Top Raspberry Pi Frequently Asked Questions

Raspberry Pi is the name of a series of single-board computers made by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK charity that aims to educate people in computing and create easier access to computing education.

The Raspberry Pi launched in 2012, and there have been several iterations and variations released since then. The original Pi had a single-core 700MHz CPU and just 256MB RAM, and the latest model has a quad-core 1.4GHz CPU with 1GB RAM. The main price point for Raspberry Pi has always been $35 and all models have been $35 or less, including the Pi Zero, which costs just $5.

All over the world, people use Raspberry Pis to learn programming skills, build hardware projects, do home automation, and even use them in industrial applications.

The Raspberry Pi is a very cheap computer that runs Linux, but it also provides a set of GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins that allow you to control electronic components for physical computing and explore the Internet of Things (IoT).

Much of the coverage around the web focuses on the more fantastical projects such as magic mirrors, portable Retropie gaming handhelds, intelligent drones, and so forth. Those maker masterpieces show what sort of power the $35 mini-PC is capable of in the hands of someone with imagination and spare electronics, especially now that the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ includes a faster processor, power-over-ethernet capabilities and better network connectivity across the board.

But most people, particularly beginners, won’t use the Raspberry Pi to whip up crazy creations. There are near-endless practical uses for this bare-bones kit, from media streaming to extending the range of your Wi-Fi network!

Check out our project page for a list of beginners to advanced creations:

The Raspberry Pi is just a bare board–it doesn’t come with a case, any cables, or even a power source. So, you’ll have to purchase these things yourself along with your Pi. Here’s the other stuff you’ll need to buy (if you don’t already have it lying around).

A stable power source: The Raspberry Pi draws its power from a microUSB port and requires a microUSB-to-AC adapter. Because the Pi is a micro computer and not simply a cellphone getting a battery topped off, you need to use a high quality charger with stable power delivery that provides a consistent 5v with at least 700mA minimum output for older model units and 2.5A for the Pi 3.

Using a low-quality or under-powered charger is the number one source of system instability problems and frustration with the Raspberry Pi. You can stave off a pile of future headaches by simply getting a very high-quality power source, preferably one designed for the Pi.

A case: The Pi ships naked; you are going to need a proper case to enclose it. You can pick up an acrylic/plastic case for around $10 - $25, or go the more creative route and craft your own case (as many did shortly after the Pi was released).

When you’re shopping, be careful to check you’re purchasing the right case for you model. Significant changes to the Raspberry Pi board over the last few years, including the movement and outright removal of certain ports, means older cases won’t fit newer models.

SD card: The older Pi units used a full size SD card but the Pi 2 and Pi 3 use microSD cards. The Raspberry Pi Foundation recommends, at minimum, a 4GB Class 4 SD card. But since SD cards are cheap these days, we recommend going for at least an 16GB Class 10 SD card for an older Pi or a 16GB Class 10 microSD card for the newer models.

Audio/Visual cables: If you’re connecting your Pi to an HDTV or newer computer monitor with HDMI support, you will need an HDMI cable–all PI units support HDMI output.

For digital video to a standard computer monitor that lacks an HDMI port, you will need an HDMI to DVI cable for the video signal and a 3.5mm stereo cable for the sound (as you’ll lose the sound in the HDMI to DVI conversion).

Some Pis also have analog outputs for older TVs. If you are connecting and older Pi to an analog television set, you will need an RCA cable for the video and a 3.5mm stereo cable for the sound. You don’t need to purchase a specific RCA cable for the task, you could even use a yellow-red-white tri-cable you have laying around—just make sure to match up the colors on both ends of the cable when you plug it in.

If you need to connect a newer Pi unit to an SD/analog video source you will need to purchase an adapter cable known as a 3.5mm to RCA adapter or a TRRS AV breakout cable. Because such cables are notorious for being out of spec/standard and not working with the device you want, we highly recommend just picking up this cheap and highly reviewed unit that is known to be compatible with the Raspberry Pi.

An Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi adapter: Network connectivity isn’t an absolute necessity for the Pi, but it makes updating (and downloading) software so much easier and gives you access to a wide variety of network-dependent applications. And obviously, if your project relies on being connected to your network or the internet, you’ll need Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

All versions of the Pi have an Ethernet port onboard, so you can just plug in an Ethernet cable and go. If you want to use Wi-Fi, the Pi 3 has Wi-Fi built in. If you have an older Pi, you can buy one of the many micro Wi-Fi adapters compatible with the Pi. We have had great success with the tiny Edimax EW-7811Un adapter and have used it in multiple builds.

A Mouse and Keyboard: Even if your ultimate goal is to build a headless file server or other no-input-peripherals/monitor device, you will still need a mouse and keyboard to get your Pi up and running.

Any standard wired USB keyboard and mouse should work without any problems with your Raspberry Pi. There is one caveat to that statement, however: per USB design specifications, USB-based keyboards and mice should draw less than 100mAh of power but many models disregard that specification and draw more.

