While personal computers have mostly migrated to 64-bit CPUs more than a decade ago, mobile devices and embedded computers have only started their journey a year or two ago. With smartphones starting to carry 64-bit processors inside, the interest in 64-bit CPUs have also trickled down to development boards, including the Raspberry Pi. The latest and smallest RPi Zero is barely three months old and yet now we have a new, 3rd gen, regular-sized board. Called the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B in the tradition of other RPis, this DIY darling actually breaks tradition, with a 64-bit processor and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Although there have been many like it before, the Raspberry Pi took the hobbyist and developer scene by storm with its combination of simplicity, price, and open source friendliness. Since then, the little board that can has churned out multiple models and has even made a somewhat controversial partnership with Microsoft. But while the RPi was intentionally designed to be simple rather than be overloaded with features, it does mean that for some functionality that would be considered basic by today’s standards, you’d have to go out and buy, and attach, a separate module. Aside from the costs, it also means you have sacrifice one or two of the USB ports to get that functionality.
The Raspberry Pi 3 has some of those built-in from the get go. Particularly, it has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth right on the board itself, freeing up the ports for other equally important connections. It won’t be super powerful, however, in line with Raspberry Pi’s habit of keeping things at their most basic. That means 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, not the faster ac standard. Bluetooth is at least 4.1, which means support for the Low Energy spec.
In addition to those wireless features, the RPi 3 will have a 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53 64-bit processor, specifically a Broadcom BCM2387 chipset, making it the first to switch to that architecture. No RPi even goes beyond 1 GB of RAM, so the memory benefits of a 64-bit CPU might have no meaning. However, the added registers and expanded instruction set, not to mention the advertised 10 times faster speeds compared to a Cortex-A7, might be a better fit for those who dive deeply into hardware hacking.
The best news is that nothing on the board other than those have changed. That means that the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B will be compatible with connectors and modules for the Raspberry Pi 1 and 2. OK, actually there is something better than best. Despite the slight feature bump, the RPi 3 is still being sold for $35, the same price as its predecessors.