March 22, 2018

Raspberry Pi 3B+ Speeds Up Three Ways

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Raspberry Pi
Get details on the new Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ SBC. Image courtesy Raspberry Pi.

Recently, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ SBC touched down with the refreshing lack of hype and hoopla typical of Raspberry Pi product introductions. The modest launch may also be a tacit admission that this upgrade to the insanely popular Raspberry Pi 3 Model B checks off only one major wish-list item: the upgrade from 10/100 to 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet. There’s still only 1GB of RAM, and there’s still no eMMC storage, let alone SATA, mini-PCIe, or M.2 expansion.

On the other hand, there’s a slightly faster processor, the WiFi has been upgraded to pre-certified, dual-channel 802.11ac, and the new Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) port offers Power-over-Ethernet (PoE). Considering the price remains at $35, many Raspberry Pi 3 owners will make the switch, although perhaps not in the same numbers as those who jumped from the RPi 2 to the 64-bit, wireless enabled RPi 3.

The Raspberry Pi 3B+ has the same 86 x 56 dimensions as the 3B, and all the features. The layout has shifted only slightly, and the 40-pin header supports existing Raspberry Pi HAT add-ons.

The Broadcom BCM2837 SoC has been replaced with a BCM2837B0 model that boosts the clock on the four Cortex-A53 cores from 1.2GHz to 1.4GHz. It is otherwise the same except for improvements in power regulation accuracy. Along with a new heat spreader and a new MaxLinear MxL7704 power management IC (PMIC), this is said to help the Pi run longer at top speed with overheating. The SoC is still more power hungry, however, and you’ll need a high-quality 2.5A power supply.

Soon, Raspberry Pi Trading will release a PoE HAT that will let you draw power through the GbE port. Enabled by a 4-pin PoE header, the Power-over-Ethernet capability makes it easier to remotely deploy Internet of Things devices away from a power supply. PoE has been around a long time, but has been on the upswing with the rise of IoT.

Gigabit Ethernet ports are common now on Linux hacker boards, appearing on over half of the 103 community backed SBCs rounded up by LinuxGizmos at the start of the year. Like most of the GbE ports on ARM boards, the RPi 3 B+’s model is hampered by the fact that it’s enabled via a USB 2.0 interface instead of PCIe. Still, it’s rated at up to 315Mbps, which RPi Trading says is three times the throughput of the 3B’s Fast Ethernet.

In any case, you have another fast communications option with a new Cypress CYW43455 WiFi chip with 802.11ac technology. The module adds support for 5GHz to go along with the earlier 2.4GHz, and bumps Bluetooth from 4.1 to 4.2.

Raspberry Pi Trading posted benchmarks showing that at 2.4GHz the B+ average is about 46Mbps, compared to 35Mbps on the B. On the new 5GHz frequency, that bandwidth is more than doubled. With WiFi, the RPi 3B+ is slightly ahead of the ARM hacker board average, and the timing is about right now that plenty of affordable dual-channel and -ac enabled WiFi routers are available.

The wireless chip also and adds metal shielding to enable pre-certification of the wireless module for FCC regulations. This is particularly welcome to commercial device developers building on the Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi ecosystem expands with Arduino Create and webOS support

Although the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ may not be the huge breakthrough that we expect to see with next year’s Raspberry Pi 4, it’s certainly a welcome improvement that should help the platform continue to dominate. Recently, we’ve seen a rash of Raspberry Pi phones, handhelds, and tablets -- SunFounder’s Raspad tablet has raised over $460K on Kickstarter with 13 days to go. We’re also seeing more and more commercial boards based on various RPi models, as well as ingenious gizmos like MIT’s new RPi-powered robot fish.

Raspberry Pi software support also continues to expand. If you’ve got a new IoT framework, AI technology or development platform, the Raspberry Pi will almost certainly be your first target device. Last week at the Embedded Linux Conference, Arduino announced that it was expanding its Arduino Create IDE beyond Arduino and x86 boards to support the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone.

This week, LG released its first open source version of the old Palm- and HP-supported webOS Linux distribution. The first target device for webOS Open Source Edition 1.0 is the Raspberry Pi 3. And thanks to the Raspberry Pi tradition of backward compatibility, the B+ should stand in just fine.

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