Stop! Don’t buy the Official Raspberry Pi Starter Kit. You can make your own – and in many ways, better kit – for less money. Join me as I talk you through every component, and where to get the best deals.
What’s in the Kit?
The kit comes bundled in a minimalist white box — much like Apple products do. I can understand the psychological need for a nice box if you are spending $1000 or more on a computer, but for a few accessories? Here’s the breakdown of what’s included:
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
- 8GB microSD Card with NOOBS preinstalled
- Official case
- Official 2.5A multi-region power supply
- 1M HDMI cable
- Optical mouse
- Keyboard with “high-quality scissor-switch action”
- Adventures in Raspberry Pi Foundation Edition book
Were you expecting more? In my opinion, this kit is overpriced ($159/£119). Below, I’ll break down each component, and show you where to buy it for less — including official and unofficial models. Since the Pi is designed and manufactured in the UK, I’ll including links and prices to UK stock as well.
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
This is the most critical component! At time of writing (12 September 2016), the Pi has sold more than 10,000,000 (ten million) units. That’s a staggeringly large volume of devices. If you are not sure what to make with the Pi, check out these ten weirdest projects. If you are just starting out with the Pi, have a look at these beginner projects.
The Pi is the most expensive item in the kit at $35.70 from Amazon.com (£28.99 from Amazon.co.uk, and from CDN$ 58.99 Amazon.ca). It’s well worth the price of admission, and as Broadcom has an exclusive deal with the Raspberry Pi foundation, there are not many identical clones made.
8GB MicroSD Card
You need a microSD card to run the operating system. Whilst it is possible to boot the Pi 3 from USB (learn how here), that’s not always desirable. The microSD card stores all of the files needed to run the Pi. It also stores all of your files, and any scripts setup to do cool things.
The card in this kit comes with “New Out Of Box Software” (NOOBS) pre-installed. This saves you a bit of work, although it’s often cheaper to install an operating system yourself. Not sure how to do this? Christian Cawley shows you how.
There are many different types and speeds of microSD card (here’s some things to look out for). The Pi is limited to about 20MB/s, so save your money and buy a slower (and cheaper) memory card. The main factor when choosing a card is reliability and capacity. Any card from a major manufacturer will be trustworthy. Be very wary of purchasing cards from abroad, or cards that are extraordinarily cheap — they are likely to be fake, and you may find the capacity is significantly lower than stated.
Amazon.com sell an 8GB microSD (CA) for $8.99, preloaded with NOOBS. They also sell a 16GB for $14.99, or a 32GB (CA) for $21.95, all preloaded with NOOBS. It’s worth buying from a reputable seller to ensure you receive a genuine card. In UK prices are £5.72 for 8GB, £7.11 for 16GB, or 32GB for £9.
Some of these cards do not come with microSD to SD adaptors. Again, Amazon sell these for very little (it does not matter how cheap you purchase these for, they are all the same). $4.08.
An Official Case
Here’s where it gets interesting. There are plenty of cases available for much less than the official case. Amazon.com has one for $4.99 or Ebay.com (from China) for $2.89. Etsy also sells 3d printed versions.
Thingiverse has plenty of designs if you would like to 3D print your own.
Official 2.5A Power Supply
The power supply is another area you do not want to cut corners on. At best, it may not deliver enough current to the Pi. At worst, it may be dangerous. Fortunately, the Pi uses a Micro USB connector, meaning chargers for most phones and tablets will work, providing they can supply enough current.
If you want to save some money here, you could use your existing mobile phone charger (providing it can supply enough current), or run the Pi from your computer USB port.
Alternatively, Here are three ways of powering your Pi on the go.
1m HDMI Cable
The HDMI cable is another area to save money. You may not need to buy one — if you have one already, or you are planning on accessing the Pi remotely, you can skip this step (here’s how you setup the Pi for “headless” access).
There’s a lot of myths and snake-oil around HDMI cables. Dave Parrack explains why you should never spend more than $10 — more expensive is not always better!
Optical Mouse and Keyboard
Logitech sell a keyboard and mouse set for $14.95 (Amazon.com, .CA). If you would like an all-in-one keyboard and touchpad, these can be had for $14.99 (Amazon.com, .CA). Finally, AliExpress sell a wireless keyboard and mouse set for $11.88 [No Longer Available].
UK buyers have several options. This wired set costs £8.62, this gaming set for £11.39, or even this Dell wireless combo can be had for £24 — it’s a bit expensive, but still cheaper than buying the whole bundle from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
Adventures in Raspberry Pi Book
Now this is quite a nice book. It contains “9 Awesome Projects written especially for young people”. It’s not possible to buy this book any cheaper than the retail price ($19.94/£10.16,CDN$23.30), although it is cheaper if you purchase the kindle edition ($11.13).
I personally own this book. The foundation thought it really was worth the money, so they gave it away for free at The Bett Show (formerly the British Educational Training and Technology Show — try saying that when you have had a few).
If you want to save some money here, the Raspberry Pi Website has a free PDF with several projects in. Alternatively, why not check out some of the Pi Projects featured here, such as these beginner projects.
The grand total comes to $79.06 — This is just under half the price. This includes a kindle edition of the book, and a keyboard and mouse from Aliexpress. The UK total is £60.04 — a little over half the cost of the official kit.
It is possible to put a kit together for even less if you re-use parts you already have, and especially if you abandon the book (besides, we have plenty of projects to keep you busy). You could use the money you save to buy some nice cases to put your starter kit in (US/UK), or invest in a touchscreen (US/UK). You could buy both of these items and still have money left over when compared to the official starter kit.
Whatever you end up buying, let me know in the comments, I’d love to see your setup.