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Pi3? 3? WTF? Have you seen the specs?

You know, I was going to get myself a Pi2 for Christmas, and one thing and another happened and pretty soon Christmas came and went and I'd not gotten around to placing an order. I mean, I'd like to be running Otter browser, but I have an iPad that can flat out kick the butt of every other browser I have, so a mere 256MiB on board isn't that big a hardship really. Likewise, a mere 700MHz processor isn't that much of an impediment when it can stream AnimeNFO or JPOPSuki to my ears, and then waste cycles waiting for my fingers to prod the keyboard.
Okay, more memory and more speed is better - but it was not a great necessity in my life. That's why I've never so much as considered buying a Pandaboard or a Titanium. For everyday tasks, the Pi is fast enough, and its power consumption is such that I don't even need to bother turning it off (well, it's running a server too...). The Pi2 was basically an upgrade for the sake of upgrading.

That's why I didn't get around to it.
Thankfully.

Because, well, this will be no surprise if you're a connected geek, but just in case: The RaspberryPi 3 has been launched. They're still keeping the "model B" designation, and the price tag is the same $35 that it has always been.

Only this time it'll buy you this:

  • A 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU
  • Integrated 802.11n wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.1
  • Broadcom VideoCore IV GPU at 400 MHz
  • 1 GB LPDDR2-900 SDRAM
Along with the usual GiB RAM, video, HDMI, four USB ports, and one 10/100 ethernet port, blah blah. It will look and feel a lot like a Pi2, only... did you notice the chip spec? No, not the 1.2GHz, not even the quad core, but the SIXTY FOUR BIT. Holy flaming Pentiums, how the hell did they manage to get a 64 bit ARM, in a quad core form, in a $35 machine? All these people, these people that mouthed off on forums about how crap the Pi was at running Linux and how pointless it is to have a desktop machine based around a Pi.
Yeah. I think you've just been bitchslapped.
Hard.

The increased memory bandwidth (same as a Pi2 IIRC), and the processor enhancements, mean that while the processor is physically clocking a mite under twice that of a Pi1, it "averages" around ten times faster in use (in practice, this means from around 2.5× for a single-threaded application to over 20× for a NEON-enhanced video codec - we'll need to await some benchmarks); or around twice as nippy as the Pi2. In terms of graphics, the VideoCore IV GPU runs at 400MHz and the VideoCore 3D runs at 300MHz (earlier Pis ran at 250MHz). Not a lot of change there, but the Pi can already manage FullHD without problems, and 4K UHD at around 24fps. It's an old GPU, not really up to UHD (certainly not at 60Hz!), but by sticking with it, they are neatly sidestepping the potential incompatibility issues of making big changes and it is slowly opening up, which can only be a good thing in the long run.

In terms of RISC OS, RISC OS should run about twice as fast, and there's even more hardware on the board that RISC OS doesn't know what to do with (namely: three other cores, that whole 64 bit thing, WiFi, and Bluetooth).

 

I think I can say, without exaggeration, that this is a game-changer. To be able to bring to market a small member of the Pi family with 64 bit ARMv8 onboard, quad-core, plus integrated radiocomms... and keep the same price tag. This isn't going to put the Pi on the map, it's already there. No, this is more like invading the other pretenders and kicking them off the map. While the Pi is still lacking SATA, PCIe, integrated (non-USB) ethernet, USB-C, and more RAM; it does now offer us ARMv8 (AArch64).
It's a game changer. The Pi3 doesn't need to be consigned to running retro operating systems (hello RISC OS!) or emulators for even older games machines. Nor does it have to spend its life being a pretty cool little set top box (in as much as you can perch precariously anything on top of a flat screen telly). This. This here. This is a real computer.
The original Pi was built to a price and it was wildly popular with those who like to fiddle, or who used Raspbian. We in the RISC OS world benefited from the Pi as, well, our chosen OS was designed to not suck on an 8MHz processor with a megabyte of RAM. Thus, it was pretty epic on a 700MHz processor with a quarter GiB of RAM. Which is more than you can say for any incarnation of Linux that just sucked beyond the telling of it. Getting a reasonably complex web page on Raspian was all manner of painful. Then along came the Pi2 which could do more faster, and Linux sucked a little less. Now enter the Pi3. Detractors will whine, sure enough, but this amount of computing power for $35. I feel like I ought to start laughing and crank open a couple of beers while the room sort of dissolves into random coloured pixels. This is an April Fool's joke only somebody got the date wrong, right? I mean, four 64 bit cores (plus the other stuff) for $35? Are they taking the p....?

