Raspberry Pi 4: The Ultimate Guide, Features and Specs
In single-board computing, Raspberry Pi has been the standard for years. They’ve become powerful enough to replace desktop PCs, output video in 4K, and come packed with enough RAM to do normal computing tasks, even hosting small company databases. The kits function as a computer would, allowing users to browse, watch videos, and play low-intensity video games using emulators like RetroPie. Their functionality goes far beyond that, however, by allowing users to access coding languages, set up operating systems, and build circuits by hand.
In an age where computer programming is stacked to become the world’s most lucrative career field, the Raspberry Pi 4 toolkit not only makes major advances over its predecessors but opens the door even wider for new users to take advantage of programming as a viable hobby or career.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Raspberry Pi 4, including what it can do, how to use it, the features you need, and how to get one no matter your price range.
Main Features and Specs of the Raspberry Pi 4
Like any home computer, the Raspberry Pi 4 can run basic tasks like browsing the internet, playing videos, listening to music, and doing basic work tasks. However, as a toolkit, it goes beyond simple PCs to be a project-based learning tool that allows users to customize its technology, get into computer science, or even hack out (literally) their next amazing project. Everything from programmable robots to digital kiosks can be based on Raspberry Pi kit technology.
The Raspberry Pi 4 is a computer printed onto a single circuit board, small enough to fit in your hand. It is primarily intended to teach computer anatomy, jumpstart programming projects, and run peripherals all from a single board.
Its main features, as well as the Raspberry Pi 4 specs, can be broken up in a similar way as any computer’s. They include:
1/2/4/8GB of DDR4 RAM
1.5-GHz Quad-core Broadcom CPU
Video Core VI GPU
Core clock speed up to 400 MHz
Display output up to 4K and 60fps, including dual peripherals
4 USB-compatible ports
1 ethernet port
Dual micro-HDMI ports
MicroSD card slot
Display serial interface
40-pin GPIO header
Power over Ethernet HAT
Of course, there’s more to the Raspberry Pi 4 than its memory capacity and ports, but these are its basic physical features. Many of them improve on previous models for this next generation of toolkits, as explained in detail below.
Improvements with the Raspberry Pi 4
Before shelling out for the latest version, you may be wondering what the difference is between the specs of the Raspberry 3 and 4. Quite a lot, actually. Raspberry Pi 4 works on the same framework as its predecessors but delivers a faster and more user-driven experience.
The 1.5-GHz CPU is vastly improved over Raspberry Pi 3, as is its ability to output in 4K. A higher bus speed in comparison to previous models gives Ethernet on Raspberry Pi 4 access to Gigabit connections around three times faster than the previous generation (up to 125 MBps). The MicroSD slot is also twice as fast as on previous Raspberry models, despite the machine itself looking and feeling similar to the older versions.
The introduction of the Broadcom processor, however, makes the appearance deceiving, since unlike previous generations the Raspberry Pi 4 now clocks in at 1.5 GHz on 4 CPU cores with a 15-instruction pipeline depth. This all adds up to a machine that computes faster and better. With the RAM boost as well, Raspberry Pi 4 performs on benchmarks over 400% better than Raspberry Pi 3B+.
The improvements to the architecture speak for themselves when it comes to Raspberry Pi 4’s new computing power and additional utility in its ports. Those looking for the Raspberry toolkit with the best specs don’t have to guess with Raspberry Pi 4.
What Raspberry Pi 4 Can Do
The Raspberry Pi 4 kit can accomplish many programming and computing tasks. Just to get an idea, many tech hobbyists use it as a mini database, media center, router, server, retro video game console, or even as a programmable security and ad-blocker application for their network. The boards can be used to build laptops, phones, robotic applications, tablets, and even new kinds of portable smart devices, devices that Pi users can come up with themselves.
The circuit board you’ll be working with here has been optimized for mobile applications. Yet, it can still be used to create budget laptops, especially now that computers have transitioned from being hardware-centric to versatile receivers of a growing network of online services. In other words, now that the Cloud exists, it’s less important for home computers to have a huge storage capacity. Many networks can even provide computational assistance, so the utility of something as versatile as a single-board, customizable kit like the Raspberry Pi 4 is a logical leap forward.
