Raspberry Pi – What It Really Costs To Set One Up


The Raspberry Pi is famous for its consistent price of $35, but that isn’t the whole story. Sure you can buy the board, but that is far from what you need to actually use the device. If you don’t have a bunch of spare parts lying around, you could spend as much as $300 just getting started.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t purchase a Raspberry Pi, just make sure you know what you are getting into before you pull out your credit card.

Board

Your first order of business when getting started with a Raspberry Pi is to pick which model to purchase. As of now, they range in price from $5 to $55. I would personally stay away from the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero and at least spend $10 on the Raspberry Pi Zero W because Wifi and Bluetooth are a must-have for me.

When it comes to which board to get, you will want to think about what you want to do with your Raspberry Pi. If you are going to use it as a computer, then I would get the most expensive model available so you have enough computing power. If you are using it to run a couple of sensors and as a hobby board, I would recommend looking at the Zero W as a cheaper solution.

Power Supply

The first big surprise for most new Raspberry Pi owners is that the device comes without a power supply/cable. Be sure to purchase a power supply that meets the requirements of your device.

All Raspberry Pi’s require 5 volts but the amperage demand varies by device. Also, with the addition of the Raspberry Pi 4B, you now have to make sure you buy a power supply with the correct adapter. Previous models all used a micro USB adapter but the 4B uses a USB-C adapter.

You can purchase a suitable power supply for about $8

SD Card

Raspberry Pi boards are built in such a minimalistic yet flexible way that they use MicroSD cards for their hard drives. These little cards have dropped in price quite a bit since they first came out. I still remember when an SD card cost $45 for a 256Mb card.

For a Raspberry Pi, you will want to purchase a MicroSD card ranging between 8GB and 32GB. The most you should spend on a MicroSD card is $15.

Case

When you purchase your Raspberry Pi, it will come naked. With no case to protect it, it might seem a little vulnerable. Whether you need to put it in a case or not depends on how you plan on using your development board. If your Raspberry Pi is going to be stationary and in a place safe from the elements, you don’t necessarily need a case at all.

If you do decide to purchase a case, there is a wide range of options. You can buy a simple plastic case. Or you could buy a case with a specific look. There are hundreds of options, and with those options are a vast array of prices as well. You could go caseless and spend $0 or you could buy a case costing as much as $50. Most cases run in the $5-$20 range. To find out more about selecting a case for your Raspberry Pi, check out this article I wrote.

Cables And Adapters

A Raspberry Pi isn’t very useful if it isn’t connected to anything. That’s where cables and adapters come in. The cost of cables and adapters can vary greatly depending on which model you purchase and what you plan on doing with it. At the very least you consider getting a mini HDMI to regular HDMI adapter.

You may also want to consider purchasing an Ethernet cable if your Raspberry Pi needs to be connected to a network or is a model without WiFi capabilities.

Lastly, you should also think about investing in a USB hub. Each Raspberry Pi has somewhere between 1 and 4 USB ports. If you purchased one of the models with only 1 USB port, you will probably need to purchase a USB hub so you can connect some peripherals to your new board.

All in all, you can expect to spend roughly $10 on cables and adapters though it might be a little bit more depending on your model and use case.

Display

Buying a display or screen for your Raspberry Pi is where you might feel your wallet cringe a little bit. If you have a monitor or TV with an HDMI input available, you can always use that. If you don’t you will most likely need to purchase a display.

There are a wide variety of displays ranging from E-Ink to touchscreens and everything in between. Displays can come as cheap as $25 and as expensive as $125. Before you rush and buy the cheapest display you can find, think through what it is you want to use your Raspberry Pi for and what makes the most sense. A smaller screen might be cheaper, but if it takes all of the fun out of using your Raspberry Pi, then it’s probably worth spending a little more to get what you want.

If you decide to go with the slightly more expensive touchscreen route, you might want to do a little research. Here is a quick blog post about selecting the right tough screen.

Peripherals

Chances are if you are the type of person that is buying a Raspberry Pi, you probably have a spare keyboard and mouse lying around. If that’s the case, you can skip the rest of this paragraph. If you don’t have an extra set of these basic computer peripherals, you will definitely want to look into purchasing them. You can get a cheap set on Amazon here.

There are other peripherals that you may want to purchase along with your Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi Camera is a common add-on device for many projects. You might also consider a heat sink to keep your processor cool or a battery pack to make your project mobile.

It is very easy to skip over this category when purchasing a Raspberry Pi but if you have a project in mind, you might end up spending as much as $30 in peripherals.

Other Boards

Purchasing add-on boards is something that you will only need to do if you plan on using your Raspberry Pi for more than just a personal computer. Add on boards connecting through the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO are what make it one of the top choices for hobbyists.

If you want your Raspberry Pi to control motors or be connected to sensors, you are going to need to purchase a separate circuit board. These come in a variety of configurations and their prices vary widely. You can buy a simple motor controller board for $10 or you could get a fully operational 2-way long-range radio antenna system for $150.

Now, not many people are going to be dropping $150 on other boards to connect to their Raspberry Pi, but don’t be surprised if the project you have in mind requires the purchase of one or two $20 boards.

Starter Kits

Raspberry Pi boards have been around long enough where people have put together starter kits. A starter kit is simply a collection of parts to get you going. Some are small with only the bare minimum to get your Raspberry Pi up and running. Others contain hundreds of parts.

When purchasing a starter kit, you will want to be sure that it is compatible with your Raspberry Pi model. You will also want to be careful not to buy a kit that has a bunch of parts you never plan on using. If you are looking to experiment a lot, then a larger starter kit might be what you are looking for.

For a new Raspberry Pi user, I would recommend getting a starter kit. This way you won’t accidentally buy a part that’s not compatible with your device and you won’t forget any important parts. You can check out my list of recommended starter kits here.

Final Price Range

So how much is it really going to cost? If you’ve read anything I’ve written above you can tell that it really depends on your use case and what parts you might already have lying around. Here’s a rough breakdown for three different use cases.

Very Cheap Personal Computer

Standard Raspberry Pi Computer Build

Simple Raspberry Pi Robot

Note: This build assumes that you have some peripherals and a monitor you can temporarily use while setting up your build.

Key Takeaways

It’s really easy to spend hundreds of dollars tinkering with a Raspberry Pi. If you were thinking that you could get away with spending less than $50 on everything you are out of luck.

The price point on Raspberry Pi development boards is very low for what they are capable of, but the reality is, most people just looking for a cheap computer are better off buying something already put together.

Related Questions

What is the cheapest Raspberry Pi

The cheapest serries of Raspberry Pi development boards is the Zero serries. The Raspberry Pi Zero is priced at $5 and the Zero W (includes Wifi and Bluetooth) is priced at $10.

What is the difference between a Raspberry Pi and a computer

To a degree, a Raspberry Pi is a personal computer. The primary difference is the power, size, and connections available. In general, a computer that you would purchase at a store will have a more powerful processor, more ram, and a larger hard drive than a Raspberry Pi. A Raspberry Pi is much smaller than a computer and also has exposed GPIO pins that allow for a variety of connections.

Recent Content