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Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black from Michael Leonard

This article was originally posted at Michael Leonard’s blog and has been re-posted here.

There are already many articles out there comparing Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and BeagleBone Black; this is not one of those articles. I believe it is clear that Arduino is in a different league than the Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black, and serves an entirely different purpose.

What I was looking for and couldn’t find was a comprehensive article that would summarize all of the pros and cons of the Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBone Black, and what each platform is best suited for. When I couldn’t find that article, I decided to write it myself.

I begin this comparison by giving a short introduction to each platform and then we will take an in-depth look at the two platforms side-by-side to determine which one is best for each category. The categories covered are:

  • Raw Comparison
  • Unboxing
  • Ease of Setup
  • Total Cost
  • Connections
  • Processor Showdown
  • Graphical Showdown
  • Audio Showdown
  • Power Consumption
  • Expandability
  • Hardware Accessibility
  • Community

Let’s get started!

About the Raspberry Pi

Arduino is the true trailblazer in the microcontroller area and the device that started the whole “maker” revolution; the Raspberry Pi on the other hand is an amazing device that really started the microprocessor revolution.

Top of Raspberry Pi

Top of Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi was the first cheap (read: $35) single-board computer easy enough to use for the general public. The project to develop the Pi was born out of a realization that young students were not proficient in the technical details of computing that their older peers had learned out of necessity. Due to their less technical backgrounds these students we not able to perform at the level expected of them.

To attack this issue the Raspberry Pi creators developed the low-cost and relatively high performance miniature computer that would allow a new generation of students to interact with their computers in a way that they had never thought was possible.

If you would like to learn more about the Raspberry Pi, I recommend you to the official “About” page or the “FAQ” page. The story of the Raspberry Pi’s creation is inspiring and is worth a read.

About the BeagleBone Black

The BeagleBone Black is a relative newcomer to the world of easy to use microprocessor breakouts, however, what it missed out on in time-to-market, the BeagleBone Black has more than made up for in capability.

The BeagleBone Black has evolved out of the long lineage of BeagleBoard products into the current version; a small form-factor, very powerful, and extremely expandable product that allows builders, makers, artists, and engineers the ability to create truly innovative projects.

The BeagleBoard family was originally designed to provide a relatively low-cost development platform for hobbyists to try out the powerful new system-on-a-chip (SOC) devices that were essentially capable of performing all the duties of a computer on a single chip.

The original BeagleBoard is currently priced at $125 while its successor, the BeagleBoard-xM, is priced at $145. So even though these systems were very powerful, they were just not at the right price to compel people to buy them in mass quantities.

After the BeagleBoard-xM, the BeagleBoard team created the original BeagleBone. It is essentially a smaller, stripped down version of the BeagleBoard.

While the BeagleBone was a good start, it still wasn’t as capable as it could have been, and at $89 it was still a bit too pricey for the hobbyist market.

In late 2012 the BeagleBoard team finally released the newest version of the BeagleBone, called the BeagleBone Black. I think one look at the picture will tell you why they chose this name.

Top of BeagleBone Black

Top of BeagleBone Black

This version has maintained the same form-factor as the BeagleBone but added quite a bit of useful functions and is generally an all around better device; to top it all off, the BeagleBone Black is priced at a very affordable $45.

If you would like to learn a little bit more about the BeagleBone or BeagleBoard devices, you can visit the official community page or the manufacturer community page. This is the best way to learn the intricate details of these platforms, and will let you more fully evaluate if the BeagleBone Black is right for you.

So Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black?

Now that we know a little bit about each device, let’s compare them side-by-side and see which one is best for what you want to do. I will do my best to cover all of the topics that are important and to be unbiased in my conclusions.

If you see something I missed or think I made a stupid call, let me know in the comments! Just remember to be civil.

Raw Comparison

To start this comparison I have made a summary table where we can take a look at the raw specifications from each device. This is a good way to get a quick overview of each platform’s capabilities but does not always tell the whole story.

For full disclosure, I am comparing the BeagleBone Black Rev. A5B to the Raspberry Pi Rev. B. The summary table below compares the two boards as they are shipped, but the in depth comparisons below consider the entire ecosystem supporting each board.

Comparing Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black
BeagleBone Black Raspberry Pi
Base Price 45 35
Processor 1GHz TI Sitara AM3359 ARM Cortex A8 700 MHz ARM1176JZFS
RAM 512 MB DDR3L @ 400 MHz 512 MB SDRAM @ 400 MHz
Storage 2 GB on-board eMMC, MicroSD SD
Video Connections 1 Micro-HDMI 1 HDMI, 1 Composite
Supported Resolutions 1280×1024 (5:4), 1024×768 (4:3), 1280×720 (16:9), 1440×900 (16:10) all at 16 bit Extensive from 640×350 up to 1920×1200, this includes 1080p
Audio Stereo over HDMI Stereo over HDMI, Stereo from 3.5 mm jack
Operating Systems Angstrom (Default), Ubuntu, Android, ArchLinux, Gentoo, Minix, RISC OS, others… Raspbian (Recommended), Ubuntu, Android, ArchLinux, FreeBSD, Fedora, RISC OS, others…
Power Draw 210-460 mA @ 5V under varying conditions 150-350 mA @ 5V under varying conditions
GPIO Capability 65 Pins 8 Pins
Peripherals 1 USB Host, 1 Mini-USB Client, 1 10/100 Mbps Ethernet 2 USB Hosts, 1 Micro-USB Power, 1 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, RPi camera connector

Unboxing

These are hobbyist boards and aren’t exactly expected to adhere to the same high standards as a fully commercialized product. With that in mind, I still believe that the packaging and first opening of the boards constitutes an important part of the first impression a buyer will get.

Unboxing the BBB and RPi. Not really though, I had already unboxed them both and used them quite a bit...

Unboxing the BBB and RPi. Not really though, I had already unboxed them both and used them quite a bit…

When I bought my Raspberry Pi, it was packaged in a plain white cardboard box with no markings or included accessories. I noticed that they have since begun shipping in nicely packaged boxes with professional looking markings, so I won’t hold my experience against the Raspberry Pi.

