The Raspberry Pi was first released 4 years ago in Feb 2012. As part of the 2016 anniversary celebrations the Raspberry Pi foundation has released the Raspberry Pi 3 to add to the range of RPi computers available.
Compared to the Raspberry Pi 2 the headline features of the RPi3 are built in WiFi-N and Bluetooth which are welcome additions and a 64 bit quad core 1.2GHz processor making it a whole lot faster than it's predecessors.
There is still 1gb memory and no significant change to the boards layout so it will fit in any case designed for the Raspberry Pi 2 & B+. Though it is recommended you use a 2.5 amp power supply if you intend on connecting power hungry USB devices compared to RPi 2 where 1.8 amps was recommended in general. The only obvious change in design is the activity lights have been moved across the board to make space for the WiFi and Bluetooth transmitter.
Though it has a 64 bit processor the there is no 64 bit software available for it to use but it is compatible with existing software with initial speed comparisons showing a 50%-60% speed increase compared to the RPi2.
As I often use my RPi's to do timelapse photography, for a real world test I decided to compare how long it takes a RPi2 and a RPi3 to convert 1000 still images to a video file using avconv. Both Pi's were running the latest version of Raspbian Jessie and setup identically.
- RPI2: took 39 mins 50 sec
- RPi3: took 30 mins 50 sec
- Results: RPi3 was 22.5% faster
So should you put your existing Raspberry Pi in the cupboard and rush out and get a Raspberry Pi 3?
That depends on how you are using your RPi. If you use a RPi for education and you are learning to program in Python, using Scratch, Sonic Pi, generally making projects for sensing the external world, using the camera for photos and simple projects and battery powered projects then I would say no. For those types of activity you are probably not going to make much use of the extra performance. If you were planning to get a new RPi anyway then yes as you save money because you don't need to buy a WiFi or bluetooth dongle any longer.
If you are overclocking your Pi and using it as a media player, as a retro games console running emulators or have projects where it needs to process data fast such as motion sensing or from other devices and sensors then yes there will be an advantage. The Rapberry Pi community come up with some amazing and inventful ways of using their mini computers and im sure the new features of the Raspberry Pi 3 will be taken advantage of in all sorts of imaginative ways.
With the range of Raspberry PI's now available from the Zero to the RPi3 there is a good choice to get one that suits your projects needs and it's good that the foundation have made a point that they are all compatible and affordable for educational purposes and hobbyist alike.
More Games and Graphics coming soon
Recently it was announced that OpenGL hardware 3D graphics drivers are being developed for Raspbian which is good news as currently only the less featured OpenGL ES drivers can be used. The Raspbian software package repository contains 1000's of programs that can also be run on Linux desktops such as Ubuntu but many games and programs that use graphics hardware acceleration have failed to run on Raspbian only because they use OpenGL 3D hardware graphics drivers. Once OpenGL is fully working along with the extra performance of the Raspberry Pi 3 many more programs and games will work and be able to run at usable speeds.