What’s the Difference Between a Raspberry Pi and a Computer?


Over the past five years, the Raspberry Pi Foundation sold 12.5 million single computers worldwide. The device’s popularity has been steadily increasing over time, with more people taking it up. The latest Raspberry Pi device can do most of the daily tasks a decent computer can do. The truth is that there are fundamental differences between these two devices that are impossible to ignore.

A Raspberry Pi is just a motherboard. Aside from that, the major differences between the Raspberry Pi and a computer are in the construction, size, price, connectivity, memory, and storage. Other differences include input/output components such as ports, storage options, screens, RAM, and construction/design.

Since the launch of Raspberry Pi devices, the team behind it has revolutionized what a credit-card-size computer can do. This technology stands on the shoulders of many computing giants. In this article, I’ll discuss the differences between the Raspberry Pi and a regular computer. So sit back, relax, and read on to find out more.

If you are looking to quickly progress on Raspberry Pi, you can check out my e-book here. It’s a 30-day challenge, where you learn one new thing every day until you become a Raspberry Pi expert. The first third of the book teaches you the basics, but the following chapters include projects you can try on your own.

Differences Between a Raspberry Pi and a Computer

Several factors make your regular computer, different from the Raspberry Pi. Given that both these devices work to perform a similar function, it’s quite hard to overlook some of these differences.

These differences relate to the design/outlook of the devices and how they operate. So if you are looking to choose between the two based on these differences, fear not. I have what you need!

1.    Construction

The regular desktop which you are used to is made up of several interconnected components. The foundation/basis of a regular computer is the motherboard. It has other components such as RAM, storage, CPU, and GPU. These are connected to the motherboard using standard connectors. This forms a complete desktop tower.

Computer Components on a Motherboard

The case for a Raspberry Pi on the other hand is quite different. It is all in one! Compared to a computer, the Raspberry Pi has a very tiny motherboard (about the size of a credit card). The thing is that it’s a motherboard!

All components are soldered directly onto the motherboard, thus eliminating any possibility for replacement or an upgrade.

Raspberry Pi components are also limited in amount. For example, there are only a few USB ports (depending on the model), and there is a speaker output but no microphone (learn how to use one here).

2.    Size

Another difference that is impossible to disregard is the size. Both the Raspberry Pi and the regular computer vary in size.

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As we have already mentioned, the Raspberry Pi has the average size of your credit card. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has done a great job in retaining the simplicity in size of this fantastic device. They have done this while still being able to add more amazing features and improvements in both speed and capacity.

The latest size of Raspberry Pi is 85.60 mm × 56.5 mm × 17 mm.
In contrast, an average desktop tower measures 14 × 7 inches for the mini tower and 24 × 8 inches for the full tower cases.

The Raspberry Pi, therefore, has the convenience of portability over computers.

3.    Price

It should come as no surprise that price is one of the major differences between the Raspberry Pi and a regular computer.

If you are in the market for a new computer, you can expect to pay anything between $400 and $3500 depending on the storage and performance of the computer. For most people, this is usually quite a lot.

For example, a decent Acer Desktop (i3/8 GB/SSD) is available at the cheapest price of this range (check the details on Amazon), while a recent Apple iMac can quickly reach the top (check the price on Amazon).

On the other hand, Raspberry Pi is believed to be cheaper. Model A costs a shocking $25 and model B costs $35. The truth, however, is that you may actually end up spending between four and 10 times that much.

When you think of a computer, you imagine a complete system, not a bare motherboard. However, that Raspberry Pi is only a motherboard for $35. The reason why this figure may go up is that you may need to spend more money on getting storage, a power adapter, and a monitor. So, you could end up spending more on a Raspberry Pi.

You can check my resources pages to get a better idea of what to expect to get started with a Raspberry Pi.

In most cases, however, the price of a regular computer is usually higher than that of a Raspberry Pi.

Note: as with many other things in the world currently, there is a shortage in the Raspberry Pi supply chain that lead some online sellers to significantly increase the Raspberry Pi prices. Make sure to pay the right price by reading these recommendations.

4.    Memory and Storage

The Raspberry Pi uses a micro SD card that stores both system and data. Compared to modern hard drives or SSD commonly found in computers, reading and writing on the card can be quite slow.
You can read my benchmark here to get more details about this.

sandisk extreme pro fast sd card

Also, standard micro SD cards have a lifetime of 10 years. The truth, however, is that you may have to replace it sooner because operating systems write and read many times over which can reduce its lifetime.

The average RAM on Raspberry Pi is about 1 GB, with a maximum of 8 GB on the Raspberry Pi 4. Computers on the other hand have hard drives/SSD for storage. These come with the devices. In general, the average RAM of computers is also relatively higher than that of a Raspberry Pi.

5.    Connectivity

Connectivity includes both the internet capabilities and the ability of other devices to connect to or with the computer.

The latest Raspberry Pi has a lot more ports than its predecessors. It has 4 USB ports, 1 or 2 HDMI output, 1 audio port, an Ethernet port, as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities.

Download the Pi Glossary!
If you are lost in all these new words and abbreviations, request my free Raspberry Pi glossary here (PDF format)!

When you compare this to an average computer, you might lack some features. You will miss extra USB ports, microphone port, audio line out port, HDD/SSD/SATA hard drive support, and SD card port.