The BeagleBone Black was given to me for free as a participant in the 2013 TI Intern Design Competition. It was packaged in an equally professional box and included a mini-USB cable and a tiny introduction card.

Winner: Tie

Ease of Setup

Setting up the Raspberry Pi is quite frankly a bit laborious. Since the board does not come with an included micro-USB cable to supply power, you must obtain one on your own. Additionally, the Raspberry Pi does not come with a pre-installed operating system or on-board storage. You will need to obtain an SD card to boot the Raspberry Pi. Once you have an SD card you will need to download and install the operating system on the card. After you have taken care of these prerequisites, the Raspberry Pi should be ready for use.

Setting up the BeagleBone Black on the other hand is quite possibly as simple as it gets. Using the included Mini-USB cable, you can attach the BeagleBone Black to your computer to supply power. The BeagleBone Black will boot from the on-board storage without requiring any more work on your end. If you would like to be able to interact with the BeagleBone Black from your computer you may need to install some included drivers, but this is relatively painless.

Winner: BeagleBone Black by a long-shot

Total Cost

This is really kind of a subjective category since the requirements are different for everybody. If you already have an SD card, micro-USB cable, HDMI cable, and a keyboard to use with the Raspberry Pi, then there won’t be any extra cost.

For the BeagleBone Black, it is quite possible that you won’t need any extra parts to end up with a usable board. If you want to extend functionality beyond just the basics, it is likely you will need to buy a MicroSD card and a micro-HDMI cable.

In addition, the two USB ports on the Raspberry Pi mean that you may be able to get by without a USB hub. Since the BeagleBone Black only has one USB port, unless you have something like a Logitech Unifying Receiver, you will need a USB hub to use a mouse and keyboard.

In my case, the BeagleBone Black was slightly cheaper overall but since there are so many factors to consider here, I will leave this one up to you.

Winner: Tie

Connections

If there is one thing that Business types and Engineers can agree on it’s that everything comes down to the connections you make, and oh boy the BeagleBone Black can make some connections.

With two 46 pin headers, the BeagleBone Black has a total of 92 possible connection points. Some of these connections are reserved, but almost all of them can be reconfigured to be used if needed. Taking a look at the reference manual shows the following (non-exhaustive) list of possibilities:

  • 3 I2C buses
  • CAN bus
  • SPI bus
  • 4 timers
  • 5 serial ports
  • 65 GPIO pins
  • 8 PWM outputs
  • 7 analog inputs (1.8V max 12 bit A/D converters)

With such an impressive list of interfaces, the BeagleBone Black is a real powerhouse in this category. I’m not aware of any other platforms at this size and price point that provide so many interface options, a characteristic that is a real blessing for many applications.

Looking at the Raspberry Pi, we have a 26 pin header for making connections with the following possible interfaces:

  • 8 GPIO pins
  • 1 UART interface
  • 1 SPI bus
  • 1 I2C bus

This is a much smaller list but would be perfectly adequate for an I2C, SPI, or UART based project, as well as any project which doesn’t require external interfacing. The Raspberry Pi’s true power is in a different category which we will take a look at soon.

Winner: BeagleBone Black, no contest

Processor Showdown

The processor is perhaps the single most important factor in determining how fast your system will perform. The stock configurations give us a 1 GHz processor on the BeagleBone Black and a 700 MHz processor on the Raspberry Pi.

In an effort to put the two on a more level playing field, let’s assume that you have overclocked the Raspberry Pi to perform at the same clock speed as the AM3359.

The next defining feature we want to look at is the processor architecture. The Raspberry Pi uses the slightly older ARMv6 instruction set while the BeagleBone Black uses the ARMv7 instruction set, which is currently the most common architecture among embedded systems.

The newer architecture of the BeagleBone Black lends itself to more than just bragging rights though. One advantage of using the more modern instruction set is that the processor on the BeagleBone Black is more widely supported by software developers. Notably, some operating systems are no longer designed to be run on the ARMv6 instruction set, including Ubuntu which dropped support in late April.

Another advantage the ARMv7 instruction set enjoys over the ARMv6 goes beyond support, and includes actual performance enhancements. While the list of improvements between v6 and v7 is a long one, some of the more impressive improvements like implementing a superscalar architecture, including instructions for SIMD operations, and an improved branch prediction algorithm lead to some pretty amazing performance increases.

Specifically, even when running at the same clock speed, the processor on the BeagleBone Black is nearly TWICE AS FAST as the processor on the Raspberry Pi. (Source 1: ARM A8 runs 2000 MIPS/MHz, Source 2: ARM11 runs 1250 MIPS/MHz)

Winner: BeagleBone Black

Graphical Showdown

This is one category in which the Raspberry Pi really shines. With the integrated Videocore graphics processor, the Raspberry Pi is capable of decoding 1080p video streams, rendering OpenGL, and even running Minecraft (sorry it can’t quite handle Crysis). In addition to the impressive graphics processing, the Raspberry Pi also offers a full sized HDMI connector and a composite video output for lower quality connections.

All of this combines to put the BeagleBone Black on the defensive. The BeagleBone Black does have built in graphics support, but is just not quite as powerful and does not support 1080p. To compound the lower graphics processing power, the BeagleBone Black only offers a micro-HDMI video connection for interfacing with your monitor or TV.

While there are add-on capes which increase your connectivity options, there is no substitution for the graphics computation power of the Videocore system on the Raspberry Pi.

Winner: Raspberry Pi by a solid margin

Audio Showdown

This one really isn’t much of a showdown. With the BeagleBone Black allowing you to output audio over micro-HDMI only and the Raspberry Pi supporting audio over HDMI or through a 3.5 mm audio jack, the Raspberry Pi has more capability out of the box.

Looking at the broader perspective, there is an add-on board for the BeagleBone Black which gives adds a 3.5 mm audio out as well as a 3.5 mm audio in and some extra audio processing capability.

