The Raspberry Pi 3: Faster, Better, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Matthew Hughes 29-02-2016

The Raspberry Pi is going places, and I’m not just talking about outer space. In February 2016, the Raspberry Pi foundation announced the release of the Raspberry Pi 3. It was the most significant update to the popular line of low-cost computers yet.


Released just one year after the launch of the Raspberry Pi 2 Another New Raspberry Pi... and it Supports Windows 10 Read More , it contains things that should have been included from the start, but weren’t, like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Performance has also seen a significant bump. The Raspberry Pi 3 does this while keeping its bargain-basement price of $35. Here’s what you need to know about it.


The Raspberry Pi 3 is powered by the BCM2837 – a brand new SoC (System on Chip) produced by Broadcom. This represents a significant improvement on earlier versions of the Raspberry Pi. Not only is it clocked at a higher rate (1.2GHZ quad core, compared to 900MHz quad core on the Raspberry Pi 2), but it runs the 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 microarchitecture, which implements the more advanced ARMv8-A instruction set.


This translates into some impressive performance improvements, especially in real-world tasks like web browsing. Brian Benchoff, writing for Hackaday remarked:

“… the Pi 3 is now over a threshold where it becomes a useful desktop computer… This is a computer that could populate an entire elementary school computer lab. “

According to the Raspberry Pi foundation, the latest version represents a 50-60% increase in performance over the Raspberry Pi 2 in 32-bit mode. Incredibly, it’s ten times faster than the original Raspberry Pi, which launched only four years ago.


Benchmarks produced by Pimoroni concluded that the Raspberry Pi 3 significantly surpasses the older models both single-core and multi-core tasks (a 35% and 48% improvement, respectively). The only let-down is boot times remain sluggish, due them being bottlenecked by slow I/O (input-output), rather than a slow CPU. Should a future version of the Raspberry Pi include fast onboard storage, you should expect to see boot times drop precipitously.

Another area of disappointment was the shortage of RAM, which is still limited to 1GB of LPDDR2 SDRAM. A boost in this area would go far to improving the Raspberry Pi’s multitasking credentials.

Finally, the Raspberry Pi 3’s GPU has also been boosted, making it better able to handle video content and games. The Broadcom VideoCore IV processor is now clocked at 400MHz for video processing, and 300MHz for 3D graphics. While you’re still not going to be able to play Skyrim with this, you should expect to be able to watch HD content without any stuttering.


When it comes to wired connectivity, very little has changed. The Raspberry Pi 3 comes with onboard 10/100 Ethernet, a full-sized HDMI port, a combined 3.5 mm analog audio and composite video port, 4 USB 2.0 ports, CSI and DSI connectors, and 40 GPIO (General Purpose Input-Output Getting Started With GPIO On a Raspberry Pi If you though the Arduino was cool, just wait till you get your hands on a Raspberry Pi - these things are amazing. As well as being a fully functional computer, they also have a... Read More ) pins.



But now it also packs built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, courtesy of the onboard BCM43438 wireless “combo” chip. This supports 802.11n wireless LAN, and the Bluetooth 4.1 standard How Bluetooth 4.0 Is Shaping the Future of Mobile Connectivity Bluetooth is the forgotten star on the device specifications sheet. Read More , including Bluetooth LE (Bluetooth Low Energy). This is great news for a couple of reasons.


Firstly, it enhances the value proposition of the Raspberry Pi. A common complaint with the older Raspberry Pi machines was that although they only cost $30 to buy, you could easily spend more than that on the required accessories and components. You can now get a complete computer for $35, without having to spend any extra money on easily-misplaced dongles Setting Up Wireless Networking on Your Raspberry Pi Virtually every Raspberry Pi project will require a network connection, and considerable flexibility can be gained by ignoring the Ethernet port in favour of a wireless USB dongle. Read More . Provided you have an old keyboard and mouse knocking about, you really don’t have to buy anything else besides a Micro SD card 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a MicroSD Card Buying MicroSD cards may seem simple, but here are a few critical mistakes to avoid if you don't want to regret your purchase. Read More .


The inclusion of onboard wireless connectivity will also free up some of the Raspberry Pi’s valuable and scarce USB ports for more useful things.

