The Raspberry Pi Model B was announced on Feb. 29, 2012, and four years later the revolutionary Pi has undergone several iterations. Appropriately, the Raspberry Pi 3 made its debut on a Leap Year: Feb. 29, 2016. The new Pi 3 doesn’t deviate substantially from its predecessor, but minor tweaks mean more performance and ease of use.
What’s new with Pi 3? Onboard WiFi/Bluetooth, a new 64-bit quadcore processor, and 50% more processing power. https://t.co/GwijoS4ros— Raspberry Pi (@Raspberry_Pi) February 29, 2016
Previous generations of the Pi included a built-in Ethernet port, relying on USB dongles for wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Enter the Raspberry Pi 3, with integrated wi-fi and Bluetooth. Not having to sacrifice one of the precious few USB ports is a huge plus. The other notable difference is an upgraded system on a chip (SoC). Replacing the Pi 2’s 900MHz 32-bit quad-core ARM Cortex A7 CPU is a 1.2GHz 64-bit quadcore ARM Cortex A53. According to a post on the Raspberry Pi blog, there’s a 50-60% performance boost in 32-bit mode compared to the Pi 2.
Graphically, a 400MHz VideoCore IV replaces the 250MHz model. So what does this mean in terms of real-world performance? Ars Technica reports that the Pi 3 can tackle 60fps, 1080p video with H.264 encoded files. The Pi 2 could only output 30fps when playing H.264 videos at 1080p. The upgraded chip is now capable of handling H.265 files, but 1080p playback is capped at 30fps. Still, it’s impressive that a device this small packs such power.
Yet with this performance enhancement comes the potential for higher power consumption. Although the Pi 3 can be powered the 5V micro-USB power supply, a 2.5A adapter may be in order depending on the power draw of USB devices connected. The LED lights have been migrated to the opposite side of the SD card socket, to accommodate for the wireless antenna.
Including the possibility of a 64-bit mode is a neat touch, but initially only the 32-bit Raspbian will be available. There’s the potential to support more operating systems though, including Ubuntu Mate (available now). The Raspberry Pi 3 retails for a mere $35, and it’s touted as compatible with most Pi 1 and 2 accessories.
For those curious at a more in-depth glance at benchmarks and tangible performance benefits of hardware upgrades, Trusted Reviews has an excellent comparison of the Pi 2 and 3. Gamers will be thrilled to know that ROM performance typically runs much better in RetroPie, though N64 titles are still a bit hit or miss, albeit less unpredictable as before.