ESPHome might soon have to change its name, as support for the newest Raspberry Pi, the Pico W, is coming. The newest member of the Raspberry Pi Pico W is an upgrade, but not replacement, to the one and a half year old Pi Pico, and it will only cost US$6.
The Raspberry Pi Pico W retains the RP2040 SoC, 21 mm × 51 mm size, and 40-pin GPIO, but adds what was missing to make it suitable for ESPHome: 2.4GHz 802.11n wireless LAN. In addition, a future firmware update might also enable Bluetooth 5.2 and Bluetooth LE, of which the hardware is already capable.
The first SoC designed by Raspberry Pi
The Pico is not only the cheapest Raspberry Pi model on the market, it is also the first to feature the RP2040, the debutant in-house SoC. The Raspberry Pi Foundation hasn’t reserved this SoC for their products, and third-party manufacturers have already produced Wi-Fi capable boards featuring the RP2040. The Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect is one such example.
I’m assuming that the ESPHome team is working on primarily integrating the Raspberry Pi Pico W, and not every variant available. The above-mentioned Arduino Nano RP2040 Connect uses a u-blox NINA Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module, whereas the Pico W makes use of an Infineon CYW43439.
Also of note for ESPHome users is that the Raspberry Pi Pico W’s chip supports the relatively new Bluetooth 5.2 and Bluetooth LE – just as an ESP32 would. However, the current firmware does not enable this functionality, and there aren’t any promises that it ever will.
Should you choose the Raspberry Pi Pico W instead of the ESP32?
Once the Raspberry Pi Pico W is fully supported by ESPHome, you might be wondering whether you should use it for your next project, instead of an ESP32. In terms of performance, the Raspberry Pi Pico W can’t quite compete with the ESP32. It should give you significantly better results than the ageing ESP8266, though. Yes, it does also run DOOM.
Comparing the Raspberry Pi Pico W to the ESP32 and ESP8266
Below is a comparison of the Raspberry Pi Pico W, the NodeMCU ESP32, and NodeMCU ESP8266. Keep in mind that the features of ESP32 and ESP8266 boards greatly vary, depending on the model you pick. For example, the LOLIN D1 mini does not have the same amount of available pins as the NodeMCU, despite both using the same ESP8266 microcontroller.
|Raspberry Pi Pico W||NodeMCU ESP32||NodeMCU ESP8266|
|Manufacturer of SoC||Raspberry Pi Foundation||Espressif Systems||Espressif Systems|
|SoC||RP2040 Dual-core at 133 MHz||Tensilica Xtensa LX6 Dual-Core at 240 MHz + ultra low power (ULP) co-processor||Tensilica Xtensa LX106 Single-core at 80 MHz|
|ROM||2 MB QSPI flash||4 MB||4 MB|
|RAM||264 KB||512 KB||64 KB|
|GPIO||26 pins||21 pins||16 pins|
|PWM||16 (hardware)||16 (hardware)||16 (software)|
|Analog inputs||3 (12 bits)||6 (12-bits)1||1 (10 bits)|
Why you still might want a Raspberry Pi Pico W
As you might have gathered so far, the ESP32 seems the better all-round deal. It has faster cores and, if bought from a Chinese marketplace, costs about half as much. Why would anyone in their right mind choose the Raspberry Pi Pico W? There are reasons.
Let us start with those who manufacture the product. The Raspberry Pi Foundation isn’t just a company, but also a charity. It was not founded with the goal of providing a simple system on which to run home automation software, but instead with the goal of promoting the study of basic computer science in schools. There are few companies that aren’t morally bankrupt, but the Raspberry Pi Foundation is trying to do some good. Additionally, the Raspberry Pis are designed and manufactured in the UK.
The second reason is again not directly related to hardware: support. Raspberry Pis, including the Pico and Pico W, are very well documented and supported. Let’s not forget that there was no information on the ESP8266 written in English, when it was first discovered by the maker community. Because the Raspberry Pi Foundation aimed their product at those getting into computer science from the get go, everything has since then been flawlessly documented.
Finally, there are also reasons related to hardware that favour the Raspberry Pi Pico W. Both the ESP32 and ESP8266 use Xtensa CPUs, while the RP2040 in the Raspberry Pi Pico W uses ARM Cortex-M0+ cores. Due to ARM’s popularity, it has increased compiler and tooling support. Users also report that the Pico SDK is much nicer to use than those of the ESP32 and ESP8266. ESPHome Users won’t necessarily notice this, but it should make work easier for its developers easier.
The final reason I want to point out is the legitimacy of the product. The Raspberry Pi Foundation approves resellers, and buying from one of them should guarantee that you are getting the real deal. ESP32 and ESP8266 boards are frequently bought on marketplaces such as AliExpress, where counterfeits are an issue.