The Raspberry Pi changed the way we think about small, cheap computers. The little computer sells for $35 (or less) and while it was originally designed for use in classrooms it’s been a big hit with the DIY community, home media builders, and other enthusiasts.
Now the Raspberry Pi Foundation is launching the biggest hardware update since the Model B first launched in 2012.
The Raspberry Pi 2 is still a small computer with a $35 price tag. But the new model features more memory and a processor that’s up to 6 times as fast. It’ll also be able to run a version of Windows 10.
The Raspberry Pi 2 features 1GB of RAM and a Broadcom BCM2836 processor. That’s a quad-core, ARM Cortex-A7 processor which the Raspberry Pi Foundation says will ship with an 800 MHz clock speed, but which can be overclocked to run at 900 MHz.
Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton tells me the new chip has the same graphics and Broadcom VideoCore IV graphics as the single-core BCM2835 chip in the original Raspberry Pi.
That means it’ll support HD video and 3D graphics, but you’ll need to use closed binaries to make use of those features until open source drivers become available. Work on open source graphics software is underway though.
While the graphics core remains unchanged, Upton says the BCM2836 processor offers around 1.5 times the performance of the BCM2835 chip in single-threaded tasks, and up to 6 times the performance when running multi-threaded tasks that take advantage of all of the new chip’s processor cores.
He says there’s an even bigger boost in video codec performance thanks to the move from ARM11 to ARMv7 architecture, which enables support for ARM’s Neon technology.
XBMC performance, for instance is said to be noticeably faster — especially when you’re trying to use the media center to run more than one task at a time.
The new chip is a little more power-hungry than its predecessor… but just a little. Upton says it uses up to 1 watt more than the BCM2835, which means that the Raspberry Pi 2 uses around 3.5 watts to 4 watts of power rather than the 3 watts consumed by the Model B+.
Wondering why Raspberry Pi is launching new hardware based on ARMv7 architecture in 2015 at a time when ARMv8, 64-bit chips are hitting the streets? The answer is that the new hardware offers a big boost in performance without an equivalent boost in price.
He says he doesn’t see the need for 64-bit processors in hardware with 1GB of RAM, which means it’d likely be at least another few yeas before we’ll see Raspberry Pi hardware with 64-bit chips.
The $35 price tag is, and will remain, a core part of what makes the Raspberry Pi special. When I asked Upton what makes the Raspberry Pi different from all the other cheap dev boards we’ve seen in recent years (including some who have piggybacked on the Pi name such as the Banana Pi and Orange Pi), he immediately answered that Raspberry Pi hardware continues to set the bar for low-cost computers.
Most other devices tend to sell for $50 or more.
The foundation also offers long-term support for its hardware, which has led it to find unexpected success in the industrial market. And since millions of Raspberry Pi units have been shipped, there’s also a strong community of independent developers and users.
Upton says the full name of the new model is the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, which leaves open the door of a new, cheaper Model A. But for now the foundation doesn’t see a way to offer a quad-core model at the $20 price point, since it’d also need to have at least 512MB of RAM.
The Raspberry Pi foundation isn’t replacing the Model B or Model B+ with the new Raspberry Pi 2. The group will continue producing hardware based on the BCM2835 chip as long as there’s demand for it, and the Model A and Model A+ will likely continue to be produced for even longer since there are currently no plans for a new $20 model.
The team plans to continue supporting and producing the new Raspberry Pi 2 Model B for as long as there’s demand and at least until there’s new hardware… which in practice means the hardware launching today will likely be around for at least two more years.
The Raspberry Pi 2 is the same size and form factor as its predecessor, has 10/100 Ethernet, HDMI, VGA, 3.5mm audio, and microSD card slots, and should be able to run most of the software designed for the original Raspberry Pi, as long as it’s been updated to work with an ARMv7 kernel.
That means just about anything you could do with a first-gen Raspberry Pi computer you should also be able to do with a version 2 device… only faster.
I asked what kind of tasks the new hardware would support which would have been much more difficult with the original hardware. Projects such as Face detection and other computer vision projects were given as an example, and Upton says the Raspberry Pi 2 is “much more credible as a general purpose PC,” since web browsing is smoother, and OpenOffice and other productivity apps run better.
Last year Upton said next-gen Raspberry Pi hardware probably wouldn’t be available until 2017. But it turns out the team had been looking at new processors as early as May of 2014 and things started to come together toward the end of the year. It was just a few months ago that the foundation felt confident a new model would be ready for launch.