6.    Architecture

Today, most manufacturers are phasing out 32-bit CPUs. It’s therefore more likely for a desktop to run a 64-bit CPU. Ever since IBM rolled out their first PC in the 80s, the architecture used was either ×86 or × 64.

This was also referred to as CISC architecture. Most of the CPUs were manufactured and distributed by Intel. Since most PCs used Intel chips, an OS working on one machine could work on another with a few adjustments since the CPU instruction set was similar.

These days, most computers are running on a ×64/AMD64 architecture.
On the other hand, the Raspberry Pi uses a mobile processor- an ARM CPU that uses a different instruction set. It is also referred to as RISC architecture.

Operating systems and programs that work well on a ×64 won’t work on an ARM system, and vice versa.

Here is a list of the best operating systems available on Raspberry Pi. Make sure the one you want to use is compatible.

Related article: Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit vs 32-bit (Which One To Install?)

7.    Screen/Monitor

Raspberry Pi has no screen or monitor, It only comes as a motherboard, and you are required to connect this to a monitor. A computer, on the other hand, comes with a screen.

Raspberry PiComputer
ConstructionIt is a motherboard. All components are soldered directly onto the motherboardThe basis is the motherboard. It has other components such as RAM, Storage, CPU, and GPU that are connected to the motherboard using standard connectors.
SizeAverage 85.60 mm × 56.5 mm × 17 mm14 × 7 inches for the mini-tower and 24 × 8 inches for the full tower cases
Price$25 for model A and $35 for model B motherboard.$400-$3500 for the entire computer.
Memory and StorageRAM between 1 and 8 GB. Micro SD card for storage.Average RAM of 4 GB and Hard Drive/SSD for storage.
ConnectivityHas 4 USB ports, 1 HDMI monitor minimum, 1 audio port, and an Ethernet port. Has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities. No Microphone, and no additional ports.Highly depends on the computer model, but usually includes at least the equivalent, with options for easy expansion.
ArchitectureARMAMD64
ScreenNo screenCan have a screen
Comparison table between a Raspberry Pi and a computer

All these are differences between these devices. They affect how the devices operate and how they are designed. Hopefully, this has cleared things up a bit.

Can Raspberry Pi Be Used as a Computer?

The latest version of the Raspberry Pi is on the cusp of challenging even the most modern of today’s PC.

The Raspberry Pi 4 has seen a bump in processing power from previous versions, and it has elevated performance up to a point where it can be used as a desktop computer!

The Raspberry Pi 400 is even more intentional for this purpose, as it’s sold inside a desktop keyboard.

The truth is that the Raspberry Pi makes you put some effort into getting it to work well as a PC. Users who have tried the Raspberry Pi out as a PC may have several complaints to put forward in the past, but step-by-step they are fixed. It’s a different operating system, and you’ll probably need to change your habits, but nothing is impossible.

To answer the question definitively, yes! The Raspberry Pi can be used as a computer.

The only catch is that you will have to make some adjustments to how you work and also to the official Raspberry Pi OS. You’ll need to do some tinkering, especially where it involves learning a few terminal commands. Luckily, the RaspberryTips website is here for you.

difference between a computer and a raspberry pi

In the end, it might not be as comfortable as using a $1000 laptop, but it’s quite possible to use the Pi as a computer. I even tried it a few months ago, and it was not so horrible (I definitely need to try again on a more powerful model).

All in all, the underlying differences between these devices are responsible for the difference in how they work. So if you would like to try out the Raspberry Pi, be prepared to learn more about the software and hardware used to make the necessary changes so that it can work for you.
Hopefully, this article has helped you with this.

ETA Prime has a video available on YouTube where he compares the Raspberry Pi 4 to a used computer available on eBay for a similar price:

FAQ

What’s the difference between a Raspberry Pi and a Mini-PC?

A mini-PC includes a traditional processor and is often running on Windows, while a Raspberry Pi runs Linux with a non-standard processor (ARM architecture). Raspberry Pi is also cheaper but less powerful than Mini-PC in general.

Should you get a Raspberry Pi or a Mini-PC?

If you are used to Windows and have the budget for a Mini-Pc, it’s the best choice to get great performances without having to learn anything new. Using a Raspberry Pi, even as a desktop computer, has a learning curve.

The Raspberry Pi is recommended if you are ready to learn Linux, have low needs (Internet and basic tasks) or want to try a few home projects.

What is the most powerful Raspberry Pi model?

The Raspberry Pi 400 is the most powerful Raspberry Pi model available, and the best choice to replace a traditional computer.

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Hardware recommendations to get started with Raspberry Pi

If you want to give Raspberry Pi a try, here are my recommendations to get started the right way:

  • A Raspberry Pi 4: It’s currently your best option. Pick as much RAM as you can afford, better to have too much than too little.
    The Raspberry Pi 400 is a viable alternative for desktop usage, but won’t be as comfortable for electronic projects.
  • A fast SD card: This is the fastest one I ever tested. The price is similar to the other models, so you should directly pick this one.
  • The official power supply: Even if Raspberry Pi have low consumption, using a bad power supply can really decrease the performances, so make sure you are using the official one.

After that, anything else is not mandatory, but if you want to be comfortable, you can check my reviews on this website, for example:

I also have books and courses available in the section below if you want me to guide you with the first steps. I’m here to help!

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Additional Resources

Not sure where to start?
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You can also find all my recommendations for tools and hardware on this page.

Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

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