Since this is an add-on and not the default configuration, I will still give this category to the Raspberry Pi. If you already have a BeagleBone or are looking for some more capable audio processing then the audio add-on cape may be a good choice.

Winner: Raspberry Pi

Power Consumption

It is quite frankly pretty difficult to find any reliable data on this category. The BeagleBone Black reference manual provides a range of current draws so there isn’t any guesswork there.

The Raspberry Pi, on the other hand, has many different user reported measurements that vary so widely I’m not even sure what is reasonable anymore. The reports which seem most reputable show a slightly lower current draw from the Raspberry Pi.

If you have any reliable data for either one of these boards as far as power consumption goes, please let me know in the comments.

Winner: Raspberry Pi by a small margin based on unreliable data

Expandability

I have to admit, when I first set out writing this article I expected the BeagleBone Black to handedly dominate this category. Since I have been working on an add-on cape of my own for the BeagleBone Black (the SensorCape), I was already fully aware of the robust add-on ecosystem that existed for the BeagleBone.

What I was not aware of though, was the add-ons for the Raspberry Pi. Just to clarify, “add-ons” do not refer to cases, cables, or other non-functional accessories; what I am interested in are the additional boards that make your BeagleBone or Raspberry Pi more capable.

We’ll take a look at the BeagleBone first. Browsing through the official CircuitCo capes page, the following add-on boards really stand out to me.

  • Breadboard, prototype, and breakout capes – These three capes allow you to easily test new additions to your BeagleBone
  • DVI cape – Allows you to connect to a DVI monitor
  • VGA cape – Allows you to connect to a VGA monitor
  • HDMI cape – Allows you to connect to an HDMI connection, this was originally developed for the BeagleBone but could be used for the Black if you just really hate micro-HDMI
  • LCD capes – There are a few versions of LCD capes in the store that can be used to easily add an LCD screen on top of your BeagleBone
  • Camera cape – Adds a 3.1 MP camera on top of the BBB, also nicely configured to work with the LCD capes so you could make your own handheld camera
  • Audio cape – Includes two 3.5 mm audio jacks and allows you to configure audio in and out
  • Motor cape – Adds a TI motor drive that can drive up to 8 DC motors at 500 mA per motor
  • Battery cape – For when you want to take your project on the go

Of course this list is not exhaustive, so I don’t want to lead anyone to believe that this is all that is available. These are just the capes that stood out to me as being widely useful.

There are many other more specialized capes in production that I chose not to include. These include the BeagleBone ROV cape, featured in the OpenROV project and is used to control an underwater robot that streams live video; or the Ninja cape that was commercialized into Ninja Blocks, an amazing platform allowing you to automate almost anything.

With such capable extensions for the BeagleBone, you may be wondering how the Raspberry Pi could even compete. I know I was. Truth be told, the Raspberry Pi add-ons are pretty scarce, and since there is no central repository for them, it is difficult to find a good list.

The majority of add-ons I have been able to find are simply “breakout” boards or prototyping boards which allow you to easily interface with a breadboard or to solder directly on the board. These types of boards, while useful, are not a killer feature and are not unique to the Raspberry Pi.

Adafruit Prototyping Pi Plate

Adafruit Prototyping Pi Plate

Something that is unique would be this add-on from cooking hacks. This board allows you to easily connect Arduino compatible shields and components directly to the the Raspberry Pi.

That may not seem like a big deal at first, but if you recall the beginning of this article I mentioned that Arduino is really in a league of its own. This is in no small part thanks to the incredible amount of add-on “shields” that are available for Arduino. According to the Arduino Shield List, there are just short of 300 shields available for the Arduino and nearly all of these are now compatible with the Raspberry Pi.

Outside of this Arduino compatibility though, the support for add-on boards is still fairly low in the Raspberry Pi environment . Unless the functionality you want to implement is covered by an Arduino shield, you may be out of luck.

Winner: Raspberry Pi by a hair thanks to Arduino add-on compatibility, I am still very optimistic on the future of the BeagleBone in this category though. And really, if you are planning on buying a Raspberry Pi and then using Arduino capes, you should probably just buy an Arduino.

Hardware Accessibility

This category may not be important to the majority of readers, but I think it is critical to technical users or anyone who may want to produce a minimal version of a project they made with their chosen platform. Both the Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBone Black rely heavily on the open-source community, so let’s see how open they are in return.

The Raspberry Pi is unfortunately based off of a proprietary processor platform which means you cannot view a full datasheet for the processor without going through some significant hoops such as:

  • Signing a non-disclosure agreement with Broadcom
  • Providing Broadcom with a business plan
  • Committing to buy these processors in bulk

It is possible to get more information on the internal structure of the BCM2835 for register access, but as far as I know there is no documentation for the processor pinouts. In contrast, the full datasheet and user guide for the processor on the BeagleBone Black can be accessed at the Texas Instruments product page, and does not have a minimum purchase requirement.

In addition to the proprietary processor, the Raspberry Pi Foundation also entered into an exclusive manufacturing agreement with RS and Farnell, meaning that the board layout must be kept secret for now.

If you are trying to make your own derivative of the Raspberry Pi or need to know how the components are connected together, Eben has provided the schematics for the Rev. B Raspberry Pi. You will still have to commit to buying the Broadcom chip in bulk if you want to make your own, but at least you have a starting point.

The entire documentation, including layout files, schematics, and reference documents, for the BeagleBone Black are hosted at the BeagleBone Black wiki page, and includes everything you could want to make your own BeagleBone.

Winner: BeagleBone Black

Community

Despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to find any reliable data on the size of each platform’s respective community. Seeing as how (as of April 2013) the Raspberry Pi has shipped more than one-million units, I think it is safe to assume that the Raspberry Pi has developed a larger following. On top of this the Raspberry Pi gets much better media coverage and overall exposure.