In concrete terms, this machine can accomplish a lot for tech enthusiasts, novice programmers, budget laptop users, or those looking for an easily programmable infrastructure for a new project. The first major feature is its ability to decode 4K video. It achieves this in part from a faster storage system than its predecessors through USB 3.0, as well as a true Gigabit Ethernet connection, which is faster than the old network.
Unlike previous versions of Pi, Pi 4 can support two screens, even up to 4K@30 displays, which makes it an even more ideal framework for a low-budget home workstation. This means that when two screens are a necessity, they can both feed off the same kit, saving multitaskers a ton of disk space and opening the door for programmers to consider replacing their desktop with this economical option.
Can Raspberry Pi 4 Replace a Desktop?
As mentioned, Raspberry could potentially replace a desktop, perhaps for the first time, without sacrificing much in the way of utility. At the lowest price option, Pi is just the board – keep that in mind. Users have to buy the Raspberry Pi 4 power supply, monitors, leads, keyboards, and mice. What Raspberry offers is the means to turn those peripherals into a cheap desktop replacement at the cost of a single new video game.
Due to specs targeted for mobile processing, Raspberry Pi 4 won’t measure up to the benchmarks of a high-end PC, but due to software making the shift towards online services, as mentioned, Pi 4 can be optimized without adding additional storage, playback 4K video, and accomplish networking tasks from the comfort of the minimalistic Raspberry Pi 4 operating system. For most users, in terms of load times and features, a computer based on this system would function almost identically to any PC. And with a true Gigabit Ethernet connection, in some cases, it can perform even better.
With a newer CPU and GPU, the Raspberry Pi 4 can be used as a media center, especially since it can play locally encoded video at a very high resolution, as well as supporting built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. Another popular use of Pi 4’s infrastructure is to use emulation to turn it into a desktop retro console using RetroPie. The less demanding the titles, the more users can get out of the limited but stable capabilities of this kit.
What Operating Systems are Available?
Other than its native OS, Raspbian, the Raspberry Pi 4 can run a range of operating systems, including:
Snappy Ubuntu Core
Windows 10 IoT Core
Importantly, the Windows 10 IoT Core is not the same thing as the normal desktop Windows 10. Instead, this Raspberry Pi 4 operating system is controlled by a command line and can only run one universal application at a time. This is very useful for creating a digital kiosk or other display and can simultaneously run software in the background. It wouldn’t be the first choice for a home OS. Don’t expect to be able to run normal desktop apps at high performance.
Despite this fact, for users that must have the Windows 10 experience, Pi 4 can run Windows 10 from a server, streamed to Pi. With its additional RAM and support for dual displays, Pi 4 is the first in its model line to serve as a potential Windows 10 thin client. The potential even exists to port Windows 10, the full desktop version, directly to Pi 4, but that has yet to happen.
How to Work from a Raspberry Pi 4
With the possibility of Pi 4 replacing a desktop, the question for many potential buyers becomes how to work from their Raspberry and what work can be accomplished on a limited system.
As stated, online data storage and networking have largely taken the load off the Pi framework for accomplishing basic computing tasks. More than the previous iterations, Pi 4, especially with Raspbian’s improvements to the default Chromium browser, has enough RAM to serve as a basic desktop database.
As a media center, being able to customize Pi 4 with media-focused operating systems like OSMC or LibreElec and combine that support with the added CPU/GPU power make it viable for many applications beyond simple computing, which include programming and coding, using Raspberry Pi 4 as a platform to learn physical computing, or as a simple toolkit to accomplish your latest tech project.
Physical Computing and Programming on Raspberry Pi 4
The idea of learning programming calls images to people’s minds that involve optimizing software and creating new apps. However, programming can go beyond this with the right tools, into the realm of physical computing, made possible by a versatile toolkit like Raspberry Pi 4. Everything from temperature controls on appliances to programmable kiosks to fighting robots can use programmable hardware made through physical computing. According to Raspberry’s own in-depth user guide, the “general-purpose input/output (GPIO) header” makes physical computing possible on the Pi 4 compared to previous models.
