Adapter Board Expands The Pi Zero

The standard Raspberry Pi computers have been in short supply for a while now, so much so that people are going to great lengths to find replacements. Whether it’s migrating to alternative single-board computers or finding clones of the Pi that are “close enough”, there are solutions out there. This method of building a full-size Raspberry Pi with all of the bells and whistles using the much-less-in-demand Pi Zero also stands out as a clever solution.

[SpookyGhost] didn’t build this one himself, but he did stumble across it and write a pretty extensive how-to and performance evaluation for the board, which can be found here. The adapter connects to the Zero’s HDMI and USB ports, and provides all the connectors you’d expect from a larger Pi such as the 3B. It’s not a perfect drop-in replacement though — you don’t get the 3.5 mm audio jack, and the micro SD card location doesn’t match up with where it should be on a “real” Pi.

All things considered, this is one of those solutions that seems obvious in retrospect but we still appreciate its elegance. It might disappear as soon as chip shortages stop being an issue, but for now we’ll take any solutions we can. If you don’t already have a Pi Zero on hand, we’ve seen some other successes replacing them with thin clients or even old smartphones.

23 thoughts on “Adapter Board Expands The Pi Zero

  1. Oh that’s funny. I have two of these running. One just because it’s convenient to add an ethernet port to a Pi Zero (1) in a way that’s bolted down. And the other is a Pi Zero 2w that is in a HDD enclosure to make it standard size / bolted down. Once you do that, the 02w makes a very nice always on torrent machine.

  2. Neat! You do what you need to do in these short supply days.

    As for me, I’ve started using RP2040 boards like the Pico or Pico W for most of the little projects that I used to just throw a Zero W, or even full size RPI board at. Turns out these RP2040 boards are very capable even running microPython instead of C… I’ll use the RPIs when I need things like Linux tools, camera interfacing, speech, playing sound, need more memory, or higher clock speeds for a given project.

  3. Got to wonder what folks really need a more full format Pi for that doesn’t really want the performance of the newer pi models…

    I can see it being useful for some folk don’t get me wrong, it isn’t an entirely stupid idea. It is just when you want more desktop style IO than the Pi Zero comes with you probably also want more compute performance than it is as well.

    1. I mean, ethernet, a full usb port or two, and compatibility with a case don’t mean you’re looking for performance. The original Pi could send data around at 100mbit and operate various devices attached to its IO, couldn’t it? It’s the home theater and thin client stuff that needs both IO (video) and performance. Moreso than functions that boil down to “connect ABC to XYZ”, where usually one of the two is on a network and the other might be a physical input or output the Pi supports. E.G. cameras, sensors, maybe an epaper screen or a control for something IOT or a robot.

      1. But most of that stuff is GPIO related – you don’t need the many USB ports and Ethernet. And if you did need them Ethernet it is just a USB-Ethernet adaptor away and a USB hub is a USB hub. Both probably cheaper than this board, and certainly more useful afterward. If you have a wireless equipped zero there is probably even less point, as the wifi speed and the actual Ethernet throughput in practice are probably going to be functionally equivalent for most folks, bottlenecked by the pretty weak CPU.

        For home theatre use the original Pi’s brain isn’t great – the only video it can play particularly well are the ones it has hardware acceleration for, and even then it is limited. Also its onboard audio is really poor. Don’t get me wrong I still have a heap of original Pi’s doing stuff, including the original lower memory spec of the original Pi, which is still playing cobbled together junk NAS, that is so slow all syncs are performed by sneakernet… But it just keeps trucking along as the lowest priority project to sort out.

        In all the cases I’ve got an old Pi getting any use a Pi zero would be just fine, better even as it is or more compute from the newer Pi’s would be ideal… The overlap between wanting a tiny GPIO equipped computer perhaps with wifi and wanting Ethernet and full size USB just doesn’t seem very big to me. For one a lack of compute power and power draw is usually going to be a good thing, but in the other case you almost certainly want more compute performance so you can actually make use of that theoretically faster wired connection etc.