These considerations are all important if you are unfamiliar with Linux systems or electronics in general, as well as if you are planning on undertaking a large project which you may decide you need help with.

A quick Google insights search shows that while the BeagleBone Black has a growing community, the Raspberry Pi still generates about 13 times more web traffic.

Winner: Raspberry Pi by a long-shot

Summary

Now that we have looked at each category in detail, it is a simple matter to draw some conclusions about which circumstances should lead you to choose one board over the other.

When the BeagleBone Black is the Right Choice

Projects that need to interface with many external sensors – The incredible number of pins on the BeagleBone Black and the many bus options allow you to easily interface with pretty much any device out there.

Anything requiring small form factor but high speed processing – For example this super cool 33 node Raspberry Pi computing cluster would have been much better off using the BeagleBone Black, both from a price and performance standpoint.

Projects that you may wish to commercialize – Since the Raspberry Pi is more of a closed-source environment, it is impossible to make your own minimal versions. The open nature of the BeagleBone would allow you to just take the most important features and directly port that into your own design.

As an embedded system learning platform – The Raspberry Pi has its roots in education, but the fact that the BeagleBone Black works out of the box leads me to believe it is a better solution for learning about embedded systems.

For when you want it to “just work” – The fact that the BeagleBone Black works right out of the box is a huge bonus and allows you to get up and going in a few minutes rather than an hour or more.

When the Raspberry Pi is the Right Choice

Multimedia based projects – With the significantly more powerful graphics processing and larger number of connection options, the Raspberry Pi is a no-brainer for multimedia interfaces.

Community driven ideas – If you have a project that will in some way rely on the community for proper operation, you should choose the very active community of the Raspberry Pi. If you just think you will need support though, the BeagleBone community is very helpful and many Raspberry Pi projects will easily port to the BeagleBone Black.

As a graphical learning platform – Since the BeagleBone Black does not have quite the video capability of the Raspberry Pi, I would recommend the Raspberry Pi for learning about Linux in a graphical environment. Though to be fair you could do the same thing in a Virtual Machine, it just isn’t quite as much fun.

When Either One Works

Internet connected projects – If you want your project to send updates to a server, or maybe even act as a server, then either board should work just fine for you.

You just want to nerd out – Maybe you just want to get your nerd on. That’s okay, in fact it’s even becoming the cool thing to do. If that is your goal then either platform will serve you well.

I hope you found this guide helpful and that you will use it in making your next purchase. If you still can’t decide which one is right for you and you have some money to burn I really recommend just buying both of these systems. Each board has different strengths and they both offer something different. Happy hacking!

If you liked this post then be sure to share it, for more articles like this visit my blog.

Michael Leonard

I am currently a Graduate student at the University of Arkansas. I have a strong interest in making things whether that be software, hardware, or something else entirely doesn’t matter to me.

When I’m not working on something I am an avid SCUBA diver, enjoy travel, and love a good round of golf. I am currently pursuing my Private Pilot License and hope to have that completed by December 2013.

If you would like to learn more about me and what I am working on visit my blog linked below.


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Comments

  1. I dunno I would say they both have equal footing on the many external sensors front.

    I did a lot of careful deliberation when I was choosing between the two, the deciding factor was actually the composite out (which I am now ironically no longer using in my project) that ultimately pushed me towards the Pi. In fact it is because of the Raspi’s limited GPIO that I took to learning all about I2C. I essentially went from trying to figure out how to cram as much as I could into the limited GPIO to not really using at all. Ultimately I think I’m using one GPIO pin as an interrupt and everything else was migrated over to I2C.

    That also might be a check for the Pi’s educational value. Since I probably still wouldn’t know anything about I2C if it hadn’t been for its GPIO limitations :P

    1. Hello Bashtarle, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s certainly a good thing that your Pi forced you to learn about I2C, I just recently learned how to use it and I have to say I2C is awesome.

      I still stand firmly behind my decision on the BBB for external sensors though. Sure, both the Pi and the BBB offer an I2C bus, but the BBB offers everything that the Pi does and a little bit more.

      Another advantage that the BBB has in this area that I somehow forgot to mention is the inclusion of two programmable real time units. This is a powerful feature that often allows projects that would normally need a microcontroller to do away with that.

      While the educational value could be debatable, I think it’s safe to say that more options for interfacing leads to more flexibility, and that’s a powerful thing.

  2. eightlines says:

    Regarding the section “Projects that you may wish to commercialize” — It may not be a concern for the home users of the BBB, but in commercial products there’s a couple of caveats: http://circuitco.com/support/index.php?title=BeagleBoneBlack#Terms_of_Use

    1. I guess I should note that by using it in a commercial product I didn’t mean to imply that the final product would make direct use of the BeagleBone. What I was attempting to make clear is that if you prototype your design on the BeagleBone Black, it is possible to then take the design files and make your own minimal version of the board that only includes the features you need.

      That can’t be done with the Pi. This is probably a non-issue for the vast majority of people reading this article, but for some it is very important.

      1. Ron Segal says:

        Thank you Michael for a clear, wide ranging review.
        On the topic of commercialisation. What the terms and conditions appear to be saying is that use of the beaglebone identity in commercial products is primarily what is discouraged, rather than necessarily use of the boards themselves. So it seems that although you could produce your own version (cut down or whatever) to use in a commercial product, there is no necessity to do so, providing beaglebone isn’t specifically identified in the specification.

        However, since the design of the board may move on at any time, that itself may be an unacceptable risk.

        So perhaps there is room for similar, inexpensive products, aimed at the amateur masses, but whose direct commercial use is fully encouraged and supported, which would require some kind of ‘long term support’ version approach. Alternatively I guess if there was a big enough market, long term support clones could themselves be produced as a separate commercial venture.

