ASK AN EDUCATOR! – “Whats the difference between Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBoard, etc?”

Bruno asks:

I’m a self-taught DIY’er, and have been learning electronics for some time now. As i’ve started building my 1st 3d printer, i have to use an Arduino Mega 2560. I’d rather learn how to use an Arduino properly, instead of just dumping code into it and let it run.

So my question is, what is the difference between a microcontroller (Arduino and Arduino-like platforms) and something like a BeagleBoard/Bone or a RaspberryPi (I realise these a full-blown computers)? What are they intended uses for each type of platform; when should you use one or the other? What are they, and what are they not?

Great question. Comparing Arduino to something like BeagleBoard or Raspberry Pi is like comparing a calculator to a laptop. They each have their purpose. The Arduino platform is designed around a relatively low power microcontroller that gives the user complete control of its hardware. Through the use of the Arduino IDE, you can write programs (<32Kb) that can interface with almost limitless hardware including switches, sensors, LCDs, other microcontrollers, the internet, etc.

Regarding devices like Raspberry Pi and BeagleBoard, they are designed to function on a much higher level. With already integrated hardware that takes care of things like ethernet, video and audio processing, large quantities of RAM and an almost unlimited amount of storage space, they are really mini-computers. You are able to run complete operating systems, like Linux and Android, and develop programs within those operating systems that can control the systems functions and the IO that are made available.

If you were to design a control panel for a microwave, you could use an AVR like Arduino. It could drive the LCD, interface with the buttons, and sense the conditions inside the appliance. You could have also used a device like Raspberry Pi or BeagleBoard, but it would be overkill for the task. Now if your microwave needed a high resolution multi-touch LCD that Tweeted what you were cooking while checking your stocks…..

Below is a chart I threw together to compare the hardware between lower power devices like Arduino and Propeller to the big-guns like Raspberry Pi and BeagleBoard:

Good luck with your 3D printer. I just finished mine and went the route of an Arduino Uno + grblhield + Teacup firmware and have a pretty rock solid system. Just make sure you actively cool the grblhield on long runs.

I hope this has helped to answer your question!

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  1. Arduino (ATmega328, etc) is 8 bit architecture, not 16 bit.

  2. Wouldn’t the ATMega chips be better described as 8-bit? There are a few 16-bit instructions and a 16-bit address space (17-bit on the ATMega128 variants), but the register word size is only eight bits and most operations only work on a register at a time.

    An additional point of comparison that might be useful is +5V tolerance of the input pins. The Beaglebone, for instance, can not handle it, but the Arduinos have no problem with it (or with negative inputs, since they have internal diode clamps on the pins).

  3. The Beagle Bone would be a good addition to you list. As the littler brother to the Beagle Board, at 40% of the cost of the Beagle Board it’s a good contender for devices that need more processing power.

  4. Hi

    AFAIK, the RasPi doesn’t have any audio Input 🙁

    Check http://www.raspberrypi.org/faqs (section “What about standard audio in and out?”)


  5. Ahhh…thank you for the 8bit catch and the note about audio in on Raspberry….so many datasheets.

    Updates have been made!

    I didn’t bother putting BeagleBone on the chart, even though it is more hardware centric, as I wanted to keep the size down while capturing the essence of each platform.


  6. Raspberry Pi has audio input via USB, but nothing dedicated.

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