With more than 20 million Raspberry Pi boards sold, the success of the family of tiny, low-cost computers shows little sign of slowing.
The latest addition to this best-selling dynasty is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+.
Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about the $25 board.
SEE: More Raspberry Pi coverage (TechRepublic Flipboard magazine)
What is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+?
A $25 single-board computer that is basically a cheaper, smaller and slightly stripped-back version of the Raspberry Pi 3 B+.
It is an update to the existing $20 Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+, which was released back in 2014 and is based on the same hardware as the very first Raspberry Pi that came out in 2012.
How is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ different from the Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+?
Compared with the old board, the Pi 3 Model A+ is based on much newer and faster hardware, some 10 times faster, according to some CPU benchmarks.
The Pi 3 A+ is based on a system-on-chip that has a quad-core, 1.4GHz CPU — the same found in the Pi 3 B+ — compared with the first-gen board’s single-core 700MHz processor, based on an older Arm architecture.
The biggest leap forward is the addition of 802.11ac Wi-Fi to the A+, making it far easier to get started and get data on and off the board than was the case with the original A+, which had no network connectivity, neither Ethernet nor Wi-Fi.
The downside is the new Model A+ costs $5 more, $25 against the first board’s $20 price tag. It also consumes a good deal more power, with benchmarking by Gareth Halfacree for official Raspberry Pi publication The MagPi Magazine finding it consumes 1.13W when idle and 4.1W under load. This is in contrast with earlier benchmarks that suggest a Pi 1 A+ with a USB Wi-Fi dongle consumes around 0.8W when idle.
How is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ different from the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+?
The Pi 3 A+ costs $10 less than B+ and as you’d expect certain features have been cut to reduce the price.
The A+ has 512MB RAM, half the memory of the B+; only has a single USB 2.0 port, compared with four on the B+; and no Ethernet.
It’s also smaller, a squat square size (65mm × 56.5mm) compared with the rectangular (85.6mm × 56.5mm) Model B+. The dimensions of the new A+ are the same as the first-gen A+.
The A+’s power consumption is also lower, with Halfacree’s benchmarking finding the Pi 3 A+ had a 1.13W power draw when idle and 4.1W draw when under load, compared with 2.3W when idle and 5.7W under load for the B+.
Operating temperatures appear to be slightly lower on the Pi 3 A+, with Halfacree measuring 60.8°C on the A+ and 62.5C on the B+ (141.4°F and 144.5°F) after 10 minutes of CPU load.
What can the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ do?
A lot of what the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ can do.
In benchmarks, TechRepublic found the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ generally matches both the general CPU and 3D graphics performance of the Pi 3 B+, unsurprising given they share the same basic system-on-a-chip (SoC).
The same relatively well-matched performance is also true of Wi-Fi throughput, with the A+ managing a decent 87 Mbps bandwidth on the 5MHz Wi-Fi band when in the same room as the router.
However, in practical tests, TechRepublic found the A+ struggles in several areas of everyday PC use.
When running web apps, the B+ can handle Google’s G Suite relatively easily, while the A+ froze when trying to run Google Drive and Google Docs.
When playing video, local video works well, with the A+ managing smooth playback of a 1,920×1,080 resolution .mov file captured by an iPhone 5S. But online video is another story, with the A+ only able to play YouTube video at 480p without stuttering, and even then not entirely smoothly.
Who should buy the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+?
The board, with its small size and relatively low power consumption, is well suited to those looking to build a board into homemade computer hardware. If someone spends most of the time remotely accessing the Pi A+ from another PC, then its shortcomings as a desktop machine won’t really matter.
Even working within the constraints of the relatively weedy hardware available on the Raspberry Pi 1 A+, hardware hackers came up with some pretty impressive projects, including: a Windows 98 wristwatch, a motion-detecting camera, a beehive management system, and web-controlled robot rover.
The new A+ could also be a decent upgrade for people who built hardware around a first generation A+ and want a more powerful board to use as a drop-in replacement.