  3. James says:

    Check out “Userspace-Arduino” the Google Summer of Code project for BeagleBone. This leverages all the Arduino stuff so it will work in Linux Userspace on the BeagleBone. Huge + for BeagleBone.

    https://github.com/prpplague/Userspace-Arduino

  4. One other advantage to the AM335x CPU in the BeagleBone Black are the two embedded PRU subsystems. These are 200 MHz 32-bit microcontrollers that have access to the ARM’s memory and all of the pins. I’m using one of them to drive thirty two of the WS281x LED strips with up to 512 RGB LEDs each at the 800 KHz high-speed mode from a frame buffer in the ARM’s memory with zero CPU overhead. That’s over half a kilometer of LEDs!

    Source code for the userspace and firmware: https://github.com/osresearch/LEDscape

  5. For me, RasPi’s compact form factor is ruined by having connectors on 4 sides. I think of it as effectively a much larger device when connected.

    1. Hmm never really thought about that but its a fair point.
      Course I guess it all depends on how you plan on using it.

      Personally I’m just too lazy to plug things in so most of the time I just use Putty. Tho I can certainly see how it could get a little unwieldy if I was using more connectors.

  6. adcurtin says:

    “the Raspberry Pi on the other hand is an amazing device that really started the microprocessor revolution.”

    No! not at all. the 8086 is a microprocessor. a core i7 is a microprocessor. microcontrollers are more integrated (microprocessors typically have external ram and other components), and are more designed for interfacing with hardware (though not always). the rpi uses a system on a chip (SoC), which is neither a microprocessor nor a microcontroller. the rpi is much better described at a single board computer, or SBC.

    1. adcurtin says:

      “SPI bus” compared to “1 SPI bus”
      “5 serial ports” compared to “1 UART interface”
      ugh.

    2. The Broadcom and TI chips are SoCs, that means the include the functionality of a microprocessor + additional features. I don’t believe that precludes them from being referred to as microprocessors, and in fact both TI and Broadcom refer to the SoCs as microprocessors. No, they are not barebones like the 8086 or i7 but they do include microprocessors and arguing any further point is just a matter of semantics.

      My point in bringing up the terminology was to clarify the difference between a microcontroller and a microprocessor for those who might not be familiar.

      1. adcurtin says:

        I never said SoCs don’t include a microprocessor. However, so does a microcontroller. Again, the raspberry pi is much better described as a single board computer, and it definitely did not start the microprocessor revolution (which happened before my time).

        1. Like I said, I think it’s all a matter of semantics. I agree it would be better to describe both the RPi and BBB as single board computers, but I didn’t. I think the terminology I used makes a better contrast and doesn’t sacrifice anything significant.

          And I’d say it’s safe to say that the RPi at the very least ‘revived’ microprocessor platforms. I’m not aware of any other platform like it that exploded in popularity like it did (shipping over a million units in the first year). But I’ve only been around for 22 years and I’ve certainly been wrong before.

          1. adcurtin says:

            The xbox 360 sold over 2 million units in the first 90 days. that absolutely crushes the rpi’s numbers, and it still has a microprocessor (many more the the rpi, in fact). Apple sells more computers in a quarter than the rpi sold in its first year. almost anything that runs code has a microprocessor in it (you’re welcome to try to find a counter example that’s not an fpga with a microprocessor core on it).

            it’s not semantics. a microprocessor is part of an sbc, but it’s also part of a ton of other things. the rpi doesn’t even account for 0.0001% (I made that number up, but it’s true: just compare global cell phone sales to rpi sales) of microprocessor sales. I can’t say what percent of SBC sales it is, but it is inherently higher than microprocessor percent.

            the terminology you used sacrifices a lot of specificity. microprocessors are everywhere, in your tv control, in your coffee maker, etc. No single product has revived microprocessors, they were never in a state in which they would need reviving. the rpi did revive the sbc market though.

      2. I absolutely never said it revived microprocessors. I don’t know where that that idea came from. This is a blog dedicated to those who are making their own things so I made a comparison of two microprocessor prototyping platforms (I stand comfortably behind that terminology) that are commonly used in these projects.

        And not that I want to start another discussion, but most of the products you mention in your closing paragraph (tv remote, coffee maker, etc) generally use microprocessors. But I’m sure you know that and were just trying to make a point, much like I was whenever I compared microcontrollers (Arduino) to microprocessors (RPi and BB). :)

        I’m well aware of the distinciton between microprocessors, microcontrollers, SoCs, and SBCs. I think that for the purposes of this article, my terminology was perfectly acceptable, but I am thankful for the feedback. If you see anything else let me know!

        1. bioforge says:

          You just can’t feed the troll. Adcurtin is just determined to put you down because you provided a user friendly article, instead of a completely technical one that only 2% of your traffic would understand. Thank you very much for the write up and keep microprocessing!

  7. Fernando Rocha says:

    Here is a great list of RPi’s expansion boards:
    http://elinux.org/RPi_Expansion_Boards

  8. The fact that the Pi doesn’t have built in memory can also be a plus – You can give students or kids their own card to plug in and use. They can do whatever they want without messing up someone else’s setup.

    1. thiago says:

      I think the onboard flash is a major plus : )

      The BeagleBoard also has a microSD reader, and although I haven’t tried it, I’m pretty sure you can boot it from an SD card (and keep people’s setups separate like you mentioned).

  9. Matt Tytel says:

    Thanks so much! This was really helpful, learned the Beaglebone Black is definitely a lot better for my project (lots of peripherals + more cpu intensive).

  10. thiago says:

    I’ve recently switched to using a BBB because of its 2GB of onboard flash storage.

    It seems like the card readers on some RPI boards are prone to corrupting the SD card while running applications that write a lot of data, or are up for long periods of time…

  11. Sonali Lagu says:

    Thanks a lot!! your article is really helpful. I am planning to buy raspberry Pi for my PG project named “automation of water treatment plant and scada “.

  12. Conrad says:

    I have both (Got the BBB today) and after unboxing of the BBB and browsing the community I have to disagree with some of this post. The BBB may have more power but the community is just empty compared to RaPi. I am really down about it. I should have checked I know.

    My big issues is the lack of Operating Systems. Maybe have no development at all. The ones that I can find seem to be for older Beaglebones and are years old.