But more excitingly, the Raspberry Pi 3 is a great out-of-the-box solution for anyone with an interest in robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) The Internet of Things: How It'll Change Your Life Next Year Internet of Things has undergone its own Cambrian Explosion, and it promises to make your life much more convenient in the years to come. Here's why. Read More , as you can connect it to other devices and computers without any intermediate hardware.

No benchmarks have been produced for the Bluetooth connectivity yet, due to a lack of drivers available for the review models. However, early reviews of the Wi-Fi chip suggest it’s on-par with most external dongles, with Pimoroni saying it is only 5% slower.

There is a downside though. Power consumption has soared with the addition BCM43438 chip. While you can still power it using a bog-standard 5V micro-USB adapter, the Raspberry Pi foundation recommends you use a 2.5A charger, particularly if you intend to connect power-hungry USB devices to it.


Look and Feel

At first glance, the Raspberry Pi retains much of the aesthetic of its earlier brethren, not including the Raspberry Pi Zero. But there are subtle design changes. To accommodate the Bluetooth and WiFi chip, LED’s have had to be moved around. The run-header has shifted slightly too.


It remains to be seen how well earlier cases will fit the latest board. According to LifeHacker, all earlier cases will work with the new board, while some accessory manufacturers, like Pimoroni, have publicly stated they intend to release reworked cases designed for the Raspberry Pi 3.

Another significant improvement is found in the Micro SD slot. The Raspberry Pi 2 used a spring-loaded Micro SD slot, which was prone to breaking and ultimately became an area of complaint for Raspberry Pi owners. Some even resorted to homemade hacks, like covering their MicroSD slot with duct-tape, to prevent their storage media being prematurely ejected.

Thankfully, the Raspberry Pi 3 ditches the spring altogether, which we hope is a permanent change.

Another Great Raspberry Pi

If you’ve been holding out on getting a Raspberry Pi, now is your chance. In addition to being a great device for experimentation and learning to code 5 Exciting Activities for Kids to Learn Coding on a Raspberry Pi One of the best gifts you can possibly give your child is an education in computer programming. Here’s five simple ways to teach your child how to code with the Raspberry Pi. Read More , it’s finally matured enough to be a halfway-decent day-to-day computer.

Of course, there are a few things that we’d still like to see in future versions of the board. Although we love the Wi-Fi, it’s a shame it isn’t the new 802.11ac standard, which is cropping up on more consumer-grade routers Should You Buy A Wireless 802.11ac Router? 802.11ac promises blistering speeds, but many consumers are just now getting around to upgrading to 802.11n, leaving many to wonder if the new version is worthwhile. Read More . We’re still holding out for onboard storage too, as well as some extra RAM; and a Gigabit Ethernet connection would be much appreciated. But for $35, you’re not going to hear us complaining.

The Raspberry Pi 3 is available to purchase now. At the time of writing, Element14 and RS Components have good availability. Although, if the runaway success of the Raspberry Pi Zero is anything to go by, don’t expect this to be the case for long.

Will you be getting one? Are there any features you think it’s missing? Let me know in the comments below.

Related topics: Electronics, Raspberry Pi.

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  1. Ken
    April 12, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Kedwa30, go pay 5 dollars for an adapter..or 10 or so for a cable, it's not hard.

    • Kedwa30
      September 14, 2016 at 5:29 am

      No, you buy me one since you seem to have so much money. By the time I spend my hard earned cash on a prepaid card so I can order an adapter, the end cost has already risen. Then there is postage to consider. Walmart doesn't have any adapter let alone a cheap one last I checked. Then there is waiting for it to come in the mail if it arrives at all. Mail is not reliable unless I pay for a company to receive my mail for me. Oh, more cost to me, but that is not your problem, eh? You make me sick. Raspberry Pi is meant to be affordable, but my point is that it is not because it relies on an expensive interface that requires an expensive cable for use with an expensive TV or needs the added expense of an adapter. At the time that I wrote that comment, the cheapest cable I could find in Walmart was thirty dollars. You buy it.

