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Buying guide for best raspberry pi kits

When the first Raspberry Pi micro computer was released in 2012, no one had any idea how popular it would become – but who could have predicted that a tiny motherboard and chip would go on to be the go-to hardware for DIY-ers and techies alike?

Over the years, Raspberry Pi enthusiasts have invented dozens of uses for the little computer that could – everything from digital jukeboxes to home security systems. The Raspberry Pi is fast enough to function as a competent desktop computer, extensible enough to work with dozens of custom accessories, and still small enough to fit in your pocket.

Most Raspberry Pi computers are sold as part of a kit that includes the basics you’ll need to get started, but every bundle is a little bit different, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for, what features you can leave behind, and which you shouldn’t live without.

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The name Raspberry Pi was inspired by the fruit-based naming of several microcomputer companies from the early days of technology, as well as the fact that the first Raspberry Pi was originally only intended to run the Python programming language.

Picking your Raspberry Pi project

The first thing to decide before buying a Raspberry Pi kit is what you’re going to use it for. There are countless projects available online from other users, but generally, the most popular uses for a Raspberry Pi include the following.

Building a media center

A media center is a computer that houses all of your pictures and videos and allows you to access them through a streamlined, Roku-style interface. If you’ve ever wanted a jukebox in your home, or if you just want a simple way to make your personal media available to other devices on your network, a Raspberry Pi media center delivers a high-end experience for a low-end price tag.

Building a Linux computer

Linux, the open-source operating system, has come a long way since its inception, and the operating system that was once only for techies is now easy enough for anyone to use. A Raspberry Pi is a great way to learn Linux without having to invest hundreds of dollars in a computer.

Playing old-school video games

If you miss the days of your Atari 2600 or just need a quick fix of Frogger, Q-Bert, or Asteroids, it’s easy to set up a Raspberry Pi to be your own personal retro arcade – no quarters needed.

Making an old printer wireless

If you’re looking for the convenience of wireless printing but can’t justify the expense of a new printer, a Raspberry Pi can be used as an intermediary (also known as a print server). By setting up a Raspberry Pi as a print server, any device on your network can send documents for printing remotely.

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Expert Tip
If you’re looking for a challenging Raspberry Pi project, try building your own digital assistant with it. Both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home can function on a Raspberry Pi, and while installation and setup can be challenging, having a custom-made device that can respond to voice commands is worth it.

What comes with a Raspberry Pi kit?

Most Raspberry Pi kits come with everything you need to build one, with the exception of a mouse, keyboard, or monitor. Every Raspberry Pi kit should, at a minimum, include the following.

  • Raspberry Pi motherboard: The Raspberry Pi itself is a motherboard with a built-in CPU. It may not look like much, but it’s the brains behind the whole operation.

  • Heat sinks: Heat sinks are devices that help the motherboard and CPU dissipate heat (because excessive heat can permanently damage any computer). Don’t buy a Raspberry Pi kit that doesn’t include heat sinks.

  • Case: It may seem funny to think about building a computer without a case, but some people do it. Using a case will help keep your Raspberry Pi free from dust and dirt and will ensure it lasts a long time.

  • Power supply: You’re going to need to plug in your Raspberry Pi, so make sure the kit you buy includes a power supply.

  • Micro SD card reader and micro SD card: Your Raspberry Pi will need storage, and micro Secure Digital (SD) cards are the perfect form factor. Just remember that your storage will use one of your available USB slots. It’s OK to buy a Raspberry Pi kit that doesn’t include a storage solution, but if you do, you’ll need to purchase your own storage separately.

"If you buy a Raspberry Pi kit that includes a micro SD card, get one with at least 32GB of space. A 32GB card will hold everything you need for a given project while still leaving you plenty of room for your own personal files."

Upgrades you can make later

Raspberry Pi kits come with the basics to get you started on your mini-computing journey, but things get even more fun when you explore the dozens of different add-ons you can purchase to add new functionality. Here are a few of our favourite upgrades you can make after you buy your kit.

  • Display/touchscreen: You’ll need a monitor for your Raspberry Pi, so why not make it a touchscreen? Touchscreens for the Raspberry Pi are perfect for the smartphone-like interfaces of the most common Raspberry Pi applications.