    For something far more powerful I would have thought we would see more. Maybe this is something to come? Maybe. I sure hope so.

    I am a newbie to a lot of this. I want to learn but without a community of BBB I guess RaPi is where I will be learning.

    Great review. Thanks for the info :)

    1. Thanks for your comments Conrad, I’m not sure which part of my review you are disagreeing with… I’m pretty open that the RPi community is larger and more robust than the BBB community, both communities are growing right now though. Additionally, since the platforms are so similar (Linux based), most projects that you can do on the RPi can be easily transferred to the BBB.

      Where are you finding information on the Operating Systems? I’m not a huge fan of the default Angstrom OS but was able to install Ubuntu fairly painlessly. Check this link for more info: http://beagleboard.org/Getting%20Started#distros

      And like I said, the BBB community isn’t as strong as RPi, but it does exist. Check the Google group, element14 forums, or the Google+ community. Links below.

      Google group: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/beagleboard
      element14 forum: http://www.element14.com/community/threads?ICID=discussions_subnav
      Google+ community: https://plus.google.com/communities/104960311812236799231

      Best of luck playing with your new hardware! The RPi is a great system to get started on, if you don’t want your BBB I’d be happy to take it off your hands. :p

  13. chandan bhatia says:

    hey,
    i want to to do `images processing and voice processing.
    so which one will be the good one raspberry pi or beaglebone black.

    1. Hello Chandan,

      This really depends on what type of processing you are hoping to do. Both platforms are perfectly capable of interfacing with input devices and processing graphics data. The same thing goes for voice processing as well. I believe the BeagleBone Black tries to focus on these types of applications so I would personally recommend it, but I think you will be able to accomplish the job with either platform.

      Try searching around for projects like yours and see what other people are using. Best of luck!

      Michael

      1. chandan bhatia says:

        thanks for reply
        1)- i want my bot should follow a boll or my finger(which is painted with some color)
        2)- i want my bot should follow command which is tell be me.(i may be long distance using trans-receiver)
        which one will be efficient?

        1. That sounds like a great fit for the BeagleBone Black or even an Arduino if you would be interested in going that route.

          For the vision processing, I have to recommend this Kickstarter project that I recently backed,

          http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/254449872/pixy-cmucam5-a-fast-easy-to-use-vision-sensor

          I haven’t been able to use one yet but they look very promising. There are other options as well.

  14. Great review of these two boards. Wish I had seen it earlier though, since my experience has me agreeing with everything in it, I guess it would not have mattered! I have added some thoughts in my blog at http://raspberrypirobot.blogspot.co.uk based on my experience with the Raspberry Pi and more lately developing an application on the BeagleBone Black.

    1. Thanks Will, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Your additional thoughts seem spot on.

  15. Paul Bealing says:

    A good read, Thanks.
    I’ve done a bit of experimenting with the R-Pi and had recently been looking for an alternative when I came accross the BBB. It should be here tomorrow.
    I have a project in mind involving a solar/wind powered remote wifi connected camera system. I’ll probably make a simple Cape with a RTC and power control. The thought was to use a couple of web cams to capture images and wifi dongle with a directional antenna to connect to a distant AP. The whole thing will spend most of its time shut down waiting for the RTC to wake it up, capture and upload images.

    I believe the R-Pi uses a on-board USB hub and effectively one point of connection to the CPU for ethernet and the 2 USB ports. I’ve wondered if this is a limitation if intensively using USB and ethernet.

    1. Paul:

      I have not experienced a performance based problem with the RPi and it’s USB H/W though the USB design on the RPi does seem to have some issues. Check out the Raspberry Pi Forum for some very animated discussions. I think the bottom line from a practical perspective is that some USB peripherals may not work on the RPi or the combination may not be stable. Most everything that I plugged in worked though I would suggest you research what webcams work well before you invest in any. The other caveat that goes for both boards, especially for the setup that you describe, is TAKE CARE WITH YOUR POWER!

      Cheers,
      Will

  16. Brent says:

    There is a serious down-side to the BBB – USB Bluetooth dongles do not work. The rPi, on the other hand has built-in driver support, so that it’s relatively painless to enable Bluetooth support and connect to the rPi from an Android phone, for example.

    1. That’s a pretty broad statement. Bluetooth support may be weaker on the BBB, but bluetooth does work at least with certain modules. I was able to get it working with mine right out of the box, though some people have had some further issues which I have touched on in this article http://www.michaelhleonard.com/enable-bluetooth-on-beaglebone-black/.

      My bluetooth module is just this small one that I bought from MicroCenter. http://www.iogear.com/product/GBU521/

      I can’t really speak to the issues any further since bluetooth worked just fine for me on both systems, but it’s definitely something to consider.

      1. Brent says:

        > GBU521

        Great recommendation. The IOGear GBU521 USB BlueTooth dongle works great. And it’s just over $10 at Amazon.

        The USB-BT211 adapter doesn’t work at all – it’s not even recognized by the system.

    2. I think that USB devices, and their integration, provide a challenge to ARM based computers in general. The RPi certainly has issues with some devices and obviously the BBB with others. If you have an application that requires 100% solid USB support an ARM based computer (at least the BBB or RPi) may not be the cat’s meow.

      1. RonSegal says:

        Will, if you think about it, the family of microcontroller, particularly a device with the power of a typical ARM, has very little impact on the reliability of external peripherals. This is down to external circuitry design, operating system and driver design. USB drivers in particular have had a rocky history on all kinds of computers, including Microsoft/Intel, where some drivers for some devices have needed to cycle through many versions before becoming stable. This is often masked by the huge resources that can be sunk into development when the market is large and profitable, which probably isn’t the case for what are essentially hobby/learning/ development boards like BBB and RPi.