This naturally begs the question: what is the GPIO header and what are its applications for physical computing in both work and play? How will this affect my decision to buy a Raspberry Pi 4?
The GPIO header comes with 40 pins, each of which provides power, communicates with devices, or allows users to tweak add-on hardware. Different pins have different functions, from completing circuits to creating accessories. They are denoted by these PINs: 3V3, 5V, Ground, GPIO XX, ID EEPROM.
If you know what that means, you’re already well on your way to using the Raspberry Pi 4 to complete your hobbies or assemble your latest tech project. If you’re just getting into physical computing, Pi 4 has you covered – novice accessibility is one of the main draws of its brand. They want to turn their buyers into the next generation of physical computers.
One of Pi 4’s introductions to programming involves connecting an LED light to the GPIO header setup and getting it working. From there, the system can lead you through the coding knowledge you will need to optimize your ability to use Pi 4 for all the projects it’s capable of tackling. This includes learning to program with Python, Scratch, and other languages of all user levels.
How the Raspberry Pi 4 Makes Programming Easy
Pi 4 gives users the ability to access as many as 10 programming languages to complete their Raspberry Pi 4 projects, design new web pages and apps, or create interactive stories, art, and games. The Raspbian OS comes well-equipped with software to teach you the basics of programming and prepare you to design, write, run, and debug your own utilities. Depending on your needs as a new or experienced programmer, choose between Pi 4’s versatile list of available languages to fulfill your needs.
Scratch is a programming language made for novice applications, to teach new users how to get a grasp of the language and take the next step in their applications. Scratch allows you to create animation, music, games, art, and other interactive software using an easy-to-learn block-based language. Anyone can learn to create interactive stories and artistic Raspberry Pi 4 projects using the simple tools provided by the Scratch coding language.
The target audience for Scratch is children and teenagers, but anyone can use it as a stepping stone to get to more complex applications possible through Python. Thankfully, the Raspberry Pi 4 supports several programming languages: Scratch is simply the first and most accessible one.
Python, aimed more towards general users and student developers, has beginner-friendly wording and works in many industries. For entry-level and intermediate programming tasks, many users never have to “evolve” beyond Python, as it gives its users access to the frameworks, tools, and data necessary to handle most applications. These include GUI, development for web pages and apps, machine learning, automation, and more. Beginners and developers alike can use Python to turn tech enthusiasm into viable Raspberry Pi 4 projects.
HTML is a user-friendly language so long as you take a couple of weeks to learn the ropes. Building a personal website and optimizing it for multiple browsers, laying out web pages, and developing blogs will come easier with the Raspberry Pi 4.
We won’t devote more space to describing programming languages. Just know that in addition to the 4 listed above, Raspberry Pi 4 can also use JQuery, Java, C, C++, Erlang, and Perl. Most are easy to learn with the Raspberry Pi 4’s utilities and can be navigated by beginners and developers alike to accomplish their programming tasks.
4K Output and Video Streaming on Raspberry Pi 4
Raspberry Pi 4 can handle 4K output and video streaming in a way that past iterations could not. If you plan on using Pi 4 as a media center capable of high-quality streaming, you’ll need the right case. Flirc and Raspberry themselves sell high-quality ones for home entertainment setups. If you know what you’re doing, you can even hack them to add a fan for additional cooling capacity.
You have other application options if you’re trying to make the Raspberry Pi 4 your latest media center. One is the Raspberry Pi TV HAT, which you can use to enable DVR features on a TV connecting to your Pi. You may also consider buying a wireless keyboard with a USB dongle to make the Raspberry Pi 4 more versatile when connecting to a TV that doesn’t support HDMI-CEC.
Regardless of which fan or accessories you choose, the Raspberry Pi 4 can stream 4K videos for the first time, making it an even more versatile asset for those looking for cheap, makeshift media centers created from the comfort of their desktop applications.
