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The Raspberry Pi Model B has been a hugely successful product, having shifted hundreds of thousands of units, and becoming an important platform for the education of computer science in schools. And it’s just received a much needed upgrade.
The new configuration of the Raspberry Pi Model B is known as the Model B+, and will be sold concurrently with the older model at exactly the same price point of $35. It represents a major (and the last) upgrade of the aging Model B, before it eventually gets replaced with an entirely new board.
So, what’s changed, and why should you care? Well, let’s first talk about what’s the same. The CPU is the same aging Broadcom BCM2835 chip, clocked at 700MHZ. It also comes with the same amount of system memory – a reasonable 512mb’s worth.
Like its older brethren, it also lacks any onboard storage. So what’s different? Read on for more information.
USB Inputs, Power Efficiency and External Storage
Let’s start off by talking about the least sexiest change. USB ports. Don’t worry. It gets way more interesting from here.
The model B+ now has four USB ports, meaning that you can finally throw away that bulky external USB hub. You can connect your WiFi dongle, keyboard, mouse and some external storage if need be.
You can now also provide up to 1.2 amps of electricity to each port. This should be enough to support any keyboard, mouse or external wireless card you throw at it.
Speaking of power efficiency, the B+ sucks up far less electricity than ever before. Whilst the earlier model used 750mA when running, the new one uses a meager 600mA. This is due to a fundamental change in how the Raspberry Pi B+ handles power management, and also a little something called a ‘switching regulator’.
This component makes better use of all energy provided to it, and wastes very little. This makes the B+ far more efficient than earlier models, although don’t expect it to make a significant dent on your power bills.
Another significant change is the ditching of the full-sized SD card port, which has been replaced with a MicroSD slot. This change has freed up space on the board for additional USB ports.
It also makes sense for the Raspberry Pi foundation. For a while now, they’ve been distributing their Raspberry Pi tailored linux distro – New Out Of Box Software, or NOOBS – as a MicroSD card, bundled with an SD card reader. They’ve effectively been able to move people over to the new storage medium without any real fuss.
The Raspberry Pi B and A came with 26 General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) pins, which allowed users to create interesting ‘Internet-of-Things’ type projects with their micro-computers. The new iteration of the Raspberry Pi extends this functionality. There’s now a massive 40-pin GPIO offering, allowing users to build bigger and better projects.
It’s worth stressing that the first 26 pins on the new model are identical to the ones on the earlier Raspberry PI models. This means that it’s 100% backwards compatible with projects built for the B and A.
Other changes are more marginal. There are now four mounting points on the Raspberry Pi B+. This is a bit of a double-edged sword, as odds are older cases for the Pi models B and A won’t fit it. However, it means that it’s now far easier to make – or 3D Print – cases for the new board. There are some stunningly beautiful cases already available for the older boards. It’d be interesting to see if they any of them get ported to the B+.
We’ve already mentioned the new MicroSD slot. This is significantly more compact than the older, full sized SD slots. The USB ports now fit more snugly into the board, and don’t overhang by much. They’re pretty much even with the Ethernet port.
Plus Ça Change…
A lot has changed with the model B+, but a lot of bugbears with the original boards remains. Ethernet is still dreadfully slow, and is connected to the board through an inadequate USB controller. Many had hoped that a new revision would fix this, but alas, no such luck.
It also came as a surprise that the CPU powering the B+ is the exact same one that powered the original Model A. As is often the case in the technology world, this has been eclipsed many times over by newer, faster, more energy efficient chips running newer, better versions of the ARM spec.
It’s safe to say that if the Raspberry Pi foundation release a new version of the board, it’ll feature more performance-focused changes, including a faster CPU and more RAM.
B+, Must Try Harder
The B+ doesn’t represent a quantum leap for the Raspberry Pi. It’s definitely not a general purpose computing system (although, some people use it as such). Although, the Pi never has been. It’s been a platform for experimentation. For learning. For hacking on.
In this respect, the B+ is a welcome improvement. However, many punters – myself included – had hoped for more drastic changes. Perhaps in a later version.
As always, I’m eager to hear what you think. Let me know your thoughts. Will you be getting one? Comments box is below.