While Raspberry Pi boards have been around since 2012, they have been powered by Broadcom SoCs. But in January 2021 we saw the first Raspberry Pi silicon, the RP2040 arrive and in a short space of time it has become a major SoC in the maker community. With two Arm Cortex M0+ cores running at 133 MHz, 264KB of RAM and up to 16MB of Flash, these chips open up a new range 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.
- What size / pins do you need? Smaller RP2040 boards like Pimoroni’s Tiny RP2040, SparkFun’s Pro Micro 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 are only a few boards, for example Arduino’s 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.
Read: Raspberry Pi Pico Review
Adafruit, partners in the RP2040 project have released many great RP2040 boards in a short space of time. The company has its own ecosystem of form factors and its largest, the Feather, is where we saw their first RP2040 system. Designed to take advantage of an expansive range of add-ons called “FeatherWings”, the Feather RP2040 has fewer pins than a typical Raspberry Pi Pico, but the choice of pins is curated to give us the best that the RP2040 can offer.
What we lose in GPIO pins we gain in onboard LiPo / Li-Ion battery charging, great pin labeling and Stemma QT, Adafruit’s connector of choice for components that connect using I2C. With Stemma QT we have none of the messy wiring and polarity issues, enabling us to focus on the project and not our wiring.
If you’re looking for the most versatile RP2040 board on the market, look no further. Sure, we pay a premium over the Raspberry Pi Pico, but the Adafruit Feather RP2040 is a refined product that is ready to drop into your next project.
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!
Adafruit’s QT Py RP2040 is similar to Pimoroni’s Tiny 2040. We have the RP2040 squeezed into the smallest package and we have a curated selection of GPIO pins for our projects. Adafruit’s QTPy RP2040 has castellated edges, designed to surface mount the board into a project and it features a Stemma QT / Qwiic connector which breaks out an additional I2C connection for use with Stemma QT / Qwiic compatible components, a useful and tidy solution for rapid prototyping.
The low cost and ease of use afforded by the QTPy RP2040 is amplified by Adafruit’s MicroPython fork, CircuitPython, which has many libraries of code for use with Stemma QT / Qwiic components. Even if you already own a Raspberry Pi Pico, the QTPy RP2040 should still be part of your project box.
Solder Party’s RP2040 Stamp is a $12, one-inch square board resembles a postage stamp but emblazoned on the center is the familiar RP2040 SoC, along with 8MB of flash storage and a full complement of GPIO pins forming a perimeter of castellations around the board.
RP2040 Stamp is designed for use in your own PCBs. The castellations and onboard LiPo charging system means that most of the hard work is done for us. This is a smartly designed board which we can see being used in a plethora of new projects.
Many of the Raspberry Pi Pico alternatives have one thing in common, they lack the full set of GPIO pins found on the Pico. Pimoroni’s Pico LiPo is a drop-in replacement for the Raspberry Pi Pico that provides all of the GPIO pins found on a Pico, with added bonus of onboard LiPo / Li-Ion charging and a Stemma QT / Qwiic connector.
Pico LiPo does cost more than three times the price of a standard Pico, but with these extra features in the same form factor we can justify spending the extra money. If you are planning to build embedded / mobile projects or wish to try out the Stemma QT / Qwiic components ecosystem, then Pico LiPo is a serious contender for your attention.
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 Arduino 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.
Seeed’s $5 XIAO RP2040 is an upgrade on its previous SAMD21 model for no extra money. It shares the same pinout as Adafruit’s QT Py RP2040 but lacks the Stemma QT port. If you really need that port then pay the extra $5 for the QT Py, but for most uses Seeed’s XIAO RP2040 is more than up to the job.
The tiny board is made for dropping into an embedded project, and the castellated edges mean we can easily surface mount solder this board to a PCB. The cost per board means that we can embed and forget a project without hurting our wallets.
Read: Seeed XIAO RP2040
Pimoroni’s Keybow 2040 is something special in the RP2040 range: a programmable 16-key keypad, powered by the RP2040. This isn’t a board that you use to build a project, rather it is something that we integrate into a project. With 16 mechanical keys, each with an addressable NeoPixel LED we can build the Keybow 2040 into our daily workflow.
The board ships with Pimoroni’s fork of MicroPython with modules to use Keybow 2040, but you will only get the best from this board via Adafruit’s CircuitPython and its USB HID module. Using this we can assign keypresses, media keys and mouse movements to any of the keys, making short work of tedious tasks.
The $10 SparkFun Pro Micro RP2040 is the cheapest model in SparkFun’s range and follows a classic design that resembles an Arduino Nano board layout which is at home in a breadboard and embedded into your projects. We have fewer GPIO pins than a Pico, but more than Adafruit’s QTPy RP2040 while retaining a small layout.
SparkFun’s Qwiic connector, compatible with Adafruit’s Stemma QT, enables us to use many of the compatible components such as sensors and displays with the Pro Micro and for $10 this is a Swiss Army Knife of a board that provides a cost effective and multi-purpose means to explore the RP2040 ecosystem.