Raspberry Pi 2

Raspberry Pi 2 review: The best microcomputer just got better

Which Pi should you buy? Is the Raspberry Pi 2 better value than the Raspberry Pi B+?

5
Price when reviewed 
30

Page 1 of 2 Raspberry Pi 2 review: The best microcomputer just got better

The Raspberry Pi is a tremendous success story, ever since its first appearance in 2012. Among enthusiasts and educators it’s sparked an interest in "real" computing, unseen since the halcyon days of the 1980s, and it's also inspired an army of copycat devices.

Now, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is building on that success with the long-awaited successor - the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B.

Raspberry Pi 2 review: specs

The Raspberry Pi 2, however, represents the first time the company has upgraded the CPU at the heart of the computer. With the switch to a quad-core, 900MHz Broadcom BCM2836 SoC, the new Pi is now multi-core for the very first time. It's also accompanied by 1GB of RAM – double the provision of the B+ – and the USB ports are now capable of supplying up to 1.2A of current, so you can connect more power-hungry components.

Raspberry Pi 2 review

Speaking at the launch of the Raspberry Pi 2, founder Eben Upton said that the biggest challenge in developing the new device had been "hitting the price point". Yet the Foundation has managed it: although the Pi 2 represents a huge step up in computing power, it still costs only £25. The only disappointment is that the networking port remains staunchly at 10/100 speeds.

Raspberry Pi 2 review: ramifications

On the surface, the new Pi looks like a simple upgrade. It’s much faster, and has more RAM, but visibly nothing changes. The placement of the ports, pins and micro-USB power requirements are all identical, and it’s still powered via micro-USB.

By moving from the 700MHz single-core BCM2835 to the 900MHz quad-core BCM2836, however, the Pi has also moved from the ARMv6 instruction set to the more advanced ARMv7. This means the new board can support not only the Raspbian build of Debian Wheezy, but also Snappy Ubuntu Core and "the full range of ARM GNU/Linux distributions".

Raspberry Pi 2 review

If you visit the Raspberry Pi website and click on Downloads you'll get an idea of what's available. There's a pair of media centre OS images for those looking to build an entertainment centre from their Raspberry Pi 2: OpenELEC and OSMC. Pidora (a Raspberry Pi version of Fedora) offers an alternative to Wheezy for Linux fans, and there's also RISC OS, a development of the operating system that first appeared way back in the ancient mists of computing time, by Acorn in 1987.

It’s also been promised that the Pi 2 will eventually also support Windows 10. Let's be clear, though: this absolutely won't be a full Windows 10 environment running desktop applications: rather, it will be a command-line environment, aimed at developers designing IoT (Internet of Things) devices. As of the time of writing, this hadn't yet appeared for general consumption, however. We'll update this review with more details, as and when we get them.

Despite the dramatic upgrade in capabilities, the Pi 2 remains backwardly compatible with existing hardware and software projects, so for upgraders, the transition will be seamless. Most most users will only need to re-download Raspbian OS to get the new ARMv7 compatible kernel.

Raspberry Pi 2 gets new official case

Since the physical design is nigh on identical, most existing third-party cases and add-on boards should also continue to work perfectly with the Pi 2. Close-fitting cases might have a problem, since some of the tiny surface mount components have moved. In these circumstances, users might want to check out the natty new official case.

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Having been in production for a while now (a process detailed at length in Raspberry Pi’s news post) the new red and white case costs a mere £6 and is an incredibly snug fit. I struggled to get the Pi in and out at first, but once ensconced the Pi has never looked better.

The case leaves all major ports accessible, but for the sake of neatness covers up the GPIO with a removable panel. If you need access from the top, or just fancy peering inside, just prise the white top panel off to peer inside.

Right now there aren’t any alternative covers to clip on, but the potential is certainly there. Specific case modifiers should come along soon enough to support camera and microphone mounting, and as soon as someone figures out 3D-printed components be sure to see third-party modifications flood the market.

Raspberry Pi 2 review: performance

Thanks to its increased clock frequency and over multiple cores, the Raspberry Pi 2 is clearly more powerful than any previous Pi model. Obviously, the effective speed-up will depend on the software you’re running, and whether or not it's been optimised to run multithreaded, but at the launch, a spokesman demonstrated a Python script that calculated an approximation of Pi then displayed it in visual form in Minecraft. The original Raspberry Pi version took 47 seconds to complete the calculation; using all four cores, the new model completed the job in three seconds.

Even in single-threaded applications, using only a quarter of the Pi 2's available compute power, you can still see a big difference. We ran SunSpider on a B+ and a Pi 2, and the latter completed the test roughly three times as quickly, with a final time of 4,487ms versus the former's 14,491ms. Running Google's Octane browser benchmark brought the B+ to its knees, returning a score of 89.7; on the Pi 2 it gained a score of far better score of 327.

In practice, anyone who uses a Raspberry Pi to develop projects, learn programming, as a basic desktop or media centre will really notice the bump in performance, with general tasks feeling a more responsive within the Raspbian OS. Browsing the web is no longer a chore, and the kid-friendly Scratch programming environment really benefits from the extra zip; you can switch between tabs without having to wait seconds for them to load, and simple jobs such as importing background images complete far quicker. We tried importing a large JPEG on the B+ and the Pi 2 into a Scratch project, and found a huge difference in the amount of time it took to complete the job: on the B+ we had to wait 48 seconds before it appeared in our project; on the Pi 2 that time fell to 20 seconds.

Raspberry Pi 2 review: verdict

For those who love the Raspberry Pi and all it brings to the table, the Pi 2 is most definitely a good thing. It offers much more power, yet the price remains the same, and the package is completely backwards compatible with the previous model, so upgrading is about as painless as it gets.

Perhaps even more significant, however, is the extra flexibility that the ARMv7 instruction set brings with it. Having the potential to install and run a greater range of operating systems, including (eventually) even a derivative of Windows 10 will only broaden the appeal of the Raspberry Pi, making the company’s target of three million units shipped this year eminently achievable.

BUY NOW FROM AMAZON: Raspberry Pi 2

Page 1 of 2 Raspberry Pi 2 review: The best microcomputer just got better

Price when reviewed 
30inc VAT

Raspberry Pi 2 specifications

Processor Quad-core, 900MHz Broadcom BCM2836
Processor socket N/A
RAM 1GB
Memory type SDRAM
Maximum memory 1GB
USB ports 4 x USB 2
Other ports HDMI
Networking 10/100 Ethernet
Memory card reader microSD
Graphics card Broadcom VideoCore IV
Sound card outputs 3.5mm analogue output; digital via HDMI
Buying information
Warranty 1yr RTB
Price including delivery (inc VAT) £30 inc VAT
Supplier cpc.farnell.com

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