A speed boost, but no price rise, makes this iteration of the Model B Pi more tempting than ever.
The Raspberry Pi is a quirky thing. When first released in 2012, it was positioned as alightweight, almost disposable computer for kids to learn to program on and for hobbyists to build their electronics and robotics projects around. Aside from the green PCB, it felt less like a piece of tech and more like a toy, and it was priced like one too. That was part of its charm.
Since then, though, the Raspberry Pi has evolved into a capable little machine. Now, the latest generation is here: the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. The name is becoming a mouthful, but perhaps that’s appropriate for a platform that’s progressively gaining more features.
The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ brings two major upgrades to the Pi design. The first is a faster processor. Not a new processor, mind you – it’s the exact same Broadcom BCM2837 chipset as in the original Model B (released in 2016), but the speed has been dialled up from 1.2GHz to 1.4GHz. This means it runs hotter than before, so it’s also acquired a dinky metal cover to dissipate the heat.
The other big change is a new networking controller. The Model B had built-in Wi-Fi but it only supported the comparatively slow 802.11n protocol on the 2.4GHz radio band. The new Model B+ introduces a more modern dual-band 802.11ac radio, which means you can expect faster wireless transfers. The built-in Ethernet socket gets a speed boost, too, from 100Mbits/sec to 300Mbits/sec.
The only other notable change is the arrival of a four-pin connector for an optional power-over-Ethernet (PoE) add-on, so you can use a single cable to connect the Pi to IP cameras, VoIP phones and other networking appliances.
Despite these enhancements, the price remains the same: a steal at $54 for the bare board, although you’ll need to budget for a micro-USB power supply and a microSD card on top of that. You may also want to buy a case. And the good news here is that the Model B+ sticks with the established Raspberry Pi form factor first introduced in 2014, so works perfectly with the thousands of cases and other accessories that are already out there.
A 200MHz frequency boost equates to about 17%, and in benchmark after benchmark I found this translated to a linear improvement in performance. See the tables of results on this page and opposite.
So far, so fine, but I was less impressed by the new networking hardware. Using a MacBook Pro, I can easily copy files to and from my NAS drive at upwards of 20MB/sec. With the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, those same files came down the line at only 5.2MB/sec. Copying them back up was faster, at 9.6MB/sec, but still much slower than expected.
To be fair, these speeds are still better than the old Model B, with its last-generation wireless chipset achieving 4.4MB/sec and 4.6MB/sec respectively. And there’s always the caveat that wireless performance can be heavily influenced by environmental factors, so you might see much better speeds on your own network.
I suspect, though, that the compact size of the Model B+ acts as a limiting factor when it comes to the effectiveness of the internal aerial. There’s no provision for attaching an external one to boost the signal, either.
Lastly, I tried the same test over Ethernet. Again, the Model B+ was faster than the old Model B, but not by as much as I’d hoped. Based on the advertised connection speeds, files ought to come up and down the line three times as fast; in practice I saw only a modest improvement downstream, and upstream performance was less than double what it had been with the old hardware.
Still, it’s hard to feel too hard done by. The new Model B+ is undeniably faster than its predecessor and doesn’t cost any more. Perhaps let’s think of these results as a reminder that this isn’t a cutting-edge workstation, it’s wise to keep your expectations low.
The Raspberry Pi has come a long way. The first version had a mere two USB ports, no wireless of any sort and a laggardly processor that ran at around a quarter of the speed of today’s board. By comparison, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is a formidable little computer.
To be clear, it’s no PC-killer. That Dhrystone score of 2,839 MIPS looks good next to the 2,433 of the old Model B, but my Core i5 Windows desktop scores 17,423 in the same benchmark – and that’s before we talk about things such as RAM and storage speed. Although the idea is far less absurd than it once was, I can’t recommend you use a Raspberry Pi as your everyday computer.
Taken on its own terms however – as a low-cost, hugely open-ended foundation for experiments in programming and electronics – the new Raspberry Pi is a stunner. If you weren’t excited by the original Model B, this incremental update isn’t going to suddenly turn you into a true believer. But if you’ve ever been Pi-curious, you’ll be pleased to know that the platform is now faster, slicker and more versatile than ever. At the price it’s a simply irresistible deal.
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+
“Taken on its own terms however – as a low-cost, hugely open-ended foundation for experiments in programming and electronics – the new Raspberry Pi is a stunner.”
1.4GHz quad-core Broadcomm BCM2837 processor • 1GB LPDDR2 RAM • 400MHz/300MHz VideoCore IV multimedia/3D graphics core • 802.11ac Wi-Fi • Bluetooth 4.2 • 4 x USB 2 • 300Mbits/sec Ethernet • 40 GPIO pins • HDMI 1.3a • 3.5mm combo analogue audio/composite video jack • camera interface (CSI) • display interface (DSI) • microSD slot