Back when it was unclear whether or not the Pi would be vapourware (do you remember, the original plan was a thing like a fat USB key), there were fairly few ARM development boards. The most popular was the Beagle and the Beagle xM. Pretty solid boards built around the TI OMAP SoC. A good spec. A price tag pretty far out of my justification range (that's why it was quite a surprise when one turned up on my doorstep!). There were other boards, more cores, more dollar symbols.
The Pi guys had a dream of making a dirt-cheap computer to get it "out there". Into people's hands. To reignite the passion that geeks in the '80s had for their computers. To show people that a computer was something you could have run with, enjoy, mess around and poke and prod. It didn't need to be a boring box with a little blue 'e' and sod all else.
The first Pi, it wasn't overly exciting in terms of specification, but with a low price tag it was suitable as a near throwaway computer. You could buy one for your kids and if they managed to trash it somehow, it's not the end of the world. Beagle co puts dire warnings in the product information sheets warning against static, against daring to plug stuff in when the machine is powered up, against breathing near the Beagle or even looking askance at it. Liz Upton, of the Pi Foundation, apparently "tested" a Pi by rubbing it on a cat. It survived. So did Liz. What more can you say?
This kicked off a plethora of Pi clones and imitators - the Quark, the Cubie, the Banana/Orange Pi etc. Every time these machines come along and best the Pi, all we need to do is sit back and wait for the Pi Foundation to best them. Because they have something a lot of these other boards don't have - a huge movement. The Pi family is broadly compatible. Stuff that plugs into an original Pi should plug into a Pi3. There is an official camera and display board that will plug into any of them. And it "just works". Anybody who has made a Beagle boot SD will know that some devices can be extremely unforgiving during the boot phase. If the right files aren't in the right places (and I mean physically), then the thing just won't boot. The Pi, on the other hand, can boot from "unzip this onto a blank SD card". It goes further. Ever looked at how NOOBS works? Wow.
The Pi has ignited the low end of the ARM development board, and has taken consumer choices from "a few fairly expensive boards" to "a plethora of boards across the range, many of which are either Pi board or Pi clones".
Don't get me wrong. There are better boards. 64 bit. More memory. More cores. More, whatever. But with a caveat. More dollar symbols. And, of course, the potential lack of user support. Make no mistake, there are millions of Pis out there. It is so popular that you can now even run Plan 9 on it.

 

So. The first orders have been placed and I'm sure all hell is breaking loose on virtual shopping baskets. So I'm just going to sit back, let the fuss die down, and then I'll get myself one.
And you know what? RISC OS is good to go.

 

 

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David Pilling, 1st March 2016, 23:01
It's the ubiquity of processing power - they didn't make that 64 bit chip for the Pi - it's for some other application. No doubt other applications will get more power in smaller space for less money. That's just today - or more accurately some time in the past when the chip was designed. The clever bit is doing something with that processing power - other than chucking it away with non-optimised code. 
 
But yes another big step for Pi in the maker world - why bother with anything else - like Arduino or ESP8266. There are reasons to use the others (low power, small form factor) but their markets just got smaller. 
 
Gavin Wraith, 2nd March 2016, 16:55
It is certainly exciting. It is good for RISC OS for a number of reasons; not least because it focusses minds on how RISC OS can be developed to exploit the hardware available. But where will the manpower be found to do that? Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, touch-pads, multiple cores, ... . All a far cry from the comfy nostalgia which RISC OS seems to elicit.

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