Three years to the month after launching the first Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has unveiled a new Pi that uses a more modern processor and has twice as much memory onboard. The Raspberry Pi 2, as it’s being called, will sell for $35, just like its predecessors (the first generation Model A and Model B), but it is unquestionably a better value, due to its improved specs.
We at NPI were among those who bought a Raspberry Pi when it first went on sale. Though the software has improved by leaps and bounds since the early days, we’ve always wished the hardware was better.
At last our wish has been fulfilled — and sooner than we thought.
After boosting the memory on the Model B from 256 MB to 512 MB in mid-2012, the Foundation maintained that no further upgrades to hardware were planned, at least not in the short term. From the Raspberry Pi FAQ, circa December 2013:
When will the next model of the Raspberry Pi be released?
As of the end of 2013, there are no immediate plans for the next model; possibly a new model will be released in 2–3 years, but this is not a firm time frame. A new model would inherently undo much of the community work that has been done to date on the Raspberry Pi, which would be counter-productive to our educational aims. We concentrate our engineering effort on making the software that runs on the Raspberry Pi faster and better all the time – which is why you should always be running the most recent firmware. Minor hardware revisions, such as bringing out i2s on the Model B rev. 2 board, will occur on an as needed basis and have no set timeframe or schedule.
Here we are just a year or so later, and we’ve got the Model 2. How did the Foundation manage to produce a new Pi while maintaining the backwards compatibility they’ve insisted was so important to them? Turns out Broadcom, the makers of the system on a chip the Pi uses, were willing to lend a hand:
Nonetheless, there comes a point when there’s no substitute for more memory and CPU performance. Our challenge was to figure out how to get this without throwing away our investment in the platform or spoiling all those projects and tutorials which rely on the precise details of the Raspberry Pi hardware. Fortunately for us, Broadcom were willing to step up with a new SoC, BCM2836. This retains all the features of BCM2835, but replaces the single 700MHz ARM11 with a 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 complex: everything else remains the same, so there is no painful transition or reduction in stability.
Because the new Pi’s processor has four cores that are each 200MHz faster than the original Pi’s processor, the increase in speed is sixfold. There’s twice as much memory too, as previously mentioned. The new P‑I unfortunately doesn’t come with support for USB 3.0/3.1 or gigabit Ethernet, but a future Pi well might.
The new Pi will support Ubuntu as well as Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, which will delight anyone who has tried to get Windows to work on the Pi. The Foundation has always advised against this in the past. From the old FAQ:
Will it run WINE (or Windows, or other x86 software)?
Wine Is Not an Emulator. Some people have put Windows 3.1 on the Raspberry Pi inside an x86 CPU emulator in order to use specific applications, but trying to use a version of Windows even as recent as Windows 98 can take hours to boot into, and take several more hours to update your cursor every time you try to move it. We don’t recommend it!
Will it run the Windows 8 ARM edition?
No. Even if Microsoft decided to devote all its resources to getting Windows 8 on the Pi it would not work. The Raspberry Pi lacks the minimum memory and CPU requirements, it runs on an version of the ARM processor that is not supported by Windows 8, it lacks the appropriate axis sensors… the list goes on and on. The Pi will not run Windows 8.
But the Pi 2 will be able to run Windows 10. From Microsoft:
We’re excited to announce that we are expanding our Windows Developer Program for IoT by delivering a version of Windows 10 that supports Raspberry Pi 2. This release of Windows 10 will be free for the Maker community through the Windows Developer Program for IoT.
Windows 10 is the first step to an era of more personal computing. This vision framed our work on Windows 10, where we are moving Windows to a world that is more mobile, natural and grounded in trust.
With the Windows for IoT developer program we’re bringing our leading development tools, services and ecosystem to the Raspberry Pi community!
We see the Maker community as an amazing source of innovation for smart, connected devices that represent the very foundation for the next wave of computing, and we’re excited to be a part of this community.
We are excited about our partnership with the Raspberry Pi Foundation and delivering a version of Windows 10 that supports Raspberry Pi 2, and we will be sharing more details about our Windows 10 plans for IoT in the coming months.
Windows 10 will also be a free upgrade, at least in the first year of availability, for people running Windows 8 and 8.1 now. In making Windows 10 upgrades free (as in free beer), Microsoft is following in the footsteps of Apple, which decided to stop charging for OS X upgrades in 2013 when it released Mavericks.
Neither OS X or Windows is free as in free speech, however. Both operating systems consist of code that’s proprietary, or closed source. The various operating systems that the Pi has run since its inception (including Raspbian) are open source, meaning that anyone can see how they work and modify them to their heart’s content.
Owing to its nature, free software cannot be pirated like Windows or OS X. Anyone who wants a copy of a libre OS like Ubuntu or Debian can freely and quickly get one. Copying free software is not only legally allowed, it’s encouraged.
Contrary to what you might think, free software can actually be sold (and sometimes is), but its purchasers then have the option of redistributing it gratis, if they wish. If they didn’t have this freedom, then the software would not really be free.
We at NPI are firm philosophical believers in free software, and we’re proud that our online presence is powered exclusively by a free software stack. While it’s nice that Microsoft is supporting the Raspberry Pi (just as it supports Drupal and WordPress), we’ll continue to principally power our Pis with free software.
Congratulations to the Foundation on the launch of the new model. We’re anxious to put it to the test and see what it can do.