        1. You are right. The bottom line is that someone using an ARM implementation needs to be aware that some USB devices may be problematic but they are likely to be able to find one that will work or (at least sometimes) find a solution for one that is not. In the latter case the more active use community for the RPi is an advantage over the BBB.
          Will

  17. Vincent CS says:

    Thanks for the info! I learned a lot from this article. 1 question though:

    I planned on using either SoC for my Home automation project, connect with Arduino which combined with few other sensors and relay. I need RaPi or BBB to receive information from Arduino then send back to my own computer for monitoring etc.

    Which one you think best fit?

    1. Brent says:

      Either one will work, as both have Ethernet ports and run Linux. The rPi has a larger community, while the BBB has far more GPIO pins and is faster. Both can also be set up to talk over a serial connection to your uC, then pass that information to your computer over Ethernet.

      1. Vincent CS says:

        thanks. But I think I will go for RaPi, not only it has larger community, it is very helpful that way, especially for newbie like me, also I think RaPi has cheaper shield add-on.

  18. BIJO JOHN says:

    Which among the two is well suited for image processing applications?

  19. Hello,
    While BBB has more add-ons (native) than Pi, i wonder why most of them are more expensive than the board itself! It’s a little disencouraging on this respect.

    The very same happens to the arduino ecosystems.

    Either way i didnt chose any board yet and i feel myself leaned towards one or the other periodically so i really appreciate you took your time to write this post. It summarizes pretty well their strength and weakness.

  20. Renato Rodrigues says:

    Very useful, thanks man!

  21. RGB says:

    Great article. Nice to see a unbiased comparison, instead of the usual “BBB is a Raspberry Killer” type that gives few details other than the speed and number of pins. Both are great little boards. One point though. the NOOBs project makes setting up the Raspberry almost painless and, as a teacher, is a big selling point because if a student messes up the OS, it is really easy to reload everything back to the initial configuration. The price of the capes for the BBB is also a big point. If I want to add decent audio support, it can double the price of the system, and since where I am, the boards can cost 50 to 100% more than in the US or Europe, it can get really expensive when ordering for a class.
    Your mention about the community support can be further expanded to include the number of books, especially free ones, and tutorials that are available. Again, buying books can be really expensive when you have to add in overseas shipping. Adafruit is starting to put out some BBB tutorials, but there is still much less than for the Raspberry. Yes, the tutorials for the RPi can be adapted to the BBB, but then that is more time and work for teachers, who already have enough on their plates. As a hobbyist I am really tempted by the BBB’s greater number of GPIO and will probably buy one to experiment with, but to be honest, I have a real hard time thinking of anything to do with that many pins in an introductory class that I can’t do much easier(lots of tutorials) and cheaper with an Arduino (or even the Raspberry), with less fear of damaging the board. Hopefully the BBB community will start to get energized, put out more online material, especially material oriented toward education and beginners, and adopt or develop items developed for the Raspberry, like the WiringPi project, to the BBB. This would greatly expand the options available to introductory classes. So, in conclusion, even though the BBB is probably a better board overall, the lack of support makes it a less desirable choice, for now, in my situation.

    1. Thanks for the kind comments, I try to remain unbiased. I was able to get some good experience with both of the boards, and found that while they were very similar on paper they are useful for different applications.

      I have never heard of the NOOBs program, but I was made aware of the advantage of being able to easily restore the SD card. I think that is something that deserves mention, it isn’t exactly quick or easy to re-flash the eMMC of the BBB but swapping out an SD card (as you could do with a RPi) is pretty great.

      As far as add-on boards go, I think it is just that way with any system. The majority of Arduino shields are fairly costly as well, that’s just something you run into when manufacturing in low quantities. It would be nice if the BBB included a standalone audio jack like the RPi has.

      I’m not sure what education level you are focused on but I think the RPi (as a board and as an ecosystem) have the pre-college education market on lock right now. That makes perfect sense as that was the goal for the Raspberry Pi Foundation from the very beginning, but I think the BBB would be better suited for college level courses. At least in my experience, as an Electrical Engineer, I would have loved a course or two on physical computing based around the BBB.

      And yes, tutorials and example projects are starting to come forward for the BeagleBone ecosystem, but if community is a major factor you should definitely go with the Raspberry Pi. Really, if I could summarize this article in a sentence or two I would say that the Raspberry Pi is best for multimedia projects and community dependent applications and the BBB is best for physical computing projects, robotics, and potential commercial applications. Outside of those generalizations, I think you can use either one interchangeably and be happy.

      1. RGB says:

        Hi Michael
        Here is a link to NOOBS
        http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/4100
        I am a bit of an oddball, as am an English teacher with a background in network support. who teaches technical English and technical writing at a university to non-native speakers of English. I have been having my EE students do some simple projects using first, basic components, and later, Arduino boards, to give them actual projects they have to develop and write about. I found this to be a really good way to get them motivated as well as to teach them both the vocabulary and how to write engineering reports. This is especially important, as the local school system is long on theory and short on practical, so many of the students don’t even know many of the names of components in their own language or have ever worked with schematics. One thing I learned a long time ago is if I can make the classes interesting to students, they work much harder, and in my case, they end up devouring fairly thick texts in English about basic electronics and beginning programming, and in the process greatly improve their English vocabulary as well as technical knowledge. So far the Engineering Department has been happy with the results and several of our students have done quite well in contests due to the quality of their reports and presentations. I am now preparing classes for Computer Science students, and am planning on using the Arduino and Raspberry to give them practical projects they will write about.
        Regards
        rgb

      2. RGB says:

        Oh one more point seldom mentioned. It is really easy to have different OSs and configuration with the Raspberry, as just need to swap out the SD card. I don’t know if the BBB can do the same.
        rgb

        1. RGB:

          Great work on using the RPi to get kids interested in learning. I suspect that some of them may take the interest that you generate and turn it into a career having found something they enjoy doing…

          The BBB can be easily configured to boot from the SD card. It was one of the first things that I did when I got my BBB’s (I have two of them and three RPi’s). I would still give the RPi the win for an education setting even with that ability given the BBB uses little tiny SD cards!