On older Pi units, this extra draw is problematic, as the USB ports were notoriously fussy. If you find that your peripherals are drawing more than 100mAh each, you will need to use a powered USB hub. On newer models this should be less of a problem as the USB ports are significantly improved and the units user bigger power supply units.

The Raspberry Pi itself doesn’t come with an operating system. For that, you need NOOBS, short for New Out of the Box Software. It’s an operating system manager that makes it easy to download, install, and set up your Raspberry Pi. When you first boot up NOOBS, you’ll get a selection of OSes to choose from. Which operating systems are available depends on which model of Raspberry Pi you are using. The most common operating system is Rasbian.

While downloading NOOBS is simple, you can buy an SD card with NOOBS preinstalled. If you prefer the DIY route, the setup process is very straightforward and you’ll find a full guide over on the Raspberry Pi site. On the first boot, NOOBS greets you with a selection of operating systems. You can install as many as you want that’ll fit on your SD card.

There is a multitude of operating system (OS) options for the Raspberry Pi, Rasbian remains the most popular and the top choice.

This list includes the Operating Systems typically in NOOBS and more.

Raspbian is a Debian-based engineered especially for the Raspberry Pi and it is the perfect general-purpose OS for Raspberry users.

It employs the Openbox stacking window manager and the Pi Improved Xwindows Environment Lightweight coupled with a number of pre-installed software which includes Minecraft Pi, Java, Mathematica, and Chromium.

Raspbian is the Raspberry foundation’s official supported OS and is capable of accomplishing any task you throw at it.

OSMC (Open Source Media Center) is a free, simple, open-source, and easy-to-use standalone Kodi OS capable of playing virtually any media format.

It features a modern beautiful minimalist User Interface and is completely customizable thanks to the several built-in images that it comes with. Choose OSMC if you run the Raspberry Pi for managing media content.

OpenELEC (Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center) is a small Linux-based JeOS (Just enough Operating System) developed from scratch to turn PCs into a Kodi media center.

You can think of OpenELEC as a barebones Kodi as it has fewer customization options and limits access to certain areas e.g. SSH and it is more complex to customize.

Nevertheless, OpenELEC is a powerful media center that might suit your needs if OSMC doesn’t.

RISC OS is a unique open-source OS designed specifically for ARM processors by the creators of the original ARM. It is neither related to Linux nor Windows and is being maintained by a dedicated community of volunteers.

If you want to choose RISC OS, you should know that it is very different from any Linux distro or Windows OS you have used so it will take some getting used to.

Windows IoT Core is a Windows OS built specially for the Raspberry Pi as a development platform for programmers and coders. Its aim is for programmers to use it to build prototypes of IoT devices using the Raspberry Pi and Windows 10.

It has an emphasis on security, connectivity, creation, and cloud integration. Unlike other titles on this list, you can’t use it without running Windows 10 on your PC as you need Visual Studioon a Windows 10 setup to work with it.

Lakka is a free, lightweight, and open-source distro with which you can turn even the smallest PC into a full-blown game console without the need for a keyboard or mouse.

It features a beautiful User Interface and so many customization options you might get overwhelmed. Its PS4-like UX brings style to the Raspberry Pi so pick it if you’re a gamer.

RaspBSD is a free and open-source image of FreeBSD 11 that has been preconfigured in 2 images for Raspberry Pi computers.

If you didn’t know, FreeBSD isn’t Linux, but it works in pretty much the same way as it is a descendant of the research by the Berkeley Software Distribution and it is among the world’s most broadly used Operating Systems today with its code existing in game consoles e.g. PlayStation 4, macOS, etc.

RetroPie is an open-source Debian-based software library with which you can emulate retro games on your Raspberry Pi, PC, or ODroid C1/C2 and it currently stands as the most popular option for that task.

RetroPie used the EmulationStation frontend and SBC to offer users a pleasant retro gaming experience so you can’t go wrong with it.

Ubuntu Core is the version of Ubuntu designed for Internet of Things applications. Ubuntu is the most popular Linux-based Operating System in the world with over 20+ derivatives and given that it has an active and welcoming forum, it will be easy to get up and running with Ubuntu Snappy Core on your Raspberry Pi.

Linutop OS is a secure Raspbian-based Web Kiosk and digital signage player. It is dedicated to professionals with the need to deploy public Internet stalls and digital signage solutions using Raspberries.

This OS is perfect if you run hotels, restaurants, shops, city halls, offices, museums, etc. and it is compatible with Raspberry Pi B, B+ and 2.

The two important differences between the model 3 and the model 3 B+ is a new network interface and a slight processor revision.

The changes to the network interface are a much bigger deal than the SoC bump so we'll start there. The model 3 B+ brings three important changes to networking:

PoE (Power over Ethernet) is supported via a stand-alone 4-pin connector. Of course, the connector also supports the use of a HAT (Hardware Attached on Top).

