Raspberry Pi ‘3 B+’ Review

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A new PI is out, but is it a worth upgrade?

Before moving any further, it’s however important to note that this is not a brand-new product or a radical evolution of our beloved PI, but rather an incremental upgrade. So, if you’re still struggling to decide whether this upgrade is worth it, I’m here to help with some considerations.

Please note that we’re still testing the new Raspberry PI 3 B+, and those considerations are based on official statements of the Foundation, we’ll update this article as soon as our tests are done.

Raspberry PI 3B+

WHAT IS CHANGED

The hardware makeover of the Raspberry PI model 3 B+ covers basically 3 areas:

  • Slightly faster processor
  • Better thermal management
  • Networking

As we will see later, what really matters for us is indirectly related to point number 3: networking. But let’s see in detail all the 3 main upgrade areas.

PROCESSOR

The new Raspberry PI 3 B+ is built around BCM2837B0, an updated version of the BCM2837 processor used in Raspberry Pi 3B. The most notable change is that processor speed bumps from 1.2 GHz to 1.4 GHz. As always, GHz are just a small part of the whole picture, and those extra 200 MHz are surely welcome, but surely not a gamechanger over the previous generation.

The foundation reports a real-life performance improvement ranging from 15% to 30%, but I would not expect to see a substancial difference while using Volumio. A potential impacting side-effect is however how this chip (and the whole board layout) dissipates heat, so let’s move to the next point.

THERMAL MANAGEMENT

The BCM2837B0 SOC incorporates power integrity optimisations, and a heat spreader (see the metal bit in the pictures?). Cleverly, the foundation used such features to get higher clock speeds, when temperature is below 70 degrees, and to throttle the processor only in extreme cases. Also, thanks to the on-board heat-spreader, thermal performance has improved.

Heat is not coming out only from CPU’s top, but it’s rather spreaded on the whole PCB, therefore applying an additional heatsink is not necessary anymore (and IMHO it wasn’t necessary with model 3 as well). It appears then, that the PI 3 B+ has been designed to be very well suited for long-time operations, even in confined spaces, without the need for an external heatsink.
The only downside I can see here is that, the Raspberry PI foundation itself claims that ” Raspberry Pi 3B+ does consume substantially more power than its predecessor. We strongly encourage you to use a high-quality 2.5A power supply”.

This means, more than ever, that a good quality Power Supply is mandatory for stable operations, and if you’re using a sub-optimal PSU with your current Raspberry, you absolutely need to replace it along with it.

NETWORKING

This to me looks like the real deal. Finally the PI gets Gigabit ethernet, altough it’s connected via an USB 2.0 BUS so it’s not the same “Gigabit” you’ll find on its competitor. But 10\100 was more than enough for audio use, so this is not a matter of concern.

On the Wireless side we also find finally 5.0 GHz and wireless AC. This is indeed a notable improvement: while the extra speed of AC is not much of a deal-breaker, it is the AC protocol in itself. As you might know, the main issue wiht N (and 2.4 GHz) wireless is usually the overcrowded signal range (it has only 13 bands of frequencies available, and if you live in a crowded area your WiFi is most likely to suck due to congestions). AC wireless instead, has an awful lot more of channels, therefore virtually minimizing the chance of bad wireless networking due to congestion. Of course, you will be able to benefit from AC networking ONLY if you already have an AC capable wireless Access Point.

However, none of those 3 points might be necessary to trigger your compulsive upgrade (BTW, the PI 3 Model B+ is available now), if it wasn’t for a side effect.

THE NEW USB HUB

Hidden within the new specs, comes a very interesting part. Quoting:

Previous Raspberry Pi devices have used the LAN951x family of chips, which combine a USB hub and 10/100 Ethernet controller. For Raspberry Pi 3B+, Microchip have supported us with an upgraded version, LAN7515, which supports Gigabit Ethernet.

This means that the new PI 3 B+ features a new USB HUB chip,  and this might put an end to the PI’S first flaw in Audio-related usage, the USB bus package loss issue. If confirmed (we’re carrying out our tests and will update this article once done) this would be the absolute cherry-on-the-cake of this new Raspberry PI Model B+, and might justify alone the upgrade.

The new Raspberry PI 3 B+ is a worthwhile upgrade, especially if you listen to Music via USB DAC or if you use Volumio with a wireless connection.

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