While Raspberry Pi boards have been around since 2012; they have been powered by Broadcom SoCs and the first Raspberry Pi silicon, the RP2040, just launched in January 2021. With two Arm Cortex M0+ cores running at 133 MHz, 264KB of RAM and up to 16MB of Flash; these chips enable a whole ecosystem of microcontrollers; that compete more closely with traditional Arduino boards than a Raspberry Pi 4.
While Raspberry Pi has its own RP2040-powered board in the Raspberry Pi Pico; there are now more than sixty; third-party solutions that offer improvements which range from smaller sizes to built-in Wi-Fi, more storage or a lot of additional outputs. There are even RP2040-powered keypads and RP2040 breakouts designed to be embedded into your next project. All of these boards share the same $1 RP2040 chip, but offer much more than the stock model.
To help you choose, we’ve listed the best RP2040 boards below. These boards can be used for everything from general learning to building Wi-Fi connected robots to implementing basic A.I.
Shopping Tips for RP2040 Boards
- What size / pins do you need? Smaller RP2040 boards like Pimoroni’s Tiny RP2040 and Adafruit’s QT Py RP2040 have fewer than the standard 40 pins, but can fit in smaller projects.
- Do you need wireless? Right now there is only one board, the Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect, which comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built-in, but you can add these using add-ons such as Adafruit’s Airlift board or Pimoroni’s Pico Wireless Pack.
- Choose your ecosystem: The pinouts of different RP2040 boards may align with different add-ons. For example, Adafruit’s Feather RP2040 is compatible with around two dozen different FeatherWing, including those which offer wireless connectivity while the Pico itself connects directly to Pimroni’s “packs.”
- Specialist connectors such as Stemma QT, Qwiic and Grove are desirable extra features for those that want simple and neat electronics projects. The Pico doesn’t come with any of these, but many third-party boards do. The simplicity of these connections belies the choice of sensors and components offered.
Best Raspberry Pi RP2040 Boards You Can Buy Today
The original and least expensive RP2040 board, the Raspberry Pi PIco costs just $4 and has a full 40-pin GPIO. Because it’s the standard, there are a lot of add-on boards that are made to connect to its pins specifically, such as the Kitronik Robotics Board or Pimoroni’s pack ecosystem which has a wireless pack, an LED pack and many others.
Of course, for the cheapest model, you have to make a few compromises. First, you have only three analog-to-digital pins where many of the third-party boards have four or more. That means that you can only use up to three potentiometers and 1.5 analog joysticks. It also has only 2MB of storage, which is the bare minimum, though more-than-adequate for most coding.
Another trade-off is that the Pico uses a micro USB connector rather than a more-advanced USB-C connector. However, given the low cost and strong support ecosystem, the Raspberry Pi Pico is a must-have.
The Raspberry Pi Pico is a fun and inexpensive way to get into coding and electronics. After buying a Pico, we need to also buy extra components to expand its scope and this can become costly and complicated. The Maker Pi Pico crams a lot of extra functions into a small package all for less than $10, including a pre-soldered Raspberry Pi Pico.
For $10, the sheer amount of features is amazing. We have a micro SD card reader, buzzer / 3.6mm audio jack, NeoPixel, all of the GPIO pins broken out for use and we have six Grove connectors for use with compatible components. Each of the GPIO pins has a useful LED that can be used to quickly debug an issue. The included ESP-01 header enables basic Wi-Fi access and, since we wrote our review, Cytron has released an updated guide on how to get the Maker Pi Pico connected to wireless. For $10 this board is hard to beat!
Arduino’s first RP2040 powered board may be the last of the first wave of partner boards, but it is safe to say that it is the most anticipated. The Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect is the only RP2040 based board to come with onboard Wi-Fi, the same Wi-Fi as used in Arduino’s Nano 33 IoT and given that these two boards share the same pinout and form factor, the RP2040 is a drop in replacement.
The Nano RP2040 Connect is not just a “one trick pony” it also comes with an LSM6DSOXTR Inertial Measurement Unit, capable of measuring orientation, inertial forces and gestures, and the board also features a microphone for simple voice / audio input. The Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect is compatible with CircuitPython, MicroPython and C, but being an Arduino product the greatest compatibility and support is found in their IDE.
However, for a board this expensive, it is annoying that it lacks USB-C and our initial experience programming it was a challenge because of some bugs. And the initial documentation from Arduino on how to program it has been very poor.
Some More RP2040s Found at PiShop
Along with your RP2040 we also now have a host of add-ons you can also use to make your project go so much further