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Which Raspberry Pi is Best Used for a 3D Printer?

Using a Raspberry Pi with your 3D printer unlocks a new world of functionality and convenience. You can remotely monitor the progress of your prints, send files to the printer wirelessly, and – most remarkable – create and share time-lapses of your 3D printed objects. However, only some Raspberry Pi’s offer these advantages. 

The best Raspberry Pi to use for a 3D printer is The Raspberry 4B. OctoPrint recommends this model, which features the highest performance compared to other OctoPrint-recommended Raspberry Pis. The 4B is also fast, has unlimited support for plugins, and can effortlessly slice STL files.

3D printers are compatible with multiple types of Raspberry Pis, but not all offer the same speed, benefits, and reliability. Keep reading to learn about the factors to consider when choosing a Raspberry Pi for a 3D printer. I’ll compare the options and tell you why the 4B prevails.

Qualities of a Good Raspberry Pi 3D Printer Controller

When selecting a Raspberry Pi to control your 3D printer, you have various options. Even after OctoPrint narrows down your choices with their recommendations, there are still multiple options that you could choose.

Below are the factors to consider when selecting a Raspberry Pi to use as a 3D printer controller:

  • Compatibility with Octoprint.
  • The community support is available.
  • Performance parameters such as speed and support for plugins.
  • Power requirements.
  • Cooling requirements.

I’ll explain why each of these factors matters when selecting a Raspberry Pi to use alongside a 3D printer.

Compatibility With Octoprint

A 3D printer’s motherboard can only handle tasks directly related to printing, such as controlling the temperature at the hot end. If you want to perform other tasks such as slicing STL files, your best bet is to use another board – this is where the Raspberry Pi comes in.

The Raspberry Pi is only one-half of the system that will help you accomplish activities such as remote monitoring. The other half is the software, which is where Octoprint comes in.

OctoPrint is the de-facto industry standard and the go-to software when using Raspberry Pi as a 3D printer controller. Some reasons for the software’s popularity are its ease of use and wide range of functionality.

Since you’ll likely also be using your Raspberry Pi with Octoprint, ensuring that the Raspberry Pi you choose is compatible with the software is critical.

OctoPrint’s official website recommends the following Raspberry Pis:

  • The Raspberry Pi 3B.
  • The Raspberry Pi 3B+.
  • The Raspberry Pi 4B.
  • The Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W.

Why You Should Avoid Non-Recommended Raspberry Pis When Using OctoPrint

If you ignore OctoPrint’s recommendations and go with another Raspberry Pi, you’ll be risking significant performance issues and other disappointments.

Octoprint does not provide official support for hardware that it doesn’t recommend.

Additionally, non-recommended hardware might introduce flaws in your print, such as artifacts and misplaced layers.

You should also prepare for longer loading times when installing plugins or a webcam to your setup.

OctoPrint explicitly warns against using the following devices:

  • The Raspberry Pi Zero.
  • The Raspberry Pi Zero W.

These Raspberry Pis have severe performance issues that negatively affect your print performance.

With the above in mind, if you want the best experience controlling your 3D printer with a Raspberry Pi, you should use the recommended devices.

The question then becomes, out of the four recommended devices, which one is best? Let’s keep talking about it to find out!

The Community Support Available

If you’re new to a technology or a product, the last thing you want is to be alone in your struggle.

Sure, every decent product will have official support, but that’s never enough. A community of other users who have gone through the same issues you’re going through is invaluable.

Newer products tend to have less support because they aren’t as accessible to the public. On the other hand, products that have been around for a while will be backed by significant community support, especially if they are popular.

Of the four OctoPrint-recommended Raspberry Pis, the Pi Zero 2 W is the most recent, released in 2021. Still, many resources on the web deal with Zero 2 W issues.

The other editions have been around for a while. The 3B entered the market in 2016, the 3B+ in 2018, and the 4B in 2019. These three models have numerous blog posts, forum threads, and tutorials to support them.

As far as community support goes, you’ll be good no matter which of the four recommended Raspberry Pis you use. Many resources are available to help you set up and troubleshoot any of these Raspberry Pi models with a 3D printer. 

Performance Parameters Such As Speed and Support for Plugins

Regarding performance, the Raspberry Pi 4B is the clear winner, probably because it’s the most recent Raspberry Pi compatible with OctoPrint.

RAM

Regarding the random access memory (RAM) available, the 4B has four options:

  • 1 GB RAM.
  • 2 GB RAM.
  • 4 GB RAM.
  • 8 GB RAM.

The RAM of a device determines how many concurrent applications you can run on it. It also determines whether you can run demanding apps. The higher the Pi’s RAM, the more resource-intensive software you can run on it simultaneously.

The table below compares the RAM capacities of the four recommended devices.

DeviceZero 23B3B+4B
RAM512 MB1 GB1 GB1 – 8 GB
Raspberry PI RAM capacities

As shown in the table, the Pi Zero 2 has the least RAM, and the 4B has the highest. However, just how much RAM does your Pi need for optimal performance?

With 1 GB RAM, you can comfortably use your Pi for the following activities:

  • Running concurrent programs like OctoPrint, PiVpn, and Pihole.
  • Running multiple instances of OctoPrint. 
  • Running advanced plugins like the Octolapse plugin for recording time-lapses.
  • Running more than one camera stream.

The above list covers most of the resource-intensive tasks you would want to run with your Raspberry Pi. As such, you would be okay with the 3B, the 3B+, or any variation of the 4B.

