Raspberry Pi unveils $4 Pico microcontroller with custom silicon

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Raspberry Pi's new $4 Pico microcontroller is based on custom silicon.
Image: Raspberry Pi Foundation

Raspberry Pi devices have become very popular in recent years thanks to their affordability. They also offer impressive performance relative to their size and cost. Now, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is rolling out a new product—a $4 microcontroller called Pico.

After years of offering full computers and complex boards, the organization is finally branching into the world of microcontrollers. Better yet, the new Raspberry Pi Pico is built on the organization’s own silicon.

Pico makes a nice addition to the Raspberry Pi family and should quickly become a favorite of tinkerers and hobbyists.

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Worthy Companion

In a blog post introducing Pico, the Raspberry Pi Foundation noted that its other boards are often used alongside a third-party microcontroller. It writes, “Many hobbyist and industrial applications pair a Raspberry Pi with a microcontroller. The Raspberry Pi takes care of heavyweight computation, network access, and storage, while the microcontroller handles analogue input and low-latency I/O and, sometimes, provides a very low-power standby mode.”

Consumers no longer need to find a third-party microcontroller if they don’t want to. The new Raspberry Pi Pico is a terrific alternative that has plenty of power to get the job done.

Its biggest highlight is a custom chip called the RP2040. The silicon is designed to deliver great performance and flexible I/O while supporting an affordable price point. It accomplishes all three of these things with ease.

Pico is a perfect compliment to Pi’s RP2040 chip. It features 2MB of Flash memory. Meanwhile, the microcontroller’s power supply chip supports input voltages ranging from 1.8-5.5 volts. This allows hobbyists to power the controller with a variety of different sources, including AA batteries and lithium-ion cells.

Pico features a push button that can put it into USB mass-storage mode or be used as a general input. It also has a single LED for quick indicators.

The microcontroller exposes 26 of the RP2040’s GPIO pins so that headers can be soldered to their 0.1-inch pitch pads. Or, Pico can be soldered to a carrier board in its entirety.

Doing Something Cool

It’s often hard to imagine what a new component can do when it is broken down into a list of specs. The Raspberry Pi Foundation realizes this and knows that Pico shines when it is put into action.

As such, it is partnering with several companies to do cool things with the microcontroller. The list includes names like Arduino, Adafruit, and Pimoroni. The latter’s PicoSystem game console is built around the RP2040 and features a screen, buttons, and a D-pad.

As consumers get their hands on Pico, there will be no shortage of exciting projects to admire. Fortunately, there’s no waiting involved. The Raspberry Pi Pico is on sale now for the price of $4. The foundation notes that it can be purchased from approved resellers.

Those who subscribe to HackSpace magazine might want to wait on purchasing their Pico, however, since a free microcontroller will be included with February’s issue. Of course, anyone that loves to tinker knows that you can never have too many microcontrollers.

The new Raspberry Pi Pico is certainly worth a look next time your project requires a microcontroller.

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