Retro Gaming on the Raspberry Pi 4
One of the most popular user applications for Raspberry Pi 4 is as a retro game console, something that the 4th iteration accomplishes far better than the previous models due to the RAM and network upgrades.
You probably already know that emulation is a legally grey area where the emulators themselves, such as RetroPie, are open-source programs, but the ROMs are illegally distributed images of software that someone else bought. To stay ahead of the possibility of any legal repercussions (which rarely, if ever, happen to individual users), use your own ROMs pulled from software you bought wherever possible.
In any case, users that want to get into emulation know what it’s about and the Raspberry Pi 4 provides the perfect tools to turn your desk into an all-purpose retro gaming center. Using RetroPie, probably the most popular emulator out there, you can emulate ROMs from many past console generations, including the NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and N64.
Since previous versions of Raspberry Pi didn’t support RetroPie, this functionality was extremely limited in terms of retro gaming. With the upgraded RAM, you can also emulate 3D games from the PS1 and N64 era such as Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario 64.
To get started using RetroPie to turn the Raspberry Pi 4 into a desktop retro game center, use Etcher to burn the disk image to a microSD, boot it, and then do what it tells you. Even novice users will easily get the hang of it and be able to convert their ROMs into a mini-gaming center, finally with the power and functionality to do it without workarounds.
Can you run Android on Raspberry Pi?
Raspberry’s lightweight systems can handle Linux, especially with the new Raspbian infrastructure changes. Running Android on Raspberry Pi certainly comes with its advantages, not least of which is the ability to create touchscreen apps, as well as running Android-specific software.
To run Android on the Raspberry Pi 4, you first have to install Etcher so you can flash Android to a microSD card. Unzip the image file, launch Etcher, select the file after browsing your device, and hit “Ok.” Etcher will take care of the rest, including detecting your microSD card, reformatting it, and flashing Android.
After that, Android will boot and you can install it. This may be slow initially, but performance should pick up as the system configures. You should see the default Android apps (make sure your Raspberry Pi 4 is connected to the internet). Now that the Raspberry Pi 4 operating system is running, you can use it for new apps, including APK files that you may want to import from your online storage.
Can you install APK on Raspberry Pi?
If you want to import APK files from the Cloud or an external storage device, you only need to install the file by opening the storage in your browser. Give the permissions and follow the instructions.
Just be sure to enable “Unknown Sources” in Settings > Security menu first, which you can find from your desktop.
Other Raspberry Pi 4 projects you can run using Android tech include:
Emteria.OS – this allows you to add private applications, which helps you add apps to your custom Raspberry Pi 4 hardware. You can customize and provision your system easily, as well as configure management across your device.
LineageOS – similar to Emteria but with different features such as different custom button navigation, styles, and settings for system profiles.
Android Things – this is mainly for developers, allowing you to develop apps with Android development tools and APIs. Common software applications like display controllers and temperature sensors are easy to configure with Android Things.
Need a Fan? Power and Heat on Raspberry Pi 4
For the first time in the model’s history, the 4th iteration of the Raspberry Pi touts PC-lite performance. This means that it needs to be thermally managed like a small PC. In fact, heat management is a major aspect of building the right Raspberry Pi 4 infrastructure, including modding the case, as your metal CPU and framework can get pretty hot under even modest loads. Your chips will thank you for taking care of business when it comes to power and heat management, even if you need to shell out a little extra for a case that can handle it.
First, you have to think about what you’ll be using your Raspberry Pi 4 to accomplish. Those who hope to use it as a simple browsing tool, a desktop replacement to surf Wikipedia and check emails, won’t need to worry about the temp as much as those who want to switch between multiple applications, stream videos, and use more complicated functions. These higher-order tasks can easily get your CPU up to 80 degrees C, closed up in a tight case without vents, which is where it’ll start to throttle and performance will drop.
The Raspberry Pi 4 doesn’t come equipped with holes to allow for natural convection, something a lot of users that want to push the system have pleaded for. Its manufacturers may intend it for less strenuous tasks and more novice Raspberry Pi 4 projects. Certainly, the system works best on that level, though it can be easily upgraded with more complicated applications, many of which will require a case that can handle proper heat dispersal.
