video encoding built in – making it less suitable for multimedia projects. Slightly less active community, so tutorials and projects can be more difficult to find.
Which one should you choose?
To be honest, there’s not much to separate these three boards. They all provide electronics makers with the raw material to create some pretty cool stuff. If you prefer to operate your board like a computer or want to create some multimedia projects – the Pi is for you. If you just want to tinker with a simple board and add a few sensors and other external components – go for the Arduino Uno. If you want the best of both worlds and the opportunity to tackle some serious electronics projects – the BeagleBone Black is the board for you.
All three boards are also incredibly cheap, coming in at between $29 and $45. If you really can’t make up your mind then you could give each one a go and try all three!
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