Gigabit Ethernet is supported by the new Ethernet connector. Speeds on the Pi's slim hardware won't reach the maximum, but it's claimed to average around 300Mb/second. No more jamming up your traffic by having a slow 100Base "Fast Ethernet" device on your 1000Base network.

Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi is now standard via a new wireless chip, and the same antenna design used on the Pi Zero is built into the PCB. The placement and design on the new chip also allow the B 3+ to meet the FCC's modular conformance compliance requirements which would eliminate the usual long wait times for approval if you're thinking of integrating a Pi into a commercial product.

The processor upgrade isn't enough to warrant a new part number, but the SoC package itself has visibly changed so you might need a new heatsink of your project calls for one. The revision brings one thing to the Broadcom BCM2837 SoC — it's now clocked at a maximum of 1.4GHz instead of 1.2GHz.

The big draw why you might want to consider sourcing a Raspberry Pi B 3+, is PoE. In case you aren't familiar, PoE allows you to power a device over its Ethernet connection. It's a boon to DIY'ers and Makers because it means you only need to run a single wire for networking and power and that you can control the power programmatically without wiring in any sort of switch or relay.

With a standard model 3 B, you would have to use an enclosure big enough to accommodate a special splitter or use an enclosure that has PoE integrated. That's an increase in cost and takes away a bit of the usability a small single board computer has due to its size. If you're planning on building any sort of remote smart IoT box you're better served to buy a 3 B+. If you don't use PoE now, you still have the option in the future without any changes to the board.

The changes to the network interfaces also mean a 3 B+ is the right board if you're building your own NAS or media streaming box using a Raspberry Pi. Clients can take advantage of the faster and wider Wi-Fi connection, and the new NIC supports 9KB "Jumbo" frames in addition to a 1000Base-TX network. Jumbo frames allow for more than the standard 1500 bytes of Ethernet payload per packet, and in this case payloads up to (theoretically) 9 KB (9000 bytes) are supported. These changes mean that any streaming box driven by a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ can send and receive data faster over an Ethernet connection.

RetroPie is a software library used to emulate retro video games on the Raspberry Pi. RetroPie runs Emulation Station and supports all major retro video game emulators, allowing you to play games from the NES, SNES, Genesis, Atari, and more on your Pi, thus becoming your own Raspberry Pi emulator.

An Arduino is a microcontroller motherboard. A microcontroller is a simple computer that can run one program at a time, over and over again. It is very easy to use.

A Raspberry Pi is a general-purpose computer, usually with a Linux operating system, and the ability to run multiple programs. It is more complicated to use than an Arduino. To read more details head over to our blog please click here 

The Raspberry Pi Zero is half the size of a Model A+, with twice the utility. A tiny Raspberry Pi that's affordable enough for any project! 1GHz single-core CPU. 512MB RAM. Mini HDMI port.

There are two chips on a Raspberry Pi 3 board that can get very hot if the device is working hard: the central processing unit, and the chip that controls the Ethernet and USB ports. These chips are both black in color. Take one of the heat sinks and look for the chip that matches its size. Unpeel the 3M adhesive on the bottom of the heat sink and place it (in any direction) so it fits squarely on the chip. Repeat the process for the other heat sink. 

A kernel panic is a safety measure taken by an operating system's kernel upon detecting an internal fatal error in which it either is unable to safely recover or cannot have the system continue to run without having a much higher risk of major data loss. The term is largely specific to Unix and Unix-like systems.

The SD card that has NOOBS pre-installed is absolutely the full size of hat the cards label says. The SD card has partitions on it along with the NOOBS software. Read this article on how to see the full capacity of the SD card. 

The Raspberry Pi B+ and Model B require a MicroSD card. SD cards come in a range of storage sizes. You will likely need more than 2 GB.

It is pretty simple to get back to the software installation screen to reinstall software. 

You must connect a keyboard and mouse so you can hit the SHIFT Key. 

Reboot the Pi board and you will see a screen come up that says "Press the SHIFT key to get back to the software installation screen" This goes away quickly so have your finger on the shift key ready to press it. You'll also have to press and hold the shift key for about 2 seconds; don't just tap it. 

Once you are at the software installation screen make sure there are checks in the check boxes next to the software you want to to install or reinstall. Then click Install. *Bear in mind that this process will OVERRIGHT everything that was previously on the SD card. 

If you miss the screen or make a mistake in choosing software you will have to unplug the Pi and try again. 

The Resources page is where you'll find our NOOBS/RetroPie image. Under Downloads click "Download the NOOBS/RetroPie Image"

The power supply when switched to the on position may not be providing enough voltage. We can send you a replacement power supply. Please email with your Amazon or Vilros order number and briefly describe the issue and we will get a replacement power supply out to you as soon as possible

A rainbow splash screen is displayed after software is loaded. This should be replaced by linux script console a second later. If the rainbow screen remains, it suggests a software file is failing to run. Try reformatting and downloading the current NOOBS/RetroPie software from us again and the problem should be resolved. If you received the SD card in your kit email and we can further assist.