Raspberry Pi 3 review - Wi-Fi tests and benchmarks

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Raspberry Pi 3 with box
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
30

An incremental update but an important one, with more speed and integrated Wi-Fi making this a winner

Specifications

Processor: 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A53 quad-core, RAM: 1GB, Front USB ports : 0, Rear USB ports: 4, Total storage: 0, Graphics card: Broadcom BCM2837, Display: N/A,Operating system: Raspbian

It may have sold more than eight million of its Pi mini-computers, but the Raspberry Pi Foundation is certainly not sitting on its laurels. This time, last year it blew me away with the hugely powerful (for a £30 USB-powered computer) Raspberry Pi 2, and this year it has upped the ante once again with the Raspberry Pi 3.

The new model's headline features are a speed boost (the Foundation claims a 50% increase) and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Wi-Fi is particularly good news, as it means you'll no longer need to take up one of your precious USB ports with a Wi-Fi adaptor.

Design

There have also been some changes to the physical layout of the Raspberry Pi motherboard, although it remains physically the same size as the Pi 2. The power and activity lights have migrated from the top-left to the bottom-left of the board, which may be a problem depending on your case's design. The "RUN" (reset) header is also now on the other side of your GPIO pins.

Raspberry Pi overhead

One change I approve of is that the microSD card slot has gone from a spring-loaded model to a simpler friction slot. This is one less thing to go wrong: I've had a spring-loaded slot break on a Raspberry Pi 2 and had to hold the microSD card in with electrical tape.

Otherwise, it's business as usual, with four USB ports and Ethernet on the rear, HDMI and a 3.5mm audio and composite video port. The all-important 40 general-purpose input/output pins are present for your hobbies, as are the interfaces for the optional camera and LCD display modules.

OS and built-in Wi-Fi

The easiest way to install an operating system on the Raspberry Pi is to download the NOOBS installer from www.raspberrypi.org and copy it to a microSD card (8GB minimum, and the fastest you can get: see, how to choose an SD card). When you boot up the Pi, you'll then get a choice of operating systems to install, from the easy-to-use Linux distro Raspbian to the OpenELEC media center to the twilight zone of RISC OS. The official build of NOOBS for the Pi 3 wasn't yet available while I was testing, so NOOBS would only give me the choice of installing Raspbian and, even then, I had some compatibility warnings.

Raspberry Pi 3 ports

In the office, I initially had some trouble with the Raspberry Pi 3’s Wi-Fi; it was fussy about connecting to a number of routers, and when it finally managed to connect I only saw a throughput of around 1Mbit/s. However, I had no such trouble testing with identical networking equipment at home.

I suspect that the office environment was just too noisy for the Pi to cope, thanks to the dozens of routers and Wi-Fi-enabled computers. When testing the Pi’s Wi-Fi throughput at home, I was pleasantly surprised by its range, especially considering the Pi 3 has such a tiny Wi-Fi antenna. At 10m distance from the router and through a couple of walls, the Pi managed to transfer data at 12Mbit/s, compared to 26Mbit/s for an 802.11n laptop. Transfer rates weren’t much quicker when we were right next to the router, however; here we saw a maximum of 19Mbit/s, compared to over 80Mbit/s from our laptop.

This means the Pi 3’s Wi-Fi isn’t quick enough to max out the average fibre broadband connection, but it’s certainly fine for web browsing, downloading software packages and audio and video streaming.

Wi-Fi testing 1m range 10m range
Pi 19.07Mbit/s 11.98Mbit/s
Centrino 83.89Mbit/s 26.21Mbit/s

Performance

The Pi 2 had a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 chip, but the Pi 3's chip has been upgraded to a newer Cortex-A53. To see how fast the Pi 3 is, I first ran Roy Longbottom's Whetstone Pi A7. This returned a score of 711, which makes the Pi 3 65% quicker than the 432 I saw from the Pi 2. Using the cat /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_cur_freq command, I saw that the Pi 3's chip was running at 1.2GHz during the benchmark, which is 300MHz quicker than the Pi 2's chip.

The extra speed didn’t make a difference to boot times, which were 35s for both systems, but the Expert Reviews home page rendered in 12s on the Pi 3 compared to 19s on the Pi 2, using the Pi's default Epiphany browser. Libreoffice ran smoother, especially when manipulating vector images in Draw and zooming in and out. YouTube videos were jerky, but I managed to play 1080p video smoothly using the command-line omxplayer. The video core has had a bump from 250MHz to 400MHz; so I thought I'd give Quake 3 a spin.

I managed to get Quake 3 running on the Pi using the guide at https://www.raspbian.org/RaspbianQuake3, and using the game’s built-in benchmark saw 64.3fps on the Raspberry Pi 3 at 1,024x768. This is the same frame rate as the Raspberry Pi 2 managed, so the 50MHz increase in the graphics clock speed doesn’t seem to make a difference in this title. 

Power consumption

Interestingly, the Pi 3's processor throttled back to 600MHz when the system was at idle; the Pi 2's always ran at 900MHz (according to the CPU clock speed command I was running). This made a difference to power consumption. The Pi 2 drew 3.2W at idle and 3.8W under load while the Pi 3 drew 2.5W and 3.8W. This is a 22% power saving at idle, which is not to be sniffed at. Despite the lower power drain, the Pi 3 was able to power up and access a 3TB external laptop hard disk - something the Pi 2 couldn’t manage.

Conclusion

The Raspberry Pi 2 was a revelation, but the Pi 3 is more of an incremental improvement. However, the speed boost certainly makes a difference, and the built-in Wi-Fi will make the Raspberry Pi more useful for various projects. With capable Wi-Fi performance (away from heavily congested areas at least), the new model cements the Pi's position as the ultimate hobbyist computer, particularly as it still costs the same £30.

SPECIFICATIONS
Processor 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex-A53 quad-core
RAM 1GB
Front USB ports 0
Rear USB ports 4
Total storage 0
Graphics card Broadcom BCM2837
Display N/A
Operating system Raspbian
Warranty one year RTB
Details http://www.raspberrypi.org
Part Code Pi 3

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