Modding the Pi subsystems and the case to be able to install a hardware fan becomes a more complex undertaking than we can go into here. Many users have gotten by without installing fans, as Pi 4 doesn’t naturally have room for one. It all depends on your needs as a user, tech enthusiast, developer, or programmer. Either way, it’s doable with the right case and accessories.
Using Raspberry Pi 4 as a Router
Since Raspberry has a built-in Wi-Fi network interface, as well as one for a wired Ethernet network, you can configure your Raspberry Pi 4 into a wireless or wired router as well. This represents one of the most rewarding initial Raspberry Pi 4 projects for a novice programmer using Pi to test their skills.
All you need to do to access this functionality is flash the Raspbian OS onto a microSD card from any browser. You can use Etcher to write the program, which also works on Linux. From there, put the card in the reader and navigate to the boot drive. We can’t go into the nitty-gritty of how to create an ssh film without any file extension here, but that’s where you’ll configure your network password and get ready to put the microSD in Pi. Refer back to that great beginner’s guide offered by Raspberry themselves for more info.
From there, you can connect via ssh and configure the server. The Raspberry Pi 4’s ability to set up a secure network, connect clients, and serve as your house’s Wi-Fi router is another reason to invest in the tech as a way to learn network builds and configurations and how to set up firewalls on a device that you built yourself.
Raspberry 4 Power Supply
The requirements on the Raspberry Pi 4 power supply you need are not set in stone – they depend largely on the applications you plan on running. We recommend a 3A power supply at minimum to cover most functions, including a keyboard, mouse, and camera module.
It may be adequate to run basic programming functions with a standard 2.4A Raspberry Pi 4 power supply, but if you plan on using a hard drive or equipping it with other more complex applications, you’ll need more juice. The right power supply will connect by USB C and have around a 5V capacity.
Storage on Raspberry 4
The USB 2.0 bus on the previous Pi models was so limited that storage benchmarks didn’t matter as much. Now, with a USB 3.0 on the Pi 4, different storage devices have different applications and performance benchmarks on the new infrastructure.
After researching comparisons of storage drives and their potential applications, here’s a general list of ideas for you to consider when comparing your intended tasks with the storage type on your new Pi 4. Since price shifts radically with storage upgrades, use this list to make important purchasing decisions:
Users that want to store a lot of raw data and large files on their drive, as well as turn their Pi into a media server, may want to opt for an Arcanite drive.
Those who hope to turn Pi 4 into a mini desktop that runs basic apps and internet browsing should consider an NVMe as the right storage option.
If you want portability and are willing to sacrifice a little performance just to save space and battery life, you should consider a high-end microSD card as your go-to storage option.
If raw performance is your main goal, the Raspberry Pi 4 will never match up to kits that have built-in SATA drives, so you need to make compromises. Pi’s versatility more than makes up for the performance drop if your applications are appropriate for it.
Regardless of which storage option you choose, it has to be compared to your intended applications. The question of whether you need the 8GB, 4GB, or 2GB build has the same answer. Depending on how much you need the CPU to fire, how much you intend to tax the processors and power, the multi-tasking you intend to do with it, and more, determine the physical memory you need. Just remember that the physical memory determines the price of the Pi 4 more than any other factor.
Where Can I Get a Raspberry Pi 4?
You can buy the 8GB builds from Vilros directly.
Raspberry Pi 4 represents a huge leap over previous models due to its greater physical memory, streaming capabilities, the speed of its ports, power capacity, and more. Those just getting into programming can fuel their Raspberry Pi 4 projects to learn the ropes of the basic languages, physical computing, coding, and even create their own applications like a RetroPie-based gaming console.
Whether you want to create a cheap desktop or laptop, a makeshift media center, or a specific tech and robotics project, Raspberry Pi 4 can be used as an entry-level programming kit, provided you have the right case and accessories. Even experts can use it as a starting platform for their latest application in a starting price range, so long as they know the Raspberry Pi 4’s limitations even better than they know its capabilities.