Grab your screwdrivers, makers! There’s a new, more powerful Raspberry Pi in town… The just announced Pi 2, which goes on sale today, adds a quad-core chip and double the memory to support more intensive processing tasks.
The Pi Foundation also reckons this sequel takes the Pi microprocessor “firmly into the PC space”, as they put it — in terms of power punch packed.
“With the Pi 1, there were people using it as a PC but you had to make allowances for the fact it was a $35 PC,” says Pi creator, Eben Upton, in an interview with TechCrunch. “The big difference with the Pi 2 is it’s a PC. It’s not a PC which is pretty good considering it cost you $35. It’s a PC that’s pretty good.”
“We think there’s a real opportunity here… we’ve got a web browser, you can install LibreOffice on it, and then you’ve got a machine which is quite plausible as an entry-level PC,” he adds.
To that end, Upton notes the Foundation will be adding software such as LibreOffice to the reference Raspbian install in the coming months. The hardware will also be able to handle running Microsoft’s Windows 10 OS.
Who might want $35 entry level PCs? Schools might, for one, says Upton. “This plays into some of the educational stuff — it’s just that much more useful as a general purpose computer,” he adds.
Last year Google’s philanthropic arm, Google Giving, stumped up $1 million to fund free Pi for 15,000 U.K. schoolkids, while various startups have taken the low cost microprocessor as their starting point to spark computing education businesses to help people learn coding or electronics tinkering, such as Kano with its DIY computer, or more recently Pimoroni’s Flotilla electronics kits. So there’s already plenty going on with Pi and pupils.
Zooming out from there, to take in the wider, “embedded, hobbyist, building a robot” community of Pi users — where Upton notes “Pi has been very strong” — well, those guys are clearly not going to have any trouble finding uses for the additional power that Pi 2 brings.
“There are obviously places where the extra processing comes in useful,” says Upton. “Image processing is the obvious one. If you’re trying to build a robot that has one of the Pi cameras on it to react to the environment, you’re just that much better able to write those image processing algorithms on a big, fast quad-core ARM, rather than a medium performance, single core ARM.”
Pi 2: More power, same price
The Pi 2 — or the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, to give it its full name — retains the form factor as its predecessor Pi Model B+ board to ensure backwards compatibility with adds-ons, accessories, online tutorials and the like.
An “enormous amount of effort” went into this, says Upton. “People have been saying to us for a couple of years why aren’t you making a faster Pi?” But the Foundation wanted a faster Pi that retained the same form factor — hence why they’ve taken two years time to get to Pi 2.
“If we’d been prepared to give up compatibility we could have had a faster Pi out quite a while ago but it wouldn’t have been a Raspberry Pi. It would have been another computer with a Raspberry Pi logo on it,” he adds. “We just didn’t want to do that kind of ‘brand extension’ engineering. We wanted to do actual engineering.”
The $35 price-tag also remains in place, thanks in part — says Upton — to the success of the original Pi enabling economies of scale to kick in via larger component orders. The P2, like the P1, will also be manufactured largely in the U.K., at Sony’s facility in Wales. (A small amount of Pi is also produced in China.)
The Pi 2’s core is a 900MHz Quad ARM Cortex-A7 processor, which Upton says should deliver a 6x performance bump on the current top of the line Pi (the aforementioned Model B+, which only arrived last summer — itself an upgrade on the original Model B, bringing more ports and a neater form factor).
“What we’ve been able to do with Pi 2 is go from a single ARM 11 Core, which is a fairly antique processor now, to a quad core ARM Cortex A7. Which is pretty much a modern top of the line processor, and gives us something like 6x the processing capability of Raspberry Pi 1,” he notes.
On board memory on the Pi 2 has also doubled from 512MB to 1GB. Interfacing capabilities and the form factor are the same as the B+, as noted above.
“There are always things that people want,” adds Upton. “A lot of the obvious things that people were asking for for Pi we think we solved back in July last year [with the Model B+] — more IO, more USB, a better form factor, lower power consumption. But there was a sort of residue of things we weren’t able to resolve and that was largely to do with the silicon.
“So Pi 2 resolves, pretty much, all of the remaining issues that people had with Pi — and those are mostly around memory and processing capability.”
Upton predicts “at least tens of thousands, possibly as many as 100 thousand” sales of Pi 2 on the first day. “I think we can deal with a spike. There might be a little bit of a queue,” he adds.
Sales of the original Pi are running a little over 200,000 units per month now, according to Upton. That board won’t be immediately discontinued — but rather will continued to be sold for as long as there is demand for it. So industrial users aren’t going to be forced to upgrade to Pi 2.
“All of these products stay in the market until there’s no more demand for them,” he adds.
Total Pi sales at this point in the product’s lifecycle is around 4.5 million, according to Upton. The first Pi — the original Model B — was launched three years ago, in February 2012.
Where is Pi doing best now? “North America is really getting very strong now,” he tells TechCrunch. “Historically its been our biggest market but it’s underperformed on a per capita basis… That’s really picking up. China’s really picking up — coming from a small base, China’s growing really fast. People really seem to have taken to it.”
Even more Pi…
Asked about the lower priced Model A+, which the Pi Foundation only refreshed last November, Upton said the Foundation like that $20 price-point, so does envisage it might to do a sequel in time — but not anytime soon.
“The A+ has been really successful. It’s been much more successful that the original Model A Pi… so that $20 price-point, and the small form factor and the low power consumption actually are a really sweet combination, and I think it really grabbed people’s attention. So we’re going to leave the A+ anchoring the bottom end. That’s going to be there for at least a year as our bottom end device, and then maybe sometime in 2016 we’ll think about whether we can find a way to do something that’s got the new quad-core processor… and maybe a little more RAM,” says Upton.
“In practice it’s not something we’ve got planned, it just something we’ve left room for,” he adds.
Meanwhile the Pi touchpanel, which Upton showed off at Disrupt London in October, is still in the works. The components are sitting in a warehouse but the Foundation has prioritized getting Pi 2 out the door first so the touchpanel has inevitably been on the backburner. “I’m hoping we can squeeze it in this quarter, build and launch it,” he adds.