Raspberry Pi 3 steps up performance, adds connectivity

March 01, 2016 // By Graham Prophet
The Raspberry Pi Foundation, with distributors RS Components (Electrocomponents) and Farnell element14 have introduced the latest version of the single-board computer; it has a 50% increase in processing power relative to Raspberry Pi 2; and adds on-board wireless connectivity for WiFi and Bluetooth LE.

All of the updates have been achieved while maintaining the original price point of $35. The processor upgrade is to a Quad-core Broadcom BCM2837 64bit ARMv8 processor (running an ARMv7 operating system) at [up to] 1.20 GHz, a significant increase from 900 MHz available with the Raspberry Pi 2. The Broadcom chip uses the Cortex-A53 core.

Eben Upton, CEO of Raspberry Pi Trading (which is the licensing body controlling Raspberry Pi) and originator of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, said that the latest version continues the Foundations’s charitable objectives of raising enthusiasm for computer science and engineering among the young, while the availability of on-board Bluetooth LE (and WiFi) firmly positions it as an IoT hub. Referring to the range of spin-off products that has arisen for embedded computing use, the organisation is, “heading towards Compute Module 3”, for release at a later time. In the context of its educational role, Upton says of the Pi 3, “It crosses the line from [possibly being considered as] a toy, to being a full PC...it was never intended to be just a ‘worthy’ platform.”

 

For element14, a spokesman comment on the Raspberry Pi “customisation” offering that was introduced four months previously; the distributor has seen around 300 ‘opportunities’ of which several are approaching realisation. Most projects so far have involved relatively minor changes to the basic platform, around configuring interfaces and peripherals, and cost-reduction. Batches sizes for possible variants start at 5000 units, upwards. The added on-board connectivity of the model 3 is cited as the largest single gain for embedded users.

 

element14 is adding to its offering of associated products, to include a PiFace interface board, a starter kit (for IoT-class projects) that has been designed with EnOcean and that will use the IBM Bluemix cloud service; an uprated, 2.5A power supply that will power the Pi and any additional boards from a single source; a new moulded case; and a 16 GB NOOBS (New Out Of the Box Software) memory card.

RS Components adds the detail that the connectivity comes from a BCM43438 combo device, which provides 802.11b/g/n wireless LAN, Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy. The main SoC BCM2837 integrates a dual-core VideoCore IV multimedia coprocessor, which provides; 1.2G pixels/sec of fill rate, 1.8 Gtexel/sec of texturing rate; 29 GFLOPs of shader compute throughput; OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0 support; 1080p60 hardware video decoding; 1080p30 hardware video encoding; and a hardware image sensor pipeline. This, Upton comments, represents a small increment of GPU power over the version 2, while the overall CPU performance (over a mixed, general purpose instruction benchmark) is 10x that of the original Pi and 50% up on the Pi 2.

 

The Raspberry Pi 3 boots from a micro SD card and uses the NOOBS installation manager. The standard Raspbian operating system install comes bundled with a range of productivity applications, and programming tools including Node-RED; this visual tool provides support for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services, suiting the board for the rapid development and prototyping of IoT projects. Eben Upton says that the Foundation will not, in the first instance, support a 64-bit OS, that being too much of a commitment and not in alignment with its educational goals, however, he expects third-party 64-bit support to appear and, “We hope to attract [a provider such as] Red Hat,” to further that objective.