  • Storage: A micro SD card may not be enough to hold all of your music, movies, and photos, so start thinking about where you’ll keep the digital content your Raspberry Pi will be accessing. If you have less than a few gigabytes of personal data, an external hard drive will do; if you have significantly more than that, look into buying a Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit.

  • Connectivity: By default, Raspberry Pis come with Ethernet jacks for creating a hard-wired connection to your network and the internet. However, you may want to customize how you get data to and from your Raspberry Pi – in which case it’s worth it to investigate compatible WiFi and Bluetooth adapters.

  • Input devices: Oddly, most Raspberry Pi kits don’t include any input methods, so you’ll need to bring your own mouse, keyboard, or game controller. Thankfully, this means you can pick out the perfect ones for yourself.

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Did you know?
Raspberry Pi power supplies use a standard micro USB connection, so you can use practically any micro USB plug – like those common to many Android phones – as a replacement option.

Raspberry Pi kit prices

Although all Raspberry Pi kits are affordable when compared to the competition, it definitely pays to be aware of what you’re getting for your money. Raspberry Pi kits are usually priced in one of three main ranges.

  • In the $50 to $74 range, expect to see “barebones” kits that include the Raspberry Pi, heat sinks, a power supply, and not much else. Kits in this price range are ideal for anyone who already owns accessories like an SD card reader or SD cards. Raspberry Pi kits in this price range are generally not a good value because you’ll still need to buy additional peripherals – like storage – to get started.

  • In the $75 to $99 range, you’ll encounter Raspberry Pi kits that include the basics and some well-chosen accessories. While kits in this price range are missing some of the fancier accessories (like a touchscreen monitor or WiFi), they provide a good experience right out of the box and can always be upgraded later.

  • In the $100 to $150 range, you’ll find kits that include everything you need and then some. If you’re looking for a complete solution that includes WiFi, a spacious hard drive, and a small touchscreen, expect to pay closer to the high end of this range.


Before buying a Raspberry Pi kit, consider these tips.

  • Make sure you have a clean area for building your Raspberry Pi. At the end of the day, Raspberry Pis are computers, and any area where you’re working on a computer should be free of dust and dirt to ensure optimal performance. Any small workspace should give you enough room to build – just wipe it down before you get started.

  • Pick your project before you buy. Some projects require extra hardware, and some Raspberry Pi kits are designed for specific projects. Choose the project you’ll be using your Raspberry Pi with, then buy the kit and accessories that are necessary. For example, if you plan on building a retro gaming arcade unit, you’ll need a kit that has a five-watt power supply.

  • Buy a wireless mouse and keyboard with your Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pi kits don’t include any input devices, so you’ll need to bring your own mouse and keyboard. The Raspberry Pi has a limited number of USB ports, so we recommend buying a wireless keyboard and mouse bundle that can connect both using the same single USB wireless adapter.

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If you have areas in your home with poor WiFi reception, you can use a Raspberry Pi with a WiFi adapter as a WiFi signal extender.


Q. Can I put Microsoft Windows on a Raspberry Pi?

A. Sort of. Standard versions of Microsoft Windows require more computer horsepower than the Raspberry Pi has to offer, but Microsoft has made a special version of Windows – known as Windows IoT Core – designed for use with smart-home Internet of Things (IoT) products. Windows IoT Core is useful for managing smart-home tools like a Nest thermostat or smart light bulbs. If you need a traditional desktop operating system, research using Linux on your Raspberry Pi instead of Windows – which is a lot easier and more user-friendly than it sounds.
Q. Can I use a Raspberry Pi with any computer monitor?

A. Yes. All Raspberry Pi computers include HDMI output, which is the standard video port type for TVs and monitors. Some rare or older monitors may not have HDMI ports, but these can be easily connected to a Raspberry Pi with an adapter (purchased separately).

Q. Do you have to be a “techie” to use a Raspberry Pi?

A. No. The Raspberry Pi is designed to be accessible to all ages and technical backgrounds. If you can follow LEGO instructions or assemble IKEA furniture, you’ll have no trouble building a Raspberry Pi and using it to run your favourite project. Just don’t forget to search the web for help if you ever get stuck.

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