        1. I think the microusb connections are going to last longer this way, although admittedly if this was a higher price than it is, I wouldn’t bother. But at $15, the price of a hub and adapters or whatever would not make a big savings versus the price of this gadget, and this one fits in existing cases. Of course if you can run the thing bare, the price is way better, but still.

          I don’t think you should play videos with this performance level either. I thought it was kind of silly back when I was using the original Pi, too.

          Whatever you’re doing, even with the GPIO – sensors, controls, etc – you might want to interface with a different computer in the world – or let it accessed from a phone, whatever.
          I’d like it a lot if there was a natively POE pi; that’d save on needing usb all over the place. But even without that, if your internet’s upload is <=100mbit, and you're trying to make whatever the Pi has web-accessible, and it's not the only device that would be on that wifi AP, you'll probably be most consistent about getting to the speed you're already bottlenecked at by using ethernet.

          If I could get more compute and go up to gigabit, then sure. I haven't got a Pi 3 or 4 unfortunately, so I tend to forget they improved. :D

          1. Yeah the jump between a Pi generation 1 and a Pi 2 is meaningful though not game changing IMO, but the 3 and 4 are so much more potent still. Plus the Pi 4 can have heaps and heaps of RAM for such a low power SOC. Still going to find the CPU a bottleneck more often than anything else, but now its a bottleneck you often won’t notice much being able to just about handle the gigabit network and fast USB 3 drives flat out.

            Native POE would be really neat, and if this pi zero addon added POE Ethernet into the mix then I could see the point easily – one cable to power and get data to your project no matter what you are doing with it is a strong selling point for many uses of edge computing.

            I’ve not yet had a Micro USB fail, ever. So while I can see how this could help there I don’t think their reputation for fragility is really all that deserved. Some implementation of them maybe extra problematic, but still years and years of using them now with no failures under remotely survivable conditions for any connector that small in surface mount footprint says they can’t be that bad. (Other than the USB3 micro connector those are awful in my experience).

          2. The performance would let me do things a less limited way, yeah. Maybe I should try a pi4 when i can get one.

            I never had the usb3 micro go bad, but I didn’t use it the same. Just on a portable drive, so little wear. I’ve had regular microusb fail before – if you wiggled the connector it could disconnect. Eventually only worked in one position. Worst on phones / anything I ever used while the cable was plugged in because moving the device around would strain it. Lightning cables will do it too; usb-c has been better so far. But it’s also not as small. They try to make sure the cable wears out before the socket, and I know the number of insertions they will last is high, but you still have to be gentler with microusb than with a full usb port or even mini-usb, and nothing I have is natively microusb otg – it’s natively full usb or it’s sometimes usb-c. So the pi B format can be worthwhile if I plan to use any USB even if the connectors last forever.

            Mainly I just object to donglification. I’d need an otg adapter, a hub, a power adapter for the hub (which may or may be ideal to also power the pi), and a usb ethernet adapter in a big tangle to do what this could do in one box. Maybe the otg adapter would also need usb power; i remember some of them have a second one for injecting power.

  4. I’d be mroe interested in shrinking a full size Pi to Pi zero size than expanding a zero to full size. The Zero’s form factor is really preferable to the full one when you’re doing things in mechanically space limited environments (like small robots with lots of moving parts). A zero can sit alongside an RC pouch LiPo or 2x2x2 AA NIMH stack easily, a full size Pi is much bulkier and harder to cram in.

  5. Most noticeably the memorycard port becomes located on the left side instead of in the middle of the rear, making aforementioned modifications to the case necessary. I use one of these as I find the form-factor more appealing than the zero/zero 2.

  6. The Great Pi Deficit has been going on long enough that The Libre Computer “Le Potato” is now my board of choice. Similar form factor plus IR port and slightly better than the Pi3.

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