          Will

  22. Lyman says:

    Android still doesn’t run on Raspberry Pi in any ‘useful way’. You might want to omit it from Raspberry Pi supported distros list.

    1. Interesting. What do you consider useful? I haven’t used it personally, the reviews I read of it mentioned that Android was slow but I didn’t think they meant unusably slow. I can’t make any edits at this point BTW.

  23. rweaver says:

    I know I’m kind of late to the party here, but just wanted to say thanks and congrats. I ordinarily hate A vs B comparisons of this kind because the authors either over-focus on the technical specs minutiae, water their conclusions down in an apparent effort to offend no one, or just don’t seem to understand what criteria and applications are likely to be relevant to the target audience — as would be the case if, for example, Arduino were included in your comparison.

    Anyway, your article by contrast has none of these flaws, and I found it really useful.

    1. Well hey thanks! I’m glad you found it useful.

  24. Paul Mulford says:

    Mike, a few questions, Knowing thaat the “NSA” asked computer chipmakers to build in back doors. Does the BeagleBone or RBPi have said “NSA” doors?

    I am a ham have you explored using either to do APRS?

  25. Woo says:

    Thanks for the detailed comparison. I think I’ll be going with the BBB now, since graphics is not important to me, but raw I/O pin count is, since I’ll be interfacing to tons of legacy TTL stuff.
    One thing that annoys me with both boards, is that the I/O are usually 3,3V now, and not even 5V tolerant, so hooking up any 74xx stuff etc requires me to add level converters to the pins. Makes me wonder why nobody seems to have made a cape/shield to deal with that, yet..

  26. Andy Crofts says:

    Things that makes me reluctant to move from the Pi seems to be the bad posts re. the BBB’a Ångström distribution. I really NEED the I/O the BBB gives for my project, but the OS ‘fight’ seems to be a mishmash from which to choose… Reckon I’ll just wait for the dust to settle.
    Another is the rather ‘formal’ standoffish-ness I detect with the BBB forums and instructions. It’s a bit to me like “Well, if you’re too dumb to use it, go and play with your trainset instead” attitude that some stupidly clever geeks have used that I’ve discovered in my quest for learning.
    As I said, things’ll change I’m sure over time…
    Pi, although limited, it aint the cost (€10 or so more), but the current stability. There’s no “Uncle Ebden” behind this. Nor MagPi, nor……

    1. Yes I know what you mean, ngstrm seems like a strange choice for a default OS. But after installing Ubuntu on my BBB I see (at least one reason) why they went with ngstrm, it is MUCH more compact. FWIW, ngstrm isn’t bad, it’s just different from what most people are used to and it is fairly straightforward to install another OS if you should chose to do so.

      As far as community goes, I have noticed the stand-offishness as well. The official mailing list seems to be a bit hostile at times but I have had a lot of luck with the Google+ community. [Official] https://plus.google.com/communities/104960311812236799231 [Unofficial] https://plus.google.com/communities/109063557165602177414

      But if you’re happy with the Pi then there really isn’t a huge reason to switch unless you start to need the increased I/O capability or need to do real-time processing. Either way, best of luck!

    2. Brent Foust says:

      > Things that makes me reluctant to move from the Pi seems to be the bad posts re. the BBB’a Ångström distribution. I really NEED the I/O the BBB gives for my project

      You can install Ubuntu on the BBB no problem (https://rcn-ee.net/deb/flasher/raring/). I’m using it because things ‘just work’ (such as BlueTooth, using with a supported device, e.g., GBU521). I was spending too much effort fighting Angstrom to get certain drivers working.

      You can also add an I/O board to your rPI (some can be expensive, such as the $175 RIO for 5X the cost of the rPi itself).

      > Pi, although limited, it aint the cost (€10 or so more), but the current stability.

      The cost of the BBB in the US is actually only $5 difference ($40 vs. $45), and BBB delivers more in several categories, not the least of which is performance (1.5x). Not sure what you’re referring to about ‘stability’, but Ubuntu has been stable on the BBB as well as on the rPi.

      One huge benefit of the rPi is the camera support. And you can install an expansion board to get extra I/O. But if you want the BBB, you’ll get better performance and the familiarity you desire just running Ubuntu on the BBB.

  27. Fantastic article. Like previously mentioned kudos, I felt this was very fair and practical. I just ordered an RPi and though it was before reading this, I feel I made the right choice for now. I’m hoping to resurrect the sort of home control I used to rely on HomeSeer and a full Wintel computer for, plus dabble with web and media server projects. HDMI and community support will be crucial.

    Do you write elsewhere besides your blog?

    1. Thanks Chris, I’m glad I could help! Home control is an excellent application for the RPi.

      I’m not currently writing anywhere else, I’m too busy with school to do much writing at all really, but I work on articles like these when I get some free time.

  28. Mike, this is a beautiful review and the BeagleBone Black seems mouth-watering for my requirements which is having an all-in-one solution (reduce capes) :o)

    Do you know if the graphics are going to beefed up in near-future version of the BBB?

    1. Jayendran I agree, the BeagleBone Black is an exciting little computer. I don’t have any insider knowledge on what their plans are for the next iteration but you might try searching around (or asking) on the forum. The project leaders tend to hang around there and may be able to tell you something.

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  30. Mauro says:

    Michael, thank you very much for your article, it helped me a lot. I was planning to buy a beaglebone black and your article confirmed my idea. Your redaction was also very clear to me, and I consider that very important for people who don’t have english as their mother language, like me (I’m from Argentina).

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  36. Casey says:

    There was no mention of a camera module now being available for the Pi. There is also an colour display module that can plug-in to the Pi. If you plug the Arduino board on to the Pi are you have lots of add-on boards you can use but are you really still using the Pi at that point? If it hasn’t been done already, it may not be long before someone makes an Arduino cape for the BBB (if only to say they did it).

    Either board is worth having. It really comes down to what you want to do with one of these boards as to which one you get. If you really can’t decide, get both. They are cheap enough.

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