The Raspberry Pi was born on February 29th which means we’re only three years away from its second birthday, and a new hardware release from the Pi Foundation is becoming somewhat of a tradition. This year is no different: a new Raspberry Pi has been announced. The Raspberry Pi Zero W is the latest iteration of the Pi foundation’s tiny and extremely inexpensive single board computer. It’s a Raspberry Pi Zero with WiFi and Bluetooth.
The specs of the new Pi Zero W are nearly identical to the previous incarnation of the non-W Zero. It sports a 1GHz single-core processor, 512 MB of RAM, features Mini HDMI and USB OTG ports, uses a micro USB port for power, features the now-standard 40-pin header with four additional pins for composite video and a reset button. This board, like the second hardware revision of the Pi Zero, also features a CSI camera connector.
Of course, the big feature is the addition of WiFi and Bluetooth. The Pi Zero W adds the wireless functionality from the Raspberry Pi 3B. That’s 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0.
The Pi Zero’s claim to fame was, of course, the price. The original Pi Zero was at first a bit of hardware glued to the cover of the MagPi magazine, later to sell for just $5 USD. The Raspberry Pi Zero W is priced at just $10.
What’s changed in the Pi Zero W? Unless you’re looking at the PCB from the angle of RF design, not much. The big change here is the addition of WiFi and Bluetooth. This hardware comes directly from the Raspberry Pi 3B. Encased in a fancy, glassy chip and attached to the board through weird curvy RF traces, both of these Pis have 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0. As with the Pi 3, the Pi Zero W doesn’t suffer from photonic reset of the wireless subsystem when exposed to a laser.
One marginal difference between the Zero W and Pi 3’s wireless system is the antenna. Where the Pi 3 uses an SMD chip antenna, the Pi Zero W uses a PCB antenna. What effect does this have on the wireless capabilities of the Zero W? I assume not much, but then again my RF testing rig is made out of duct tape.
Ultimately, a cheaper Pi Zero
From what we’ve seen over the past few years, the best use case for a Pi Zero is a Linux-enabled thing. Something that just sits there, taking in bits from the GPIOs, doing a bit of processing, and sending bits out again. The Internet of Things without the Internet, if you will.
Of course, this makes for a perfect IoT prototyping device. For instance, right now I’m working on a ‘Days Since Not A Hack’ counter — a device that will query the Hackaday comments and determine the number of days since someone said a Hackaday post isn’t a hack. A Pi Zero with a WiFi adapter is the best hardware for the job. All I need is an eight dollar WiFi USB adapter.
Now that the Pi Zero W has Wireless baked right in, this project is even cheaper. Instead of five dollars for the Pi, eight for the WiFi adapter, and a few dollars more for the requisite USB OTG adapter, I only need the ten dollar Pi Zero W. Yes, the same results could be obtained by hardwiring a seven-segment display to show ‘0’, but that’s beside the point.
A New Case
There is no shortage of Raspberry Pi cases. If you want a laser-cut case, a 3D printed case, die-cast, or injection molded case, there’s a case for you. A few years ago, the Pi Foundation got in the game with an official case for the normal-sized Pis. Now, there’s an official case for the Pi Zero.
The official Raspberry Pi Zero case comes in four parts. The bottom raspberry-tinted part features handy clip retainers to keep the Pi Zero in place. The three top pieces are embossed with the Pi logo, and provide either a solid cover, access to the GPIO pins, or allow for the installation of a camera module.
Want a free Raspberry Pi Zero W?
Every week, we get some hardware wizards to share their knowledge in Hackaday.io’s Hack Chat, and this week is really great. We’ll be talking with [Roger Thornton], Principal Hardware Engineer at Raspberry Pi. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to make a tiny Linux single board computer, this is the guy to ask. [Roger] oversees design, test, compliance, and production for all the Raspberry Pi hardware. He’ll be in the Hack Chat to give you the inside scoop on baking Raspberry Pis.
As with most Hack Chats, there’s going to be a hardware giveaway. We’re sending out Raspberry Pi Zero W boards to the people who have the best ideas on how to use this new tiny bit of wireless hardware. Sign up for the Hack Chat and join us on March 3, noon, PST.