RASP­BERRY PI 3 MODEL B+ ON TEST

Faster net­work­ing, better pro­cesser, same £32 price

Computer Shopper - - FRONT PAGE - David Lud­low

VER­DICT

It’s a mi­nor up­date, but the Pi 3 Model B+ feels like a much more com­plete sys­tem and re­mains the ul­ti­mate pro­ject com­puter

IT’S BEEN TWO years since Rasp­berry Pi last re­galed us with a ‘full fat’ new model, with the foun­da­tion hav­ing re­leased the Rasp­berry Pi Model 3 (Shop­per 340) back in Fe­bru­ary 2016. To­day, we have that model’s suc­ces­sor, the Rasp­berry Pi 3 Model B+.

As you might guess from that model name, this new com­puter isn’t a rev­o­lu­tion, but an in­cre­men­tal up­date, im­prov­ing on the orig­i­nal’s mi­nor shortcomings. As such, the new model has a slightly faster pro­ces­sor, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and faster wired net­work­ing as its stand-out fea­tures.

SPOT THE DIF­FER­ENCE

Of course, these are all dif­fer­ences that are hard to spot from the out­side. In fact, stand the Model 3 next to the Model B+, and you’d be hard-pressed to see any­thing that has changed.

The board size re­mains the same, and you get the same lay­out, with the full 40-pin GPIO header, head­ers for the cam­era and screen, four USB2 ports, a mi­croSD card slot and a Mi­cro USB power in­put. For the lat­ter, we rec­om­mend us­ing a 2.0A USB charger to pro­vide enough power for the USB ports.

Take a closer look, and you’ll see that the pro­ces­sor now has a very small heatsink at­tached to it. That’s be­cause the quad-core Broad­com BCM2837 CPU has been clocked to 1.4GHz, up from 1.2GHz on the Pi Model 3.

The Eth­er­net port has also been up­graded from 10/100Mbit/s on the Model 3 to Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net. How­ever, the chipset only sup­ports speeds of up to 350Mbit/s. In­deed, run­ning our net­work through­put tests, the Model B+ topped out at 229Mbit/s when run­ning the iPerf bench­mark.

Com­ing soon is a new Power-over-Eth­er­net (PoE) hat – a type of add-on board – which means that the Pi 3 Model B+ could be pow­ered by the same ca­ble that de­liv­ers data. How­ever, the pins on the board that pro­vide this ca­pa­bil­ity may mean that some older Pi 3 cases won’t fit the new model.

Wi-Fi per­for­mance is dra­mat­i­cally im­proved. The old 802.11n chip on the Model 3 was fine for get­ting the Pi on your net­work and for a bit of web brows­ing, but the stan­dard is old and slow, and not so good for file trans­fers. Us­ing 802.11ac is a step up, par­tic­u­larly if you’ve got a match­ing router, al­though you shouldn’t ex­pect the same through­puts that you might get with a pow­er­ful lap­top or smart­phone.

Again, test­ing with iPerf, we saw through­puts of 85.6Mbit/s. That’s a far cry from the best 802.11ac per­for­mance, but a step up from the old wire­less adap­tor. Faster through­puts are hard, as the Model B+ doesn’t have any vis­i­ble an­ten­nas, so per­for­mance was al­ways go­ing to be more lim­ited than on a full-size com­puter.

There’s also now Blue­tooth 4.2 built in, giv­ing wider com­pat­i­bil­ity with ex­ter­nal de­vices, as well as faster trans­port speeds.

COUNT­ING UP

The faster pro­ces­sor just gives a bit more breath­ing room and makes the sys­tem that lit­tle bit snap­pier. Run­ning Sys­bench to cal­cu­late every prime num­ber up to 10,000, the Model B+ fin­ished the test in 30.04s, which is a de­cent im­prove­ment over the Model 3’s 45.86s. That’s not life-chang­ing lev­els of per­for­mance, but it should make some more com­pli­cated projects run that bit faster.

Oth­er­wise, it’s busi­ness as usual for this new Rasp­berry Pi, and that’s no bad thing at all. Rasp­bian, the main op­er­at­ing sys­tem for the board, is a ma­ture and well-sup­ported OS that does ev­ery­thing you need it to.

The main ben­e­fit of buy­ing a Rasp­berry Pi over ri­vals such as the Asus Tin­ker Board (Shop­per 357) is the level of sup­port you get from the com­mu­nity and the avail­abil­ity of projects. Sim­ply put, no mat­ter what you

The new model has a slightly faster pro­ces­sor, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and faster wired net­work­ing

want to achieve, there will be ex­am­ple projects and peo­ple out there will­ing to help you. That kind of backup is worth far more than the price of the board.

And speak­ing of the price, the Pi 3 Model B+ costs the same as the Model 3, so you can’t say fairer than that.

A SMALL STEP

On the face of things, the Model B+ isn’t the most ex­cit­ing of launches. In­deed, if you have a Model 3 that you’re happy with, the new Pi isn’t a game-changer. None­the­less, the faster net­work­ing and pro­ces­sor make a dif­fer­ence, cre­at­ing a better all-rounder that can han­dle more de­mand­ing projects with­out need­ing a whole lot of new power.

Be­sides, the Pi doesn’t need to be hugely pow­er­ful for the types of jobs and projects that it’s de­signed for. What Rasp­berry Pi has done here is cre­ate the ul­ti­mate pro­ject board for to­day, at a price that’s still quite hard to be­lieve. The Pi 3 Model B+ is, with­out doubt, the finest pro­ject com­puter you can buy.

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