Hot on the heels of the Raspberry Pi Zero came a new top-of-the-line RasPi – the Raspberry Pi 3. In this article we look at the new Pi and round up the features and performance of the newest flagship Pi.
And yes, retro gaming and video streaming just became a whole lot more fun.
Third Time Lucky
The release of the Pi Zero was a shock to some of us. It was small, and while not the fastest Pi around, it was smaller and faster than the original Pi. Still reeling from the shock of the Zero, we ran smack into the Pi 3, a whole new flagship Pi with a packet of new features all crammed into a board the same size and same configuration as the Pi2 (more about this in a second).
The Pi 3 contains a processor speed hike, plus onboard WiFi and Bluetooth. If that was all you knew about it, you’d be pumped and buy it anyway, right? But it’s so much more than just a faster Pi. For starters, this is a 64-bit Pi which opens up a whole new world of software in the future. While WiFi and Bluetooth are nice to have, the key as to why the Pi3 has them is three words: “Internet of Things.”
It was a big deal that Microsoft announced Pi had access to Windows 10, but as it turns out that was a misnomer; it had IoT based around certain aspects of Windows 10. Obviously in the future there might be a genuine Windows 10 on the Pi when it gets powerful enough. But IoT is the answer to a lot of “why” questions on Pi3.
So it’s faster and better. Is that all?
Moving Things Around
The main processor on the Pi3 is a 1.2GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU from Broadcom, the graphics chip is the same Videocore IV as the other Pi models, and the RAM is 1Gb like the Pi2. Unlike the Zero, but like the Pi2, it keeps the standard USB and Ethernet ports and runs Linux and Windows IoT. (Obviously there are other OSs like RiscOS and AROS etc, but let’s keep it simple.)
It’s a sweet success of engineering that they managed to cram in all these new features to this already-crammed board without upping the size in any dimension. In fact, they had to move the LEDs to another spot on the board to fit in all the routing for the new processors. Incidentally, because of the faster processor and all the new components, the power needs have also hiked up from 5V/2A to 5V/2.5A, so you may have to shell out more money for a new power supply this time.
Speedwise, you already have a 30% clock speed increase from the Pi2 before you factor in that the Pi3 Cortex-A53 is faster than the Pi2’s Cortex-A7. In real terms, it’s about 50% faster. (This is, by the way, around ten times faster than the original Pi, according to some sources. That’s a lot.) Faster is always good. If the processor in a computer runs faster, then no processes are getting stuck and getting in the way of more entertaining processes like video playback or video loading. OSMC runs very sweetly on the Pi3, by the way.
Obviously, with video streaming applications, it’s about more than clock speed; you still have to have a fast Broadband and a direct connection to the Pi with an Ethernet cable for top speed. But the onboard WiFi speed is very respectable, especially as the Pi will almost certainly be close to your router behind the TV.
Note: on the subject of Bluetooth and WiFi, both are there in hardware, but accessing them is a tad more fiddly on the command line than it is under the GUI.
So is the Pi now running in super duper 64-bit? Short answer, no. The current and near future OS revisions of Raspbian will be 32-bit, so although we have a “turbo charger” and it’s “under the hood,” it’s not actually hooked up to the engine yet. And we are running unleaded fuel.
The good news, though, is 64-bit distributions of the OS are in the planning stages (from other platforms than Debian, so we hear), but soon you’ll be able to harness all those extra bits with the OS. Meantime the 32-bit OS runs very nicely on the new processor, so you won’t miss that extra power yet. We are very much looking forward to some 64-bit software, though.
We refer you back to our Raspberry Pi Zero review, and the analogy we used in our conclusion there still stands. The Pi2 is like a cheap, less-pricey sports car – a Toyota MR2 – fast but not as fast or feature-laden as a deluxe sports car. The Pi Zero is like a stripped-down all-terrain vehicle or Jeep – not fast or comfortable, but it gets the job done.
The Pi3 is basically a luxury sports car; it’s a tiny credit card-sized Aston Martin. It’s fast and has a lot of features built in for speed and comfort. It’s still the same size as normal cars, but it is very well-put-together and runs like a dream. It has all the bells and whistles. Are there any downsides? Shifting the LEDs to make room for some of these features is going to put a kink in someone’s day, especially if your case runs light pipes to show the LEDs outside the case.
All that said, there are few downsides and so many upsides that you may as well get one even if you are more than happy with the performance of your Pi2. A Pi3 makes everything better.
If you have any questions about the Pi3, please let us know in the comments below.