Raspberry Pi is among the most popular choice for low-cost computing hardware among makers and engineers building prototypes and hobby systems that do virtually anything from run home automation systems to acting as full desktop computers.

For about $35, you can purchase a working computer including: motherboard, processor, RAM, 10/100 ethernet, microUSB power, full HD and audio out, USB ports, and a slot for microSD storage. In fact, the latest generation of these products include on-board wireless N for easy wireless networking.

All of these features fit on a motherboard that is about the size of an Altoids tin.

This is a tremendous deal, and one of the reasons why the Raspberry Pi is such a popular and recognizable name in computing. Over the past several years, the line of products bearing the Raspberry Pi brand include half a dozen motherboards with several different form factors to meet a variety of needs.

Operating systems like Raspbian have become available, which are optimized for use on the device. However, the Raspberry Pi is powerful enough that it can even run a special version of Windows 10 called Windows 10 IoT Core which is specially created for low-powered, small systems like the Pi.

For IoT, small boards rule

When it comes to the Internet of Things, small boards rule. The Raspberry Pi Zero, which is smaller than a standard business card, is a popular choice for those situations where having an embedded computer in a project is key. While it doesn’t feature built-in Wi-Fi or ethernet, you can add this through its microUSB port. The board features a microSD slot for storage and a mini HDMI port for audio and video out.

All that is available on a board with a base price of $5. You would likely be paying more for the microSD card that that you put its operating system on than the computer itself.

The original version of the Raspberry Pi Zero didn’t include a camera connector, but this changed recently with the creation of the Raspberry Pi Zero v1.3. This made the Pi Zero a great choice for projects like wearable cameras. Its 40-pin unpopulated GPIO header will require a little soldering to add components to, but it does make for an extremely expandable system.

Powerful coding tools like Node-RED make programming IoT solutions for the Pi easy. From a browser, you can control how various sensors and other components work with the Pi.

Whether you’re a first-time developer, a hobbyist, or an engineer with an ambitious project idea creating a prototype, these low-cost small system-on-a-chip devices are a popular choice to help you hit the ground running.

Ryan Matthew Pierson