“You do understand the circuits cannot be cut locally?”

Die Hard (1988)

Arduino vs. Raspberry Pi: a battle as old as… a few years. Though it isn’t really much of a battle since both interfaces provide vastly different experiences. We’re going to take a look at some of the similarities and differences between the two and hopefully help you decide which one (or both) is the right fit for your project.

What Are the Big Differences?

First, let’s look at the key differences between the two systems. Arduino is a microCONTROLLER, while Raspberry Pi is a microPROCESSOR. Microcontrollers require hardware to control. Microprocessors are essentially pocket-sized computers. The easiest way to think of it is in biological terms- Arduino is our central nervous system and RPi is our brain. The nervous system on its own can’t do much; it needs a physical body to control. The brain, however, is always working, always processing.

Arduino is a much simpler system, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less useful. If your project only requires turning some lights on and off, a micro computer is overkill. Generally speaking, Arduino is good for projects that require only a couple of different actions, or one action done repeatedly. Because it is simpler, Arduino is also more user-friendly. Since it doesn’t have it’s own operating system (like RPi does), your coding is done on a separate computer or tablet. From there, countless websites and forums are dedicated to Arduino. Whatever task you need done, chances are there’s a peripheral attachment or existing code you can copy/paste for yourself. If you’re new to coding and like to work backwards to figure out how things work, Arduino is perfect.

As mentioned earlier, Raspberry Pi is more like a computer. In fact, it runs a unique version of Linux as its OS (although the savviest of us can choose from dozens of others). RPi’s usually come with a graphics card, sound card, USB and SD card slots, and HDMI outputs all on a motherboard about the size of a credit card. Since RPi is closer to a computer, it can handle more information and control more processes than Arduino. Raspberry Pi allows users almost complete control of their project from top to bottom. Every aspect can be coded to have specific actions and reactions, something Arduino does not offer.

So Which One Is Right For You?

Again, that all depends on what you need. If you want your exterior lights to turn on automatically when the sun goes down, that’s simple enough for Arduino. If you want your exterior lights to turn on automatically when the sun goes down, brighten more when it’s raining, dim when you’re backing your car down the driveway, and flash like a disco whenever you walk past them, you’ll need a Raspberry Pi for all that.

A lot of home automation systems can be replicated with Arduino. The system is perfect for purely automated tasks that require little intervention. You can even then use an RPi to control the Arduinos. That’s right, Arduino and Raspberry Pi can play well with each other too.

Another factor to consider is power usage. Arduino uses less power than RPI does (about .14W vs. 1.7W for RPi). Does your project need to run on batteries? You might be better off trying to get it to function with Arduino to extend its usable life. If your project is going to be powered, you may also want to note that Arduino systems will resume functionality immediately after an unexpected power loss while Raspberry Pi systems need time to reboot.

No matter which system you decide to go with, the price won’t be too steep. Both are very affordable. Arduino will run about $20 for the base system and a few extra bucks for each peripheral you may want to add. RPi comes in at around $35 – $50 depending on how powerful you want it to be. It’s important to also factor in control. You will need a computer or tablet with a USB port to control Arduino. For RPi you will need a USB keyboard and mouse.

There is a plethora of useful information out there that can take you even deeper into how both Arduino and Raspberry Pi work but hopefully this quick guide helped you decide WHICH you want to use.