And on the simplest level, it could also appeal to those who want similar hardware to the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ but want to save a bit of extra cash.
Who are the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+’s rivals?
Of the upcoming boards that will challenge the Model A+, probably the most significant is the La Frite, a $15 single-board computer with a similar but slightly slower processor, faster memory, and two USB 2.0 ports. A big drawback is the board has no Wi-Fi support, instead offering 100Mbps Ethernet. As an unreleased board it’s also an unknown whether it will live up to its promise on paper.
One board that’s available now is the $15 Nano Pi Neo. It’s cheaper than the A+ and packs a relatively capable Allwinner H3 processor, slightly faster RAM, and 100Mbps Ethernet. However, there are many disadvantages, such as fewer GPIO pins, no Wi-Fi support, and no HDMI for hooking up displays.
SEE: All of TechRepublic’s smart person’s guides and cheat sheets
As with many Pi rivals, some owners have reported stability problems, with Wi-Fi connectivity occasionally dropping until the system is reset and the board sometimes powering down on its own. Other reports say it runs very hot and needs a heatsink to cool.
There is a recurring issue with most Raspberry Pi competitors not offering the same breadth of stable operating systems, software, and community support, making them difficult to use without considerable technical know-how.
What are the other Raspberry Pi boards?
Several generations of Raspberry Pi boards have been released since the launch of the first Pi single-board computer in 2012.
The main releases include the Raspberry Pi Model A+ and B+, the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, and the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ earlier this year. There have been several spin-off boards, such as the tiny and ultra-cheap Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W.
There is also the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 (CM3), which packs the same 1.2GHz, quad-core Broadcom BCM2837 processor and 1GB memory used on the Pi 3 onto a slimmer and smaller board.
The CM3’s compact design, the same size as a DDR2 small outline dual in-line memory module, is suited to being built into electronic appliances. The original Raspberry Pi Compute Module was used inside various IoT, home and factory automation products, as well as a media player.
The plus for owners of earlier Raspberry Pi boards is that there is no sign of official support or software development for older boards being dropped for the near future.
The A+ will remain in production until at least January 2023.
When will the Raspberry Pi 4 be released?
Eben Upton, co-creator of the Raspberry Pi and chief executive of Raspberry Pi Trading, said the release of 3 A+ in some respects marked “the end of an era”, saying it was “the last ‘classic’ Raspberry Pi before we turn our attention to defining a spec for Raspberry Pi 4, and figuring out what the platform will look like from a silicon perspective”.
Upton has previously spoken about how the Raspberry Pi 4 hardware will be a departure from what came before.
Will existing Raspberry Pi cases and add-ons fit the B+?
Add-ons and cases for the first-generation A+ should fit the new board, which is the same size as the original Raspberry Pi A+.
When is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ available?
The board is available now from CPC, RS Components, Pi Hut, Pimoroni, Pi Supply and ModMyPi in the UK, and Adafruit, Micro Center, element14, PiShop.us, Chicago Electronic Distributors and CanaKit in the US.
For any other countries, visit this page on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website, and you’ll be redirected to the right stores.
What are the specs for the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+?
Processor: Broadcom BCM2837B0, quad-core A53 (ARMv8) 64-bit SoC @1.4GHz
Memory: 512MB LPDDR2 SDRAM
Connectivity: 2.4GHz and 5GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n/ac wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.2, BLE.
USB: 1 x 2.0
Expandability: Extended 40-pin GPIO header
Video and sound: 1 x full-sized HDMI port, MIPI DSI display port, MIPI CSI camera port, 4 pole stereo output and composite video port.
Multimedia: H.264, MPEG-4 decode (1080p30), H.264 encode (1080p30); OpenGL ES 1.1, 2.0 graphics
SD card support: microSD format for loading operating systems and data storage
Input power: 5V/2.5A DC via microUSB connector, 5V DC via GPIO header,
Size: 65mm × 56.5mm
Environment: Operating temperature 0 – 50C
Compliance: Local and regional approvals listed here.
Production lifetime: Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ will remain in production until at least January 2023.