The Pi Foundation has released many takes on its Raspberry Pi line of ARM-based single-board computers (SBCs) over the years. Today's release of the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ marks the first time the foundation has launched a new model on Pi Day. The big improvements compared to the existing Raspberry Pi 3 are a 200-MHz clock speed bump, a Gigabit Ethernet controller, and improved Wi-Fi with 802.11ac and 5-GHz band support.
The move from Broadcom's BCM2837 SoC to the company's BCM2837B0 chip suggests a modest upgrade overall, and the jump from a 1.2 GHz clock to 1.4 GHz bears out this assumption. The Pi Foundation says a new heat spreader, improved manufacturing, and new thermal management techniques let the chip run at its peak clock speed for longer periods.
Wireless networking got an upgrade from musty old 2.4 GHz 802.11n to current-generation 802.11ac with dual-band support. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support both come from the Cypress CYW4355 controller chip hidden beneath the Pi-logo-emblazoned metal shielding on the corner of the board. The Pi Foundation says the shielded radio chip allows it to certify the entire Pi 3B+ board as a radio module under FCC rules, a move the foundation says will reduce certification costs for Pi-based products. The Bluetooth module also got a spec boost from version 4.1 to 4.2 with Bluetooth Low Energy support.
What hasn't changed is the USB 2.0 bus that connects all peripherals to the SoC, including networking and storage. That means real-world throughput from the Gigbit Ethernet controller is going to be limited to a maximum of about 300 Mbps and will drop when accessing storage or other subsystems. The Pi 3+ still boots from a microSD slot, but the Pi Foundation says PXE and USB boot support are improved. The new Pi has the same 1 GB of LPDDR2 memory as the old model. The VideoCore IV GPU baked into the SoC and the full-size HDMI 1.3 jack it uses for display output also remain unchanged.
Tinkerers plumbing the Pi 3 Model B+ into an IoT or embedded application might appreciate the promised official support for power-over-Ethernet (PoE). This capability requires a soon-coming PoE HAT—an add-on board that attaches to the board's 40-pin general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header. The Pi 3B+ also carries over the existing CSI and DSI ribbon connectors for attaching cameras and displays.
Buyers will need to supply their own microSD card and a relatively-beefy 2.5 A power supply, like with the predecessor board. Many operating systems have been ported to the Pi Foundation's line of SBCs, but the most prominent and well supported is the Foundation's own Raspbian.