The Raspberry Pi 3 is perhaps the biggest update yet to the tiny and extremely inexpensive computer. This new model is still just $35, and it now includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. "Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are a thing people have been asking for for a long time," says Eben Upton, CEO of Raspberry Pi Trading, the charity's commercial arm.
One of the Raspberry Pi's core uses has been in education, where the computer's $35 price has allowed it to be placed in many classrooms that would otherwise be unable to afford PCs. For the most part, those PCs had to be hooked up over ethernet cables if schools wanted to connect them to the internet. They'll now be able to avoid that hurdle with the Pi 3, connecting instead over Wi-Fi that can blanket several classrooms at once.
The addition of Bluetooth will be more important for hobbyists and researchers, who are already using Pis to collect data from various sensors around their labs and homes. With on-board Bluetooth, the Pi will now be able to collect data from sensors without being directly wired to them. Being able to use a wireless keyboard and mouse is a nice benefit, too.
"I'M REALLY QUITE HOPEFUL THAT ... WE'VE MADE A THING WHERE YOU CAN REALLY SAY, 'YES, THIS IS A PC."
Upton says that it really wasn't until now that any of these additions were possible on a $35 computer. For one, they had to wait for the price of components to come down. But the engineering and certification involved was also too much for Trading's small team. "That stuff was maybe beyond us in the previous generation, when we did Raspberry Pi 2," Upton says, referring to last year's release. At the time, Trading had about 20 employees, with only six engineers. Today, its headcount is somewhere between 30 and 40.
The Raspberry Pi 3 is also getting a speed bump, with its processor jumping up to 64-bit, quad-core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A53, up from a 900MHz, 32-bit processor. Its RAM remains at 1GB. Still, it's supposed to make the Pi 3 around 50 percent faster than its predecessor. And Upton believes that jump is enough to make people begin seeing Pi as a full PC.
"There is a weird thing," Upton says, where people view the Pi 2 as slightly too slow to be a real PC. "I'm really quite hopeful that this time we might come across that line that we've been trying to cross for a long time," he says. "That we've made a thing where you can really say, 'Yes, this is a PC.'"