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On February 28th, 2017, the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced the latest product in the Raspberry Pi series – the Raspberry Pi Zero W. The new product adds wireless connectivity to the Raspberry Pi Zero and is being retailed for just $10. This is great news for enthusiasts and hobbyists all around the world. 

Wait, wait, Raspberry Pi? Raspberry Pi Zero? Wireless? What are we talking about? Okay, so, to understand the idea behind Raspberry Pi Zero W and the benefits it brings, we need to back up a bit and talk about the Raspberry Pi series of products and its history.

The Raspberry Pi’s history

The Raspberry Pi is a computer that’s the size of a credit card and was made available to the public for the low price of $35. And yes, despite the size and the price of the product, it’s a full-fledged computer capable of running an operating system like Linux and Android, though Windows is a bit too heavy for it to run. It came with 2 USB ports and a HDMI port so you can plug your keyboard, mouse, and monitor into it and treat it just like your everyday computer. 

The first generation of the Raspberry Pi was released in February 2012 and was an instant hit among the DIY and hobbyist crowd. The small-sized and low-priced computer proved to be perfect to power up their DIY projects. By the time this post was written, 10 million Raspberry Pi computers have been sold and countless numbers of projects using the miniature computer have been made. It has been used in projects including: home arcade boxes, automated pet feeders, media centers, security cameras, and many, many others. 

The second generation of the Raspberry Pi was launched in February 2015. The computer now offered a higher-clocked, quad-core processor with 1 GB of RAM and was still being sold at $35. Then, a year later in February 2016, the Raspberry Pi 3 was launched. While the price remained the same, this latest generation of the computer boasted higher performance as well as wireless connectivity via WiFi and Bluetooth. 

What’s better than a $35 computer? 

The Raspberry Pi has come a long way but, with all of that said, do you know what’s better than a $35 computer? A $5 computer that’s even smaller, which is exactly what was launched in November 2015: the Raspberry Pi Zero. Despite its price, this new computer is actually faster than the original Raspberry Pi and, by using micro USB and mini HDMI instead of the normal-sized port, the Raspberry Pi Zero managed to shrink down to just half the size of a credit card. 

Unfortunately, using micro USB and mini HDMI ports leads to another set of problems. Most people need additional dongles or converters to connect to those ports, and those accessories can be as expensive as the computer itself. For example: a micro-USB to Ethernet connector will cost $5, a micro-USB to USB connector will cost $4, and a micro-USB WiFi adapter will cost $10. 

Welcome the Raspberry Pi Zero W 

Needing additional dongles and accessories that cost as much as the computer itself pretty much undermines the point of a cheap computer. So to mitigate that the Raspberry Pi Zero W, a Raspberry Pi Zero with integrated WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, was introduced in February 2017 at the price of $10.

Here are the hardware specifications ofthe Raspberry Pi Zero W:

  • Broadcom BCM2835 single-core CPU @1GHz
  • Micro USB data port
  • Micro USB power port
  • Mini HDMI port with 1080p60 video output
  • Micro SD card slot
  • HAT-compatible 40-pin header
  • Composite video and reset headers
  • CSI camera connector
  • 802.11n wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 4.0 

Its dimensions are 65mm x 30mm x 5mm (for comparison, the size of a Raspberry Pi 3 is 85mm x 56mm x 17mm). 

There are several things to note about the hardware. One of them is that the 40-pin GPIO connector is not soldered out of the box; you have to solder it yourself. These unsoldered connectors are what allow the computer to be so slim and will be pretty useful to people who don’t need a GPIO connection. 

Another thing to note is that the wireless chip is the same wireless chip found in the Raspberry Pi 3, so they should behave and perform pretty similarly. And because the rest of the hardware is basically the same as the ones found in the Raspberry Pi Zero, you can think of the RaspberryPi Zero W as a fusion between both series. 

Is the wireless connectivity worth the added cost?

You may wonder if the wireless connectivity is worth the additional $5. Well, it really depends on your use case. For example, in my home everything is already wireless and I don’t have any LAN cables that I can plug in to connect to the Internet, so wireless connectivity is a really big deal for me. 

And really, there are a lot of projects and places where having wireless connectivity could help a lot. Imagine if you want to setup a camera in front of your home that would send an email to you every time it spots a particular type of car. Without a WiFi connection, you would have to pull your Ethernet cable all the way out there to have an Internet connection. And it’s not just the Internet to consider – having Bluetooth connectivity is a really practical way to connect to other devices, like your phone for instance. 

All in all, the Raspberry Pi Zero W is a great addition to the Raspberry Pi line of computers. It’s affordable, it’s highly capable, and with the addition of wireless connectivity it has become practical to use too. So go get your hands on one and start your own project today. 

About the author

Raka Mahesa is a game developer at Chocoarts: chocoarts.com, who is interested in digital technology in general. In his spare time, he likes to work on his own projects, with Corridoom VR being his latest released game. Raka also regularly tweets as @legacy99. 


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