  2. Robert
    March 6, 2016 at 6:20 am

    Love playing with the Pi. have several of them and using them mostly for home cameras. Have the pi cams on two with wonderful HD videos. Have two with less definition (running webcams).
    Using Motion, while not true flicker free, it allow for many days of recordable video and Webcam server access. Played some with the HD cams for both full video and timelapse with great success. One of the HD cams is night vision and it is overlooking the chicken coop.

    Also set up one as a Sharing NAS for all my families computers, phones and Tablets. This is no longer needed as my Nighthawk router has a 3TB USB 3 drive as NAS. All Pi's are running headless and can be accessed directly with PuTTY.

    I just received my Pi 3 and wrote the SD card out tonight. Will be playing with and setting up tomorrow to check out the Office and Web Access.

    My original first pi Model A is at EOL as the USB port fails randomly. Can't see to debug it so suspect Hardware for the $25 original price, I have fun with the little machine.

    I like my pi's

  3. Andrew
    March 5, 2016 at 1:15 am

    What a great time to be alive and be into hardware experimentation!

    We embedded one in our Little Free Library and it functions as a tweeting photobooth for people who grab a book and want to tweek about it. Really fun.

  4. kedwa30
    March 2, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    I wish they would save me the trouble of removing the HDMI connector and save themselves $1 per Pi by simply breaking out the wires for a DVI-D connector. The cable alone for HDMI is a huge expense. I have VGA monitors with DVI-D, TV with coaxial connector only, but no HDMI. Why would I buy a new TV just to use the Pi?
    Most people are having to use another computer to access the Pi just so they can use their existing VGA monitors. HDMI is a huge PITA.

    • Alan
      June 5, 2016 at 11:06 pm

      I spent $4 on a HDMI to DVI-D adapter. Got it in 5 days. HDMI is essentially DVI-D with integrated audio.

    • Jeff
      August 28, 2016 at 10:20 pm

      Really dude? Is it that hard to buy a cheap adapter?

    • Kedwa30
      September 14, 2016 at 5:33 am

      @Alan, lucky you. I'm not you.
      @Jeff, yes, dude. Not everyone is born with daddy's credit card in their pocket.

    • Ken
      September 16, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Daddy's credit card huh? That's pocket change for working people.

      Raspberry pi 3 is a toy, and if you are crying about not conforming to the minority of idiot users, good on them.

  5. Anonymous
    March 1, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    I hope the Linux edition for this is pre-configured for headless operation with the GUI in a window on a PC so that I can just give it power and access it that way.

  6. Anonymous
    March 1, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    For a time ago, I've been looking for a ultra cheap android TV box (Under 50/60€). The only solution that I've found is the Raspberry/Banana/Orange Pi. The problem was that Raspberry 2 doesn't have HEVC, but now the problem is solved plus some savings with the wifi adapter. In the next weeks I'll buy one of this new Pi 3

  7. Overlord_Laharl
    March 1, 2016 at 5:29 am

    I used o use the rpi all th time. I only use the pi2 as a headless hi-fi music player (using volumio)

    I now use a banana pi m1 as a DIY nas/torrent seed box because it has onboard sata and gigabit ethernet built in. With a modified kernel to make it work with sata port multipliers it Is a decent nas I only with it had sata 3 instead of sata 2.

  8. Karl
    March 1, 2016 at 2:26 am

    Raspberry Pi should have had USB 3.0 ports (instead of those sloooow 2.0 ports) LONG AGO!

  9. Chris B
    March 1, 2016 at 2:01 am

    Woohoo! Very excited for this update.

    • Hugh
      March 1, 2016 at 2:37 pm

      The pi was never meant to be used as an out of the box computer. For the cost of the pi, add a keyboard and display device you can get an Android tablet much better suited for web browsing, music playing etc.
      The pi was designed to address the void, where few people bothered to learn to interact with a computer in machine language, and for that it does an excellent job.
      The reason for not including wifi and Bluetooth in the original was that the FCC registration required would push the cost above $35.00.

      • kedwa30
        March 2, 2016 at 5:27 pm

        I think they can make up for the cost by leaving off the proprietary and expensive HDMI connector. They should simply break out the wires so that people can easily add their choice of connector or directly solder or wire-wrap a cut cable, or directly wire it to a monitor.

        As for the wireless, an inexpensive option is to use an ESP8266. It's a wifi microcontroller that is also Arduino compatible.