Always fancied a Raspberry Pi, but haven’t quite got around to it? Or want to upgrade to the latest model? The release of the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ is the perfect time to jump aboard, and here’s everything you need to know about it.
What’s the Deal With the Raspberry Pi 3 B+?
Released on March 14, 2018 (Pi Day), the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ is the first revision of the Raspberry Pi 3, initially released in 2016. (Two versions of the Raspberry Pi Zero, the W and the WH, have been released since.)
As with previous models, the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ is incredibly affordable.
Offering improved system specs (see below) and additional features, the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ is a must have for enthusiasts.
Shipped alone, the device comes with a short setup guide. All other accessories will need to be bought separately, however, which may increase your outlay.
Raspberry Pi 3 B+ Specifications
If you’re considering upgrading to a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ (or simply fancy one for more Pi-flavored tinkering), it will probably be because of the improved hardware specification.
This time around, the ARMv8-A 64-bit architecture uses a BCM2837B0 SoC (System on a Chip). At the heart of this is a 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU, with a GPU and 1GB of RAM.
Most other hardware is the same as the previous Raspberry Pi 3, but there are some interesting differences. For instance, the dual-band 802.11ac wireless LAN (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 4.2 is faster than the previous model.
With faster Ethernet too, wireless and wired network throughput has been increased by around three times. That is pretty impressive. However, keep in mind that all devices connected via USB (including the Ethernet) will share the single port USB bus, limited to a total of 480Mbps.
Under the hood, there is also improved PXE network booting, while anyone using a USB mass storage device will also benefit from better booting. The Pi 3 B+ also boasts improved thermal management, which should offer some new overclocking possibilities. Heatsinks and other cooling will no doubt be required!
Finally, improved PMIC (Power Management IC) improves dynamic voltage scaling, giving the Pi 3 B+ better data and performance control.
First Impressions of the Raspberry Pi 3 B+
Several subtle changes have been made to the Raspberry Pi 3 B+. Most obvious is the heat spreader atop of the SoC, which resembles a small Pentium 4 (or later) CPU. While a heat spreader can be used with heatsink, they’re typically used alongside a system fan.
You’ll probably also notice the metal shield that sits around the improved Wi-Fi and Bluetooth chip. The reason? Well, it’s been embossed with a Raspberry Pi logo, which we think you’ll agree looks rather fetching.
Also, look out for the new Power over Ethernet (PoE) four pin connector, between the GPIO and USB ports. The purpose of this is to provide power to the Pi (alongside data) from a special Ethernet cable. A new HAT will be available to adapt the 48V from a PoE supply to a more suitable 5V for the Raspberry Pi.
Initial impressions of the Pi 3 B+ are good. So far I’ve only been able to run existing projects rather than start something new. However, it certainly feels faster, especially when accessing over VNC and RDP.
Raspberry Pi 3 B+’s Compatibility With Accessories
Some previous Raspberry Pi upgrades have resulted in compatibility issues, mainly with cases and power supplies. This time around, it looks as though some effort has been made to maintain the previous form factor insofar as USB and other ports are concerned. I’ve successfully installed my own Pi 3 B+ into a case intended for the Pi 3, so this is good news.
As with any Raspberry Pi, you should ensure that you are using a suitable microSD card. These flash memory devices get a lot of punishment from the read/write cycles, so ensuring you have one that is fast, and with good error correction software, is important. Check out our guide for buying the right SD card for details.
Similarly, the right power supply is crucial to your Raspberry Pi’s performance. While many are available, it’s hard not to recommend the official power supply. For reliability, these are perfect.
Upgraded Raspbian Stretch
As a result of this new version of the Raspberry Pi being released, the default operating system, Raspbian Stretch, has also been upgraded. While older Pi models don’t necessarily need this upgrade, it is useful if you’re using an unusual display.
The Appearance Settings screen in Preferences has been revised to offer three sets of defaults, for large, medium, and small screens. This should make it easier to read dialogue boxes and other text on any display. And if this is still a problem, the Pixel Doubling feature (Raspberry Pi Configuration > System) can be used as well. This is particularly useful on extremely high resolution devices such as the MacBook Pro’s Retina display.
Improve Your Existing Projects
More processing power means wider support for the needs of your projects. A wider choice of emulation software becomes available, for instance. Kodi distributions will process video streams quicker. Raspberry Pi’s used in robotics processes, or for programming, will boast superior speeds.
Now, there will be some projects that don’t benefit particularly. An FM radio antenna, however, won’t gain any notable boosts; the same can be said for basic photo frame projects. On the other hand, the improved hardware specs will enhance “magic mirror” projects.
What About the Other Raspberry Pis?
As far as we know, the other Pi models are continuing production. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has stated that it will “keep building these models for as long as there’s demand,” noting the importance of the models for industrial customers.
The Raspberry Pi 1 A+, Raspberry Pi 1 B+, Raspberry Pi 2 B, Raspberry Pi 3B, and Raspberry Pi Zero models will be available for some time yet!
Raspberry Pi 3 B+: Superb and Worth the Upgrade
With its improved hardware spec and potential for enhancing existing projects, the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ is superb. In short, unless you’re looking for a smaller, lighter computer (in which case you want a Raspberry Pi Zero), the new Pi 3 B+ is the place to begin.
Just look at the potential as a desktop replacement/thin client, Kodi box, and retro gaming device! With a new version of Raspbian to accompany the new computer, the Raspberry Pi marches on. Want to get started with your Raspberry Pi 3 B+? Check our unofficial Raspberry Pi manual.
Image Credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation