Six years since the Raspberry Pi launched and the runaway success of the tiny $35 computer shows little sign of slowing down.
Today marks the release of the new flagship in the Pi range, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+.
While it isn't a generational leap over 2016's Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, it delivers a welcome boost to the Pi's speed and Wi-Fi capabilities. Here's everything you need to know.
SEE: Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
What's the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+?
The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is currently the best Raspberry Pi computer you can buy.
While the price stays at $35, the new board one-ups its predecessor in several ways, most notably with a faster processor and Wi-Fi.
The hardware improvements, along with refinements to the Pi 3 B+'s official Raspbian OS, elevate the board to the status of a perfectly acceptable everyday PC — impressive for a computer the price of a restaurant meal.
How is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ better than the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B?
The B+'s main improvement over the 2016 Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is a boost to processor speed — while the B+ shares the same quad-core, 64-bit CPU it has been clocked at 1.4GHz, a 16.7% increase over the Pi 3 Model B. This improved performance was borne out in TechRepublic tests, where general performance of the B+ trounced earlier Pi boards.
That extra performance doesn't come at the cost of stability, with a new heatspreader on top of the CPU helping keep temperatures under control and reducing instances of throttling compared to the Pi 3 Model B.
SEE: Hardware spotlight: The Raspberry Pi (Tech Pro Research)
Connectivity-wise, the board should be capable of streaming data to and from the board more rapidly. A new dual-band Wi-Fi antenna adds support for 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi. That 802.11ac Wi-Fi promises more than double the throughput of the 802.11n Wi-Fi on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. Unfortunately, in initial testing by TechRepublic, the speeds achieved fell somewhat short, although others have achieved much better results.
Wired Ethernet performance is also boosted, with the addition of Gigabit Ethernet over USB 2.0, with a maximum throughput of about 300Mbps, again substantially more than the Pi 3 Model B.
Another small improvement is the addition of support for Bluetooth 4.2/BLE, a step up from the Bluetooth 4.1 support in the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B.
What can the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ do?
Pi co-creator Eben Upton expects that the additional overhead offered by the B+ could allow the Pi to carry out tasks that were previously just out of its reach.
For existing Raspberry Pi users the B+ will be that little bit better for a wide range of tasks: from a media center able to play a wider range of video, due to the B+'s better performance and recent support for hardware-assisted decoding of HDCP-encrypted 1080p H.265 video, to a faster home server thanks to the connectivity upgrades.
Perhaps the biggest plus point for the B+, like the other boards in the Pi family, is the versatility that comes from its software, as well as the hardware add-ons that can be hooked up to the board's 40-pin header.
In the six years since the first Pi launched, people have found uses for Raspberry Pi boards ranging from media center to lightweight general-purpose computer, and from cheap machine for prototyping gadgets to DIY robot brains. The list of projects is endless.
In that time the community, operating systems, software and hardware add-ons for the Pi boards have continued to grow, to the point where the Pi is far and away the easiest single-board computer to get started with, due to the stability and breadth of its software and wealth of user-created tutorials.
The Pi and its official Raspbian OS excel when it comes to teaching users about computing. The OS is loaded with software for learning and practicing programming — including IDEs for the Python and Java programming languages, and for piecing together Internet of Things appliances using Node.js. For beginners there is the drag and drop coding tool Scratch, which provides a simple introduction to programming concepts, such as assigning values to variables and control flow, and Minecraft Pi Edition, which allows user-written scripts to be used to manipulate the game.
The B+ has the benefit of sharing these advantages, while also being the most powerful Pi to date.
That's not to say the Pi 3 Model B+ is the most powerful board out there, there are plenty of other more powerful single-board computers, for instance the Odroid XU4, but it's very hard to find a board that strikes the same price-performance balance as the Pi.
The B+ will be even more versatile than its predecessors, with the board supporting a new add-on that provides Power Over Ethernet (POE) capability, allowing the board to be powered by the Ethernet cable.
The board is also likely to be the last Raspberry Pi upgrade for a little while, as the Raspberry Pi 4 is some time off.
While Upton has previously spoken about the possibility of a Raspberry Pi 4 in 2019, that date may be pushed back by the arrival of the B+. At the very latest, however, Upton says he hopes the Pi 4 will be released by 2021, and he says the work they've already done to release Pi boards — for example achieving compliance with wireless regulations — should help streamline the process of releasing future boards.
But he says he has no interest in rushing out a board that he or his colleagues wouldn't want to buy themselves, or that would tarnish the Raspberry Pi's reputation.
"You can spam products out into the market very easily, but if you want to put out good products that pack a lot into a small price point and that you're sure are going to work it takes time," he said.
Who should buy the Raspberry Pi 3 B+?
With almost 18 million boards sold, there will be no shortage of Raspberry Pi fans queueing up to test the newcomer to the Pi family.
But Upton believes it is those enthusiasts who were pushing the Pi 3 Model B to its limits who will benefit the most — due to the increased power and new heatspreader.
