At only $5 there is no denying that the Raspberry Pi Zero is seriously cheap. At 65mm long and 30mm wide it’s also tiny! But is the Pi Zero really so much cheaper than the other members of the Pi Family once all the costs are accounted for?
Lower Cost Requires Sacrifices
- The Pi Zero’s GPIO Header is unpopulated, unlike other members of the Pi Family. This means that there is no pin header to connect your wires to – just holes in the board. If your project requires a pin header you’ll need to solder it on yourself.
- The Pi Zero has a Mini HDMI port, meaning that you’ll require an adapter to connect the Pi to a standard HDMI output port.
- The Pi Zero has one Micro USB port for data. You’ll therefore be needing a USB Hub to connect the Pi to more than one peripheral.
- The Pi Zero lacks a CSI Port, meaning that you cannot use it with the Raspberry Pi Camera.
- Update September 2016 : The latest version of the Pi Zero now includes a CSI port for connecting the Raspberry Pi Camera. Note that this port is smaller than that found on stand Raspberry Pi models so you’ll need to buy a special ribbon cable.
- The Pi Zero lacks a DSI port, meaning that you cannot use it with the official Raspberry Pi Touchscreen.
- The Pi Zero has no Ethernet port.
- Other changes include a lack of audio jack.
The Pi Zero is relatively powerful despite it’s size, boasting 512 Megabytes of RAM and a 1 GHz ARM11 Core. This makes it faster than the Raspberry Pi B+!
The Hidden Costs of Using the Pi Zero
The overall reaction to the Pi Zero has been extremely positive. At $5 a pop we finally have a truly disposable computer. But there has been some discussion as to whether the Pi Zero really is so cheap, once one has bought all the necessary accessories.
In my case I already had a SD Card and Power Supply from a previous project. These would be a fixed cost regardless of which model Pi I was working with, so I won’t take these into account here.
- HDMI Mini Adapter ($1 from eBay).
- USB Micro Adapter ($1 from eBay).
- Combined WiFi Dongle USB Hub ($15 from Pimoroni).
The combined WiFi Dongle and USB Hub was by far the most expensive purchase and raised the total cost of the whole package (including the $5 Pi Zero) to $22. The small size of the unit and that it provided two free USB ports made this cost worthwhile.
But is this total cost of $22 so much cheaper than the other Pi Models? The Raspberry Pi B+ retails at $30 and the Raspberry Pi Model 2 retails at $35. Both these models boast a wider range of ports (for example 4xUSB, Standard HDMI, Audio Jack, Ethernet, CSI and DSI) and the Raspberry Pi 2 is also considerably faster. Neither the B+ or Model 2 have WiFi, but a standard WiFi Dongle can be picked up for less than $5.
At $5 the Pi Zero is seriously cheap, but the costs rise quickly if you don’t already have the required adapters and a USB Hub lying around.
The low replacement cost of the Pi Zero is a serious advantage. If your Pi Zero gets fried (this happens often when playing around with the GPIO pins) you only need pay $5 for a new one. On the other hand if you blow up a Raspberry Pi Model 2 you are looking at a $35 replacement cost. That’s gonna start to hurt after a while!
The size of the Pi Zero is also an advantage, making it easier to integrate in projects where space is at a premium.
On the other hand, the sacrifices made to make the Pi Zero cheap and small require you to carefully think through your requirements before choosing the Pi Zero. For example – the unpopulated GPIO Header can cause serious problems for those without previous soldering experience.
So to conclude – the Pi Zero is a great piece of technology, assuming that it’s limitations are right for your use case. And more importantly, it’s a $5 PC that you can play Chocolate Doom on!