The Raspberry Pi 4 was recently released and has made headlines for being a viable desktop replacement on a single board. It is also a long-due upgrade to the Raspberry Pi 3, which was released in 2016 and refreshed in 2018.
The Pi 4 offers various benefits for developers over existing products in the market. While upgrades such as the CPU and the RAM are directly visible, there are many other additions that have placed it in a new market segment.
Hardware Upgrades Galore
The most apparent change in the Raspberry Pi 4 is the amped-up processor. Even though the clock speed is but a slight increase from the previous generation (1.2 GHz to 1.5 GHz) the performance gain comes from an architectural improvement.
The move from ARM’s Cortex A53 chip on the Pi 3 to the Cortex A73 chip on the Pi 4 is the reason for the extra performance. Firstly, it is to be noted that the A73 has inherent advantages that improve heat dissipation while under sustained loads.
Thermal throttling is reduced on the Raspberry Pi 4 while maintaining better efficiency. However, it is also important to note that the Pi 4 needs more power than the Pi 3; the main reason behind moving to USB-C for power.
The A73 is a part of ARM’s high-performance core lineup, leading to better performance per core when compared to the lower-end A53 SoC. The chip performs better due to 3-way superscalar parallelized processing, as an improvement over the 2-way superscalar of the A53.
In addition to this, the CPU utilises a feature known as out-of-order execution, which allows for the processor to be used in a more reliable way. OOO Execution results in processor clock instructions to be picked up from a queue dynamically, resulting in a lower stall period and better performance.
The chip also has a higher amount of RAM in the faster Low-Profile DDR4 variant. The computer can be purchased with up to 4 GB of LPDDR4 RAM, a 4x increase over the existing 1 GB Raspberry Pi 3.
Architecture And Quality of Life Improvements
One of the biggest improvements that the additional processing power and RAM offer is the ability to output to dual 4K displays at 30Hz each. While this might not be a viable setup for many users today, the dual micro-HDMI ports are a good addition to the board.
It can also output to one 4K display at 60Hz, allowing for high-frame rate tasks to be conducted at a higher resolution. Along with support for 4K, there is also slated support for 4K 60FPS playback using H.265 encoded video.
For developers and Makers looking for a small form-factor, silent home theatre PC replacement, the Pi 4 seems to be the best choice. With the ability to playback 4K content, it can simply be attached to the back of a television and set up as a network location for optimal access. The board also comes with a bump to USB 3.0, allowing for faster external storage.
At the same time, Gigabit Ethernet support is also added. This is a godsend for anyone setting up the Pi as an access point, media server or dedicated server. In previous models, Ethernet speeds were restricted to around ~250MB/s owing to the reduced bandwidth on the board. The Ethernet bus needed to share resources with the USB hub, leading to a bottleneck in both interfaces.
Now, both of them have their own set of resources to play with, allowing better performance on both ends. This will be the most relevant in terms of streaming data to and from the Pi while reading/writing off external storage. This even opens up the avenue for a Pi being used as a NAS in the home setting; a network location for all storage based needs.
A New OS Opens The Door For A Mobile Coding Station
Amidst the hype of the new CPU, RAM and dual 4K support, the OS on which the new Pi is running, has gone unnoticed. The Pi 4 comes with a new version of the Debian-based Raspbian OS. The new version is called Buster and comes with a host of improvements that will make developers’ lives easier.
Primarily, it is to be noted that this is still a 32-bit system, as opposed to the 64-bit systems that have taken over the world today. The major changes come in the form of a better, more modern UI, updates to the latest version of Debian, and a special feature for developers.
The OS has been fortified with security enhancements to ensure that unauthorized access does not take place. However, a big addition is the change of a default Python editor. The higher clock speed will allow for code to be compiled faster, and the switch to the Thonny Python IDE is also slated to increase performance.
The inclusion of a Python IDE shows that the system can be used as a miniature coding station that only needs a monitor to plug into. In addition to this, there are also various additional accessories, such as a camera and an array of various sensors.
This can make the Pi 4 a viable competitor for image processing at the edge, or a surveillance device. In addition to dedicated motherboard buses for these applications, the Pi also has a series of pins that allow additional boards to be simply placed on top of the Pi.
The viability of the Pi as a mobile coding station cannot be dismissed, making it a must-buy for developers.