If you just intend to run Octoprint for a task as simple as wirelessly sending G-code to your 3D printer, you’ll be fine using the Zero 2 with its 512 MB RAM. However, if you plan to run multiple, resource-intensive programs, you should avoid choosing the Zero 2 and go with the alternatives (just to be safe).

With the 2 GB version of the Raspberry Pi 4B, you can rest assured that your Raspberry Pi is good to go for just about any 3D printer controller task. 

However, the 4GB or 8GB versions of the 4B would be overkill for 3D printing, so you don’t need the most RAM to get the job done. 

Speed

When it comes to speed, the Raspberry Pi 4B is the undisputed champion among our four contenders. The 4 B’s speed is equal to that of entry-level desktop computers.

This speed is courtesy of its four 1.5 GHz Cortex A72 CPU cores.

Let me put that into perspective. With the 4B, you can expect the following speed advantages:

  • Booting Octoprint in seconds.
  • Processing G-code in seconds using Print Time Genius, an Octoprint plugin.
  • An instantly-responsive user interface.

Things are a bit slower with the 3B, the 3B+, and the Zero 2. However, the difference in speed does not meaningfully impact performance.

So, if speed isn’t a priority, you’d be fine picking any of the four options.

Connectivity

Raspberry Pis come with different connectivity options. The best Pi for you will depend on the constraints of your setting and your preferences. For example, you might prefer to connect wirelessly.

Additionally, if you are streaming the feed from multiple cameras, you might want a Raspberry Pi with more robust connectivity.

Some features you might want to look out for include:

  • Dual-band wi-fi.
  • Gigabit Ethernet.
  • USB technology and the number of ports.
  • Bluetooth.
  • HDMI.

The table below will compare the connectivity options afforded by each of the four Raspberry Pis under consideration:

Zero 23B3B+4B
Wi-FiSingle-bandSingle-bandDual-bandDual-band
EthernetN/AYesGigabit EthernetGigabit Ethernet
USBMicro USBFour USB 2.0 portsFour USB 2.0 PortsTwo USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports
BluetoothYesYesYesYes (5.0)
HDMIMini HDMIStandard HDMIStandard HDMITwo Micro HDMI
Raspberry PI connectivity options

The dual-band feature might come in handy if you have both wi-fi bands and think one band could perform better than the other. This feature could prompt you to choose the 3B + over the 3B.

The throughput of the Gigabit Ethernet in the 4B is unlimited, unlike in the 3B+. In the 3B+, the throughput is limited to 300 Mb/s by the USB 2.0 connection.

Power Requirements

Power is generally not an issue when using Raspberry Pis.

However, using too many peripherals with the 4B might result in a power issue. The Pi might draw more current than the stock 2 A power connector can allow. However, you could buy a 3 A power connector to avoid this potential risk.

The current issue doesn’t seem to be a significant problem. Some users have no issues using the original 2.5 A connector, even with multiple peripherals such as a keyboard, monitor, webcam, and mouse.

However, if you want to buy a 3 A charger for your Pi 4, check out this Raspberry Pi 4 power supply on Amazon.com. It’s made specifically for the Pi 4, has a 3 A power rating, and is the official power supply from Raspberry.

Since it’s the official product, you can expect high reliability and performance, which is not always the case with power supplies that are not from Raspberry.

Cooling Requirements

The Pi 4 might have higher power requirements if connected to many peripherals, but it’s also liable to excessive heating.

You could use a heat sink or fan to solve this overheating problem.

It’s worth noting that – under normal circumstances – the Pi 4 isn’t likely to heat to the point where it throttles. Throttling is when the Pi scales back CPU performance to counter excess heating. 

To combat this heating issue, you could opt for the Pi 4s, which uses the newer firmware versions. This model has some extra features that keep it from getting too warm. 

So, you don’t have to install a heatsink or fan when buying the Pi 4.

That said, using an additional cooling measure never hurts – it might help prolong the lifespan of your Raspberry Pi.

Some people prefer a heatsink because it has certain advantages over fans:

  • It’s quiet, unlike a fan which can get noisy.
  • It doesn’t accumulate dust or blow dust onto the Pi.
  • It can’t fail, unlike a fan.

This Raspberry Pi 4 Heatsink from Amazon.com is a reliable option if you want to go the heat sink way. It comes with six aluminum heatsinks that help increase the total thermal dissipation area of your Pi and keep it cool. It also has a sturdy adhesive tape that can come in handy.

This Noctua Premium Quiet Fan from Amazon.com is an excellent choice if you prefer using a fan. It can be quiet to the point where the sound is almost unnoticeable, especially since cooling your Pi might not require a lot of gust. It also comes with multiple adapters, allowing it to connect to different types of hardware.

If you prefer not to go through the hassle of installing additional cooling, you could go with the Zero 2, the 3B, and the 3B+. However, the cost and effort of adding the cooling options are not significant enough to seriously disadvantage the 4B.

Conclusion

The Raspberry Pi 4B is best for a 3D printer. It’s the most modern and powerful option among the OctoPrint-recommended Raspberry Pis.

One disadvantage with the 4B is that it may require the addition of cooling mechanisms like a heatsink or fan. However, this is a relatively minor disadvantage.

Still, each of the four OctoPrint-recommended Raspberry Pis would work well as a 3D printer controller. Choosing the 4B allows you to enjoy faster speeds and better general performance.