"While you still can if you run a completely insane benchmark, it's much harder to push a Pi 3 B+ into thermal limits than it is a Pi 3," says Upton.
Organizations looking to build the Raspberry Pi into appliances may also be keen to snap up the B+. The dual-band wireless LAN comes with a modular compliance certification, allowing the board to be designed into end products with significantly reduced wireless LAN compliance testing. Upton says this feature should cut cost and time to market when using the Pi 3 B+ in a product.
Who are the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B's competitors?
As mentioned it's very difficult to find another single board computer that hits the price-performance balance achieved by the B+ — at least not without making sacrifices in other areas.
One possible alternative is the $25 Orange Pi Lite2, which has similar specs to the more expensive Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, with the same memory, a 64-bit quad-core processor, reasonable GPU, 1GB memory, support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support. It even has some advantages over the Pi 3, at least on paper, such as a single USB 3.0 port and support for Android 7.0. However it trails the Pi in a couple of respects, with fewer USB ports, and fewer pins for adding hardware to the board and missing Ethernet.
There's also a rather big downside, which is that, in general, Orange Pi board reviews are critical of poor driver support, missing software and being stuck with unstable versions of older operating systems, so only buy these boards if you're prepared to spend a lot of time trying to get software to work.
For the same price as the B+, $35, the Odroid-C1+ offers broadly the same specs, but adds Gigabit Ethernet.
SEE: The best alternatives to the Raspberry Pi (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
The C1+ packs a 1.5GHz quad-core Arm-based processor — faster than the Pi 3 but based on a slightly older architecture — 1GB of DDR3 RAM, and the reasonable-for-the-price Mali-450 GPU.
However the Odroid does trail the Pi 3 in one notable respect, missing that board's Wi-Fi connectivity.
If you're prepared to wait and to pay a bit more money, then Odroid has raised the possibility it will release the N1 Lite this year, which they anticipate will be a $75 board, with a hexacore processor backed up by 2GB of memory, two USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, will run Android 7.1 and Ubuntu 18.04, support 4K displays via HDMI 2.0, and 40 has a 40-pin header for connecting hardware.
What are the other Raspberry Pi boards?
There have been several generations of Raspberry Pi boards released since the launch of the single-board computer in 2012.
The main releases include the Raspberry Pi Model B+, the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. There have been several spin off boards, such as the tiny and ultra cheap Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi Zero W.
There is also the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 (CM3), which packs the same 1.2GHz, quad-core Broadcom BCM2837 processor and 1GB memory used on the Pi 3 onto a slimmer and smaller board.
The CM3's compact design, the same size as a DDR2 small outline dual in-line memory module, is suited to being built into electronic appliances. The original Raspberry Pi Compute Module was used inside various IoT, home and factory automation products, as well as a media player.
The plus for owners of earlier Raspberry Pi boards is that there is no sign of official support or software development for older boards being dropped for the near future.
The release of the B+ also won't result in older boards being taken off sale, or a change in their pricing. The B+ will remain in production until at least January 2023.
Will existing Raspberry Pi cases and add-ons fit the B+?
Most add-ons and cases for older Pi boards should fit the B+.
The biggest problem will be for those hardware add-ons that clash with four pins on the B+ that add support for a Power over Ethernet add-on, although Upton says this should only affect one or two products.
The most popular Pi cases that looks like they might struggle to fit the B+ are the Flirc line, due to pressing down on the top of the board, but again most cases and all heatsinks should be fine.
When is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ available?
The board is available now from CPC, RS Components, Pi Hut, Pimoroni, Pi Supply and ModMyPi in the UK, and Adafruit, Micro Center, element14, PiShop.us, Chicago Electronic Distributors and CanaKit in the US.
For any other countries, visit this page on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website, and you'll be redirected to the right stores.
What are the specs for the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+?
Processor: Broadcom BCM2837B0, quad-core A53 (ARMv8) 64-bit SoC @1.4GHz
Memory: 1GB LPDDR2 SDRAM
Connectivity: 2.4GHz and 5GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n/ac wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.2, BLE. Gigabit Ethernet over USB 2.0 (maximum throughput of 300Mbps).
USB: 4 x 2.0
Expandability: Extended 40-pin GPIO header
Video and sound: 1 x full-sized HDMI port, MIPI DSI display port, MIPI CSI camera port, 4 pole stereo output and composite video port.
Multimedia: H.264, MPEG-4 decode (1080p30), H.264 encode (1080p30); OpenGL ES 1.1, 2.0 graphics
SD card support: microSD format for OS and data storage
Input power: 5V/2.5A DC via microUSB connector, 5V DC via GPIO header, Power over Ethernet (PoE)-enabled (requires separate PoE add-on).
Environment: Operating temperature 0 - 50C
Compliance: Local and regional approvals listed here.
Production lifetime: Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ will remain in production until at least January 2023.
Read more about the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ review: Hands-on with the new board
- Raspberry Pi 3 B+: Co-creator Eben Upton reveals all about the new board
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+: See all the new features on the board
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+: A guided tour of the new board
- How to set up your Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.