Raspberry Pi 4: Hardware first impressions

The Raspberry Pi 4 is available now - much earlier than expected. Here are my first impressions of the hardware, and the extras you're going to need.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

The Raspberry Pi 4 was announced - and available - about two weeks ago. That's about six months earlier than was generally expected; Eben Upton explains how this came to be in the linked announcement. Like many Raspberry Pi users, I got very excited when I saw the announcement, so I went directly to the Pi-Shop.ch web page, and was pleased to find that it was already available there - so I ordered one right away.  

It arrived the next day, but when I opened the box I was confronted with the harsh reality that I had gone charging into this latest adventure without actually bothering to put my brain into gear first.


Pi 3 Model B+ and Pi 4 Model B

Image: J.A. Watson

The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B looks a lot like the previous B-models, as you see in this side-by-side picture of a Pi 3 Model B+ (on the left) and a Pi 4 Model B (on the right). It is obvious that the USB and RJ-45 network connections have been reversed; less obvious but still easy to see when you look for it, the HDMI and power connections have been changed on the Pi 4 also. This is where my difficulty arose.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF)

The power connection has been changed from micro-USB to USB-C. That's actually not a complete surprise, since a lot of mobile phones have made that change as well. The HDMI connection has also changed from a standard full-size connector to two micro-HDMI connectors. This has the advantage of giving you the possibility to connect two monitors; but it has the disadvantage of - well - who the heck has micro-HDMI cables or adapters? Note, this is not the same as the mini-HDMI connection on the Pi-Zero family, these are even smaller than that. To be honest, I had never even heard of them before this.

So, I went back to the Pi-Shop to look for the various bits and bobs that I needed. Hmmm: no micro-HDMI cables or adapters in stock yet. Sigh. No USB-C power supply either, although I assume that is not such a serious problem if I can use a smartphone power supply (USB-C variety, of course), but I'll have to check the power rating before I try that. No Pi 4 case in stock, neither "official" or otherwise. Sigh. This really is early days...

So after that struggle, here are a few tips for those anxious to get started with the new Raspberry Pi 4:

  • Don't just order a Pi 4B and expect that you will be able to get it working.
  • The biggest problem is the display connection. Make sure that you have, or you can get, a micro-HDMI-to-HDMI cable, or adapter.
  • Another significant problem is the power supply. Make sure that you have, or you can get, a power supply with a USB-C connector, or a USB-C to micro-USB converter.
  • If cases are important to you, be sure that you order a RPi4 case! This new board doesn't quite fit in the old "official" Raspberry Pi 3 case. It comes close, and with a bit of creativity (or tolerance), you could probably use one, but if you want it to be really "right", you'll want a new case. 

There was also a new release of the Raspbian operating system announced for the RPi 4. This release is based on Debian 10 (buster), and it is mildly amusing to note that it was actually released before the official release of Debian 10. This is at least one thing that you can take care of while waiting for the necessary pieces to be delivered for the Pi 4. It uses the same micro-SD card as previous Raspberry Pi models (minimum 8GB), so you can download the new Raspbian image and dump it to a card, so you are ready to boot when you get the minimum bits of hardware.

For my part, what I have done is signed up to be notified by the Pi-Shop when these various pieces are available, and at the same time watched their web site like a hawk to see what happens. That latter move paid off, because today one of the Raspberry Pi 4 Starter Kits showed as available, and it includes a power supply and an official case, as did an HDMI adapter. So I have ordered both of those, and they should be delivered tomorrow, so I should have more to say on this by the end of the week.

P.S. For those who might be interested in why I haven't been posting here for quite a while, I took a teaching job at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. I was foolish enough at the beginning to believe that I would be able to do that and still continue blogging here, perhaps at a lower rate. I was wrong, although it took me a while to admit it. I will try to make up for that somewhat over the summer.

Editorial standards