TL;DR: The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is out now. This latest model includes 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex A53 running at 1.2 GHz. It’s a usable desktop computer. Available now at the usual Pi retailers for $35.
News of the latest Raspberry Pi swept around the Internet like wildfire this last weekend, thanks to a published FCC docs showing a Pi with on-board WiFi and Bluetooth. While we thank the dozens of Hackaday readers that wrote in to tell us about the leaked FCC documents, our lips have been sealed until now. We’ve been doing a few hands-on tests with the Pi 3 for about two weeks now, and the reality of the Pi 3 is much cooler than a few leaked FCC docs will tell you.
The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B features a quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex A53 clocked at 1.2 GHz. This puts the Pi 3 roughly 50% faster than the Pi 2. Compared to the Pi 2, the RAM remains the same – 1GB of LPDDR2-900 SDRAM, and the graphics capabilities, provided by the VideoCore IV GPU, are the same as they ever were. As the leaked FCC docs will tell you, the Pi 3 now includes on-board 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. WiFi, wireless keyboards, and wireless mice now work out of the box.
This is a very special year for the Raspberry Pi foundation. Because the foundation was founded on February 29th 2012, today is technically their first birthday, or at least that’s the cheeky line they’re telling everyone. With this anniversary, celebrations are in order and a new model of the Raspberry Pi has been announced.
The headlining feature of the Pi 3 is the built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, but it doesn’t stop there. Here’s the complete specs for the Pi 3:
- SoC: Broadcom BCM2837 (roughly 50% faster than the Pi 2)
- CPU: 1.2 GHZ quad-core ARM Cortex A53 (ARMv8 Instruction Set)
- GPU: Broadcom VideoCore IV @ 400 MHz
- Memory: 1 GB LPDDR2-900 SDRAM
- USB ports: 4
- Network: 10/100 MBPS Ethernet, 802.11n Wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.0
The Pi 3 is exactly what you would expect from the latest Raspberry Pi. No, it doesn’t have SATA or USB C or a PCIe connector. The goal of the Raspberry Pi Foundation has always been to produce an inexpensive computer for everyone, and adding these ports would only drive up the price. Instead of pleasing the power users, the Pi Foundation has done their best to please anyone. Like the Raspberry Pi 2 from late last year, the Raspberry Pi 3 features a new CPU, a Broadcom BCM2837 quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex A53 running at 1.2 GHz.
While the most newsworthy pre-launch leak surrounding the Raspberry Pi 3 is the added wireless functionality, the big news is the upgraded CPU. With the Cortex A53, the Pi 3 has passed through a threshold. The Raspberry Pi isn’t just a board that is used to play retro video games in emulators anymore, and it’s no longer confined to duty as a set-top box. The Pi 3 is a real computer.
This is the Revolver and Fargo of the Raspberry Pi Ecosystem
When the original Raspberry Pi launched four years ago, it immediately fulfilled its promise of bringing a low-cost Linux-based computer to the masses. This promise wasn’t one to bring a high power Linux computer to the masses; checking your email, or loading a web page on the original Pi was a chore. Still, the board was capable enough to be very popular, and rightly so: there’s a lot you can do with a tiny Linux board with a few GPIO pins and an Ethernet port.
Last year, the Raspberry Pi foundation introduced the Pi 2, a much more powerful board with a faster and more capable CPU. The first impressions were wonderful. Here was a computer that could actually be used as a computer. I still have my Pi 2 connected to an old flat screen TV and keyboard on my workbench for light-duty browsing and viewing PDFs.
The Raspberry Pi 3 is another beast entirely. The Pi 3 is now over a threshold where it becomes a useful desktop computer.
Help! and A Hard Day’s Night were excellent Beatles albums, but it was Revolver that took the Beatles to the next level. Led Zeppelin I and II were awesome, but it was IV that turned Zeppelin from a good band into a legend. To extend this metaphor into motion pictures, Raising Arizona is a cult favorite from the Coen Brothers, but it was Fargo and The Big Lebowski that put these filmmakers on the map. The Pi 3 is the Pi Foundation’s Revolver and Fargo. The Raspberry Pi has gone from a tiny, cheap Linux board that can blink a few LEDs on a GPIO to a cheap Linux box that’s fast enough to be a proper computer.
The goal of the Raspberry Pi foundation is to promote computer science in early education. While the Pi 1, Pi 2 and Pi Zero are marginally capable in this role, the Pi 3 is much more useful. This is a computer that could populate an entire elementary school computer lab. The Raspberry Pi has now passed a threshold of usefulness.
A Zero Sum Game
Just a few months ago, the Raspberry Pi Foundation launched the Raspberry Pi Zero, a cut-down version of the original Raspberry Pi. It sells for $5. The Internet went crazy, Pi Zeros are being gobbled up, and no one has any in stock. This $5 computer is selling for $45 on eBay. The laws of supply and demand are as unyielding as the laws of gravity and thermodynamics, and there is understandably criticism aimed at the Pi Foundation.
In speaking with [Eben Upton], wearer of many hats and founder of the Raspberry Pi foundation, there was an elephant in the room when discussing the Pi 3. Where are the Pi Zeros, and will the Pi 3 be in stock for more than a few hours?
The original Model B launch was plagued with waitlists, with people waiting months to get their hands on one. The Pi Model B+ was better, and the Pi 2 launch was exceptionally smooth, shipping 500,000 in two weeks. The launch of a Pi Zero was an aberration, due to unexpected demand and low-ish manufacturing quantities. There were only 100,000 units manufactured in the first run of Pi Zeros, with another 100,000 following shortly thereafter. Right now, there are 300,000 Pi 3s sitting in warehouses, ready to be shipped out around the world.
