The new Raspberry Pi 3A+: The maker's model

So, what would make the Raspberry Pi 3B+ better for makers? How about if it were cheaper, smaller and used less power? Well that's exactly what the new Raspberry Pi 3A+ is.

The new 3A+ takes the same quad-core 1.4GHz SoC as the 3B+ (but with 512mb RAM compared to 1Gb on the 3B+), but puts it in a smaller package. Oh, and did we mention that the 3A+ is just $25?

The 3A+ is also well poised for connection to the outside world as it has on-board wireless LAN and Bluetooth (however, no wired Ethernet). A single USB port gives you some scope for adding extra hardware as does that standard Raspberry Pi 40-pin GPIO header.

The power draw is significantly lower on the 3A+ compared to the 3B+. With idle load about half (approximately 1 W compared to 2 W), and draw under heavy computational load about 4 W compared to 5.5 W for the 3B+ (The MagPi have extensive benchmarks)

What all this means in practice is that while the 3B+ is still the best option in the RPi line-up for a desktop machine. The extra RAM will help with multitasking on the desktop, and the extra USB ports help with luxuries such as having both a keyboard and a mouse. However, the Pi is far more than a desktop machine. HackSpace magazine readers will no doubt have seen it embedded in all sorts of hardware.

It’s in this embedded space that the A+ really shines. The lower power draw, particularly when idle, means it runs on batteries or other non-mains power (such as solar) far better than the 3B+. You could get twice the battery life just by running the same software on a different board.

The 3A+ is a drop-in replacement for the 3B+ provided you’re not using the extra USB ports or Ethernet connection. You can just pop the microSD card in your new board and you’ll be ready to go. Any hardware attached via the GPIO header will continue to work, and the mounting holes are in the same place.

The 3A+ sits in the middle of the Raspberry Pi range. As well as the more-connected 3B+ above it, there’s the smaller, even lower-power Zero (and Zero W) below it. These tiny boards are about half the size of the 3A+ and come with the same SoC that graced the original Raspberry Pi models (though sped up to 1GHz). The Zero is great for projects that need to be extra small or low power (they draw about half the power of the 3A+ when idle); however, the downside is that they are significantly less computationally powerful. If you’re going to be doing anything intensive – such as image processing – then the extra power of a 3A+ will be particularly useful.

The new 3A+ brings the computational power of more recent Raspberry Pi boards to a form factor more suitable for embedding. The lower power draw, smaller size, and lower cost are all a boon for makers. Whether you’re making a robot, paying tribute to a film with some recreated animated props, building a dancing Santa for the coming holiday season, or anything else, this Pi just made your life a little bit easier.

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