Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ review: Still dirt cheap and now faster than ever
The Raspberry Pi is a quirky thing. When first released in 2012, it was positioned as a super-lightweight, almost disposable computer for kids to learn to program on and for hobbyists to build their electronics and robotics projects around. To be frank, it looked and felt rather like a toy, and it was priced like one too. That was part of its charm.
Since then, though, the Pi has quietly evolved into quite a capable little machine and now the latest generation is here: the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. The name is becoming a bit of a mouthful, but perhaps that’s appropriate for a platform that’s progressively gaining more and more features.
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Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ review: Design
The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ brings two major upgrades to the Pi design. The first is a faster processor. Not a new processor, mark you – it’s the exact same Broadcom BCM2837 chipset as in the original Model B (released in 2016), but the speed has been dialled up from 1.2GHz to 1.4GHz. This means it runs a bit hotter than before, so it’s also acquired a dinky little metal cover to help dissipate the heat.[gallery:2]
The other big change is a new networking controller. The Model B had built-in Wi-Fi but it only supported the comparatively slow 802.11n protocol on the 2.4GHz radio band. The new Model B+ introduces a more modern dual-band 802.11ac radio, which means you can expect faster wireless transfers. The built-in Ethernet socket gets a speed boost, too, from 100Mbits/sec to 300Mbits/sec.
The only other notable change is the arrival of a new four-pin connector for an optional power-over-Ethernet (PoE) add-on, so you can use a single cable to connect the Pi to IP cameras, VoIP phones and other networking appliances.
Despite these enhancements, the price remains the same as before, a steal at £36 including VAT for the bare board, although you’ll need to budget for a micro-USB power supply and a microSD card on top of that. You may also want to buy a case. And the good news here is that the Model B+ sticks with the established Raspberry Pi form factor first introduced in 2014, so it’ll work perfectly with the thousands of cases and other accessories that are already out there.[gallery:4]
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ review: Performance
As I’ve mentioned, the new processor runs at 1.4GHz, up from the 1.2GHz of its predecessor. That’s a frequency increase of about 17% and in benchmark after benchmark I found this translated to a linear improvement in performance:
|FPU ray trace||42||35.7||15%|
|Dhrystone MIPS (8 threads)||5776||6684||16%|
|Whetstone MWIPS (8 threads)||3973||4650||17%|
|Livermore loops average MFLOPS||211||247||17%|
So far, so fine, but I was less impressed by the new networking hardware. From my MacBook Pro I can easily copy files to and from my NAS drive at upwards of 20MB/sec, but with the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ those same files came down the line at just 5.2MB/sec. Copying them back up was faster, at 9.6MB/sec, but still much slower than I had expected.
|Copy 2GB file from NAS (Wi-Fi)||4.4MB/sec||5.2MB/sec||18%|
|Copy back to NAS (Wi-Fi)||4.6MB/sec||9.6MB/sec||109%|
To be fair, these speeds are still better than the old Model B, with its last-generation wireless chipset. And there’s always the caveat that wireless performance can be heavily influenced by environmental factors, so you might see much better speeds on your own network.
I suspect, though, that the compact size of the Model B+ acts as a liming factor when it comes to the effectiveness of the internal aerial and there’s no provision for attaching an external one to boost the signal, either.
|Copy 2GB file from NAS (Ethernet)||9.1MB/sec||11MB/sec||21%|
|Copy back to NAS (Ethernet)||11.1MB/sec||20.9MB/sec||88%|
Lastly, I tried the same test over Ethernet. Again, the Model B+ was faster than the old Model B, but not by as much as I’d hoped. Based on the advertised connection speeds, files ought to come up and down the line three times as fast; in practice I saw only a modest improvement downstream, and even upstream performance was less than double what it had been with the old hardware.
Still, it’s hard to feel too hard done by. The new Model B+ is undeniably faster than its predecessor and doesn’t cost a penny more. Perhaps let’s think of these results as a reminder that this isn’t a cutting-edge workstation and even if certain boxes are technically ticked, it’s wise to keep your expectations low.[gallery:1]
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ review: Verdict
The Raspberry Pi has come a long way. The very first version had a mere two USB ports, no wireless of any sort and a laggardly processor that ran at around a quarter of the speed of today’s board. By comparison, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is a terrifically formidable little computer.
To be clear, it’s no PC-killer. That Dhrystone score of 2,839 MIPS looks good next to the 2,433 of the old Model B, but my Core i5 Windows desktop scores 17,423 in the same benchmark and that’s before we talk about things like RAM, storage speed and so forth. Although the idea is far less absurd than it once was, I can’t recommend you use a Raspberry Pi as your everyday computer.
Taken on its own terms however – as a low-cost, hugely open-ended foundation for experiments in programming and electronics – the new Pi is a stunner. If you weren’t excited by the original Model B, this incremental update isn’t going to suddenly turn you into a true believer. But if you’ve ever been Pi-curious, you’ll be pleased to know that the platform is now faster, slicker and more versatile than ever. At the price it’s a simply irresistible deal.