While the Pi 3 will prove to be very popular, you probably won’t see scalpers selling Pi 3s for hundreds on eBay. There’s enough to go around, and as long as we don’t have too many hoarders, you too can get your hands on one soon. As for the Pi Zeros, they’re coming and it’s not like they have an expiration date on them.
The Raspberry Pi Competitors
Four years ago, when it started to look like the Raspberry Pi was indeed not vaporware, there weren’t many offerings for a cheap single board computer running Linux. The best anyone could do were Gumstix, and these cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $150.
Since the release of the Raspberry Pi, everyone realized that a cheap, small device running Linux would be very useful. To give credit where it is due, [Eben] and the rest of the Raspberry Pi foundation are hugely responsible for the vast ecosystem of small embedded development boards. Everyone is in on the act: Intel has the Edison and the Quark, the BeagleBone was released nearly concurrently with the Pi, and even Apple is rumored to have an SBC in the works. Then came the clones, the knockoffs, and everyone else who wanted a piece of the game.
One of the first boards heavily inspired by the Pi was the Banana Pi, a single board computer with a strikingly similar layout to the original Pi. ODROIDs were next, followed by the Orange Pis, the UDOOs, the and the CubieBoards.
The state of the art in cheap, consumer single board computers is beginning to show a pattern. First, the Raspberry Pi foundation releases a board, and everyone scrambles to come up with an improvement upon that board. Next, the Pi foundation releases new hardware that is at least equal to the current crop of off-brand SBCs, but also builds upon the huge Pi ecosystem and community. The other brands have another go at besting the Pi, and the cycle repeats. Remember C.H.I.P., the computer no one could believe actually cost $9? Now there’s the Raspberry Pi Zero, a computer that costs $5 (if you can find one). You still can’t buy a C.H.I.P.; they’re still handling preorders taken last May, and if you contributed to the C.H.I.P. campaign, you might be waiting another three months. In contrast, 100,000 Raspberry Pi Zeros have been shipped just a few weeks.
The latest boards heralded as a Raspberry Pi killer are the Pine64 and Odroid XU4 The XU4 costs $70 and on that basis can be rejected as a viable Pi competitor out of hand. The Pine64 started as a Kickstarter campaign promising a quad-core ARM Cortex A53 processor running at 1.2GHz, 1 Gigabyte of RAM, Ethernet, HDMI, and a few GPIO pins to blink a few LEDs. By reading the spec sheet, it’s remarkably similar to the latest from the foundation, save for WiFi and Bluetooth found on the Pi 3. The Pine64 will be shipping out to backers shortly, but it’s already dead on arrival. I’m a backer of the Pine64 Kickstarter campaign, and I should have some commitment bias towards this cheap 64-bit computer. Even I must concede the Raspberry Pi 3 is the superior board. It comes with wirelesss, after all, and adding the immense community support, examples, and libraries that are already written, the choice is clear: the Pi foundation hit another home run.
You might think that the Raspberry Pi foundation is iterating around their competitors. This isn’t really true; the development time for the Pi Zero was about nine months, well before C.H.I.P’s Kickstarter launched. The development time for the Pi 3 was closer to 18 months, including the time it took for Broadcom to develop the new silicon.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation is announcing their products with a keen awareness of the Osborne effect. There are undoubtedly plans for an upgrade to the Pi 3 in the works right now, but announcing these plans to the world would only make people wait for the next great announcement. Compared to the innumerable Kickstarter campaigns for Linux-based ARM dev boards who announce a product expecting it to ship in a year, the Pi Foundation’s approach is much more sensible. At this point, a few leaks from an FCC database a day or two before launch don’t really matter.
The Raspberry Pi was always intended to run a variety of operating systems, and for the past four years, we’ve seen just about everything. From the stock Debian distribution to much more esoteric options, ranging from Windows 10 IOT to Plan 9. The usefulness of some of these operating systems is questionable, but it’s not like more choice of OSes is bad, right?
Two operating systems that don’t get enough love on the Raspberry Pi are also two of the most common operating systems for ARM systems: Android and Chrome OS. Yes, there are projects to bring these operating systems to the Pi 2, but they’re not very mature and certainly not ready for mainstream use.
The Pi 3 will change this. It’s faster, yes, but the update to the flagship Pi comes just a few weeks after the release of an experimental OpenGL driver. Graphics, by far, have been the one item holding back a proper Android system for the Pi, and [Eben] tells me Chrome OS will come to the Pi 3 in short order.
The Future of Raspberry Pi
The Pi Zero was a home run, save for manufacturing and distribution, and a $5 computer running Linux and presenting a few GPIO pins is enough to stab the Arduinos of the world through the heart. The Pi 3 is another beast entirely. The Pi 1, Pi 2 and Pi Zero are development systems that just happen to run Linux and Super Nintendo emulators. The Pi 3 is a proper computer that also happens to have GPIO pins, a huge development scene, thousands of examples for any hardware hack you can imagine, and a community with millions of members.
The Pi 3 is also the first board that lives up to the promise of getting students interested in computer science. This is a computer that’s both inexpensive and good enough to give to a classroom of elementary school students. They’ll be able to do their homework, and the most clever of the bunch will start blinking LEDs and switching H-bridges with the pin header. The Raspberry Pi 3 is finally a computer that’s good enough to be a truly mainstream device, and not just a toy for the tech aficionados to fawn over.
We’ll be posting the benchmarks for the Pi 3 in the next few days, but until then head on over to Element 14, RS, or any of the other Pi suppliers and pick one of these boards up. There might be enough to go around.
If you’re searching for the word ‘disclosure’, there it is. The Raspberry Pi foundation sent me a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and SD card for this post.