Open Source

Raspberry Pi 4: A specs wishlist for the next $35 computer

Here are some of the most-requested upgrades for the Raspberry Pi 4--and how likely they'll be to make the cut.

The Raspberry Pi 4 doesn't exist—the Raspberry Pi 3 is the most recent board—but there are still no shortage of posts from Pi enthusiasts, listing the must-have tech they want to see in the next iteration of the $35 computer.

Here are some of the most-requested upgrades for the Raspberry Pi 4.

However, it's worth noting several caveats. Eben Upton, the co-creator of the Raspberry Pi, has said not to expect the Pi 4 until at least 2019—as it is likely to be a major overhaul based around a new system-on-chip (SoC)—and has also stated how important the $35 price tag has been to the success of the Pi, so it's unlikely to have earth-shattering specs.

Faster CPU

The Raspberry Pi 3's mobile-phone based hardware is nippy compared to its predecessors—some 10x faster than the first-gen Raspberry Pi. However, the 1.2GHz, quad-core, ARM Cortex A53-based processor in the Pi 3 is today rather long in the tooth compared to those found in recent phones.

Boards released after the Pi 3 was launched in 2016 have packed in faster and newer processors, ranging up to Octa core. While the need to keep costs below $35 would limit the spec of the CPU, a modest bump to the clockspeed to, say, 1.5GHz or so seems feasible, and would deliver a nice performance boost when paired with a system-on-a-chip with a newer, more efficient architecture.

SEE: Hardware spotlight: The Raspberry Pi

More memory

A boost to the Pi 3's RAM would make sense, as the current board is capable of running 64-bit software but its 1GB memory limits the range of 64-bit operating systems that can be run on the machine.

The Pi also uses DDR2 memory, and even though DDR5 memory will likely be available by the time the Pi 4 launches, a move to DDR3 would allow the Pi to shift data around the board noticeably faster than existing RAM. If the Pi 4 doesn't launch until 2019 then at least 2GB of DDR3 would make a difference while still keeping the Pi 4 within budget.

Gigabit Ethernet

The Raspberry Pi has had 10/100 Ethernet since the first Pi was launched in 2012. While this network connection is typically fast enough for those using the Pi as a desktop, those using the Pi with network-attached storage report middling speeds. The bigger issue than the lack of Gigabit Ethernet is the Pi 3 has a bottleneck in its shared USB and networking data bus.

One way to offset this limitation is to buy a USB Gigabit LAN adapter for the Pi, with tests showing certain models can reach 321Mbps throughput, far faster than the 94.4Mbps connection reached by the Pi's 10/100 connection.

Ultimately an Ethernet upgrade for the Pi won't be an incremental change, however, as again it will require a new SoC so that the Gigabit Ethernet isn't held back by the shared USB and Ethernet bus.

USB 3.0/3.1

Support for USB 3.1 would make USB-attached drives far more attractive, allowing data to be transferred over a link with a maximum speed of 10Gbps, 20x that of the Pi's existing USB 2.0 ports. It would also make a range of other peripherals feasible for use with the Pi. The downside would be the cost this would add to the Pi.

Again this change would require a completely new SoC, so is unlikely to see the light of day before the move to the Raspberry Pi 4. Its addition is also somewhat uncertain due to the need to stay within the $35 price point, so maybe USB 3.0 would be more likely.

4K video

Currently the Pi doesn't support 4K video playback, and is only capable of smooth video playback at resolutions up to 1080p and a HDMI 1.3 output. As 4K screens start to take off, support for 4K video would be a real boon, particularly for those who want to use the Pi 3 as a media center. Perhaps the Pi 4 could include the ARM Mali-450 GPU, which can accelerate the playback of 10bit 4K HEVC(H265)-encoded video, as well as supporting HDMI 2.0. Again though, this is hardly an essential for a machine originally designed to teach kids to code. That said there is already a developer board with support for 4K video, USB 3.0 and 2GB RAM, due to begin shipping in December.

802.11ac Wi-Fi

Since the Pi 4 will likely not be released until 2019, it seems almost certain that the next Pi will have 802.11ac Wi-Fi, offering speeds of up to 1.3Gbps, significantly quicker than the 0.45Gbps available in the Pi 3. This probably falls under the category of a nice to have, rather than essential, particularly if Gigabit Ethernet is added and the networking/USB bottleneck removed.

SATA

A high-speed interface like SATA or SATA II would give the Pi a welcome boost to how quickly it could pull data from storage. The Pi 3 is currently limited to pulling data from an SD card, a far slower form of storage, or external an SSD hooked to the Pi 3 via USB 2.0, where transfers are bottlenecked by the USB connection, or from network-attached storage.

That said, if the USB were updated to 3.0, or even better 3.1, there would be less need for SATA due to availability of USB-attached SSDs.

What else would you like to see included in the Pi 4? Tell us in the comments below.

Read more about the Raspberry Pi

About Nick Heath

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.

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