Category Archives: Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi 3 hits the ground running!

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (pic Raspberry Pi Foundation)
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (pic Raspberry Pi Foundation)

Exactly four years to the day since the birth of the diminutive single-board computer – and, not coincidentally, the rebirth of the British home computer –  the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B has come out roaring with its best ever spec announced officially today!

And, what better way to reward the faithful and celebrate the Pi’s birthday than to keep the same price as the last model – just $35 USD (street price typically £30 in real money)?

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, which is a UK registered charity, unleashed the original 256MB Raspberry Pi Model B on a largely unsuspecting world, which immediately reeled back in shock at the thought of a new British home computer. They then took the world by storm.

The Pi was intended primarily to become a teaching tool as much as anything else, at a time when computing education in British schools was in the doldrums and there was a massive shortage of entrants to degree level computing course at universities as a result. The ARM processor-based Pi, then, arrived at just the right time, although it soon became obvious that, while it was having some success in the more imaginative sectors of education, and indeed continues to strongly encourage the teaching of coding and the learning of languages such as Python and Scratch by students and hobbyists alike, it was of much greater interest to computer hobbyists and makers across the UK and world-wide, and sales began to run out of control, with supplies rapidly drying up until production, first in China and later in Wales, ramped up to cope with the unexpected demand.

It’s a record-breaker!

Since then, they’ve shipped over eight million units, including three million  Raspberry Pi 2’s, which amazingly makes the Raspberry Pi the UK’s all-time best-selling computer, beating the popular 1980’s Amstrad PCW (8 millions units sold) and the legendary Sinclair ZX Spectrum (around 5 million sold) soundly into second and third places – though to be fair, three decades and modern technology has made the Pi far less expensive to produce – cheap as chips, to coin a phrase – and far more powerful .

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has, they say, grown from a handful of volunteers to over sixty full-time employees, including their new friends from Code Club – another exciting initiative to encourage young people into programming (or coding, as it’s fashionably referred to today!).

Pi in the sky
Tim Peake with a specially-cased Astro Pi (pic European Space Agency)
Tim Peake with a specially-cased Astro Pi (pic European Space Agency)

Astonishingly, two Raspberry Pi’s have even gone into orbit on the International Space Station with the first official British ESA astronaut, Major Tim Peake, and are even now being used to run school students’ submitted programs and train teachers  around the globe through the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Picademy programme.

Retro lineage

Harking back to the ARM processor’s origins with legendary British computer manufacturers Acorn – who also produced another very famous Model B home and education computer, and created the ARM for the Archimedes range – the Raspberry Pi has also become the retro computing emulation station of choice for many of today’s hobbyists, and has boosted the revival of interest in Acorn’s classic RiscOS operating system, which seems entirely appropriate.

Power boost
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (pic Raspberry Pi Foundation)
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (pic Raspberry Pi Foundation)

In celebration of the Foundation’s fourth birthday, and that of the Pi, they naturally thought it would be fun to release something new – and who are we to argue, we are huge fans of the Raspberry Pi, which is the last, best hope for British home computing in the 21st century!

Accordingly, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is now on sale and features the following eye-popping specs:

  • A 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU (~10x the performance of Raspberry Pi 1)
  • Integrated 802.11n wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.1
  • Complete compatibility with Raspberry Pi 1 and 2
  • New Broadcom-supplied system-on-a-chip (SoC), BCM2837. This retains the same basic architecture as its predecessors BCM2835 and BCM2836, so all those projects and tutorials which rely on the precise details of the Raspberry Pi hardware will continue to work.
  • The 900MHz 32-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU complex has been replaced by a custom-hardened 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53. Combining a 33% increase in clock speed with various architectural enhancements, this provides a 50-60% increase in performance in 32-bit mode versus Raspberry Pi 2, or roughly a factor of ten over the original Raspberry Pi.

According the Raspberry Pi Foundation website:

“James Adams spent the second half of 2015 designing a series of prototypes, incorporating BCM2837 alongside the BCM43438 wireless “combo” chip. He was able to fit the wireless functionality into very nearly the same form-factor as the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ and Raspberry Pi 2 Model B; the only change is to the position of the LEDs, which have moved to the other side of the SD card socket to make room for the antenna. Roger Thornton ran the extensive (and expensive) wireless conformance campaign, allowing us to launch in almost all countries simultaneously. Phil Elwell developed the wireless LAN and Bluetooth software.

“All of the connectors are in the same place and have the same functionality, and the board can still be run from a 5V micro-USB power adapter. This time round, we’re recommending a 2.5A adapter if you want to connect power-hungry USB devices to the Raspberry Pi.”

Raspberry Pi 3 is available to buy today from the Foundation’s  partners element14 and RS Components, and numerous other resellers, so you’d better get stuck in and order one before they