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Is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ Another Cash Grab? Surprisingly, No.

January 18, 2019 by Sam Holland

The Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ was released a little over a month ago, and many people are wondering whether it stands up to the hype. Is it just a repackaging of other Raspberry Pi models, or does it have something new to offer?

While some may argue that Raspberry Pi and Arduino in particular tout planned obsolescence and routine hardware 'upgrades' as a standard business practice, this may not always be the case of course. As it turns out, this new Raspberry Pi model does have a special niche to fill, and it does so quite well.

Why the Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ Was Developed

To be able to properly evaluate the RP 3 Model A+, it is important to understand why it was developed.

What drove the development of this new Raspberry Pi was the need for a board with a more compact form factor but significantly more processing power and speed. The original drawbacks of the smaller A model were very little RAM, no built-in wireless connectivity combined, and just one USB port.

To connect wirelessly to a network, you needed a WiFi dongle plugged into the sole USB port, but you also needed that USB port for a keyboard. The original answer to that problem was the use of a USB hub, but this would take up additional space.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ versus Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+

The RP 3 Model A+ extended the Raspberry Pi 3 range into the A+ board format, giving it the same mechanical format as the Raspberry Pi 1 Model A+. If you compare it to the RP 1 Model A+, you will find it to be significantly faster with a much more powerful processor (e.g., quad-core as opposed to a single core) and built-in WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities.

Note that the wireless connectivity leaves the single USB port available for something besides a WiFi dongle and a keyboard. The major drawback, however, is that it consumes more power than the RP 1 Model A+.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ versus Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+

Some RP 3 Model A+ users describe it as a cheaper, more compact, only slightly less capable version of the RP 3 Model B+.

It has half the memory, no Ethernet connectivity, and only one USB 2.0 port compared to the four ports on the RP Model 3 B+. On the other hand, the RP 3 Model A+ costs less, is more compact in size, has a lower operating temperature, uses less power, and uses the same processor (Broadcom BCM2837B0).

While it may only have one USB port, the wireless connectivity eliminates the need for a WiFi dongle and it has several other specialized ports available (camera, display, video, etc.). To many RP 3 Model A+ users, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, even when compared to the more powerful RP 3 Model B+.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ Specifications

In order to get a feel for what you can do with a RP 3 Model A+, you need to take a good look at its specifications.

  • Broadcom BCM2837B0, Cortex-A53 (ARMv8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.4GHz with VideoCore-IV GPU
  • Dual band .4GHz and 5GHz IEEE 802.11.b/g/n/ac wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 4.2/BLE
  • Extended 40-pin GPIO header

Here are the ports it makes available:

  • Full-size HDMI
  • Single USB 2.0 port
  • CSI camera port for connecting a Raspberry Pi Camera Module
  • DSI display port for connecting a Raspberry Pi Touch Display
  • 4-pole stereo output
  • Composite video port
  • Micro SD port for loading your operating system and storing data

It runs off a 5V/2.5A DC power input via a micro USB connector or 5V DC via GPIO header. As already mentioned, it is compact in size, measuring in at 67mmx56mmx11.5mm and weighing only 29g.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Final Thoughts

The Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ was developed to provide capabilities more aligned with those of the B+, while keeping size and power usage to a minimum, and it achieves this goal very well.

Its wireless connectivity makes it ideal for situations where you do not want to have to pull the board out in order to connect to a network, update software and commands, or perhaps access imagery from a remote camera that it runs.

The fact that it is small and lightweight with a relatively fast processor means that it can be easily used for home automation applications or robotics. Additionally, its low temperature but excellent processing capabilities make it a great choice for a Linux-based computer that doesn’t require a fan for cooling.

The RP 3 Model A+ is proving to be a great addition to the RP product line and is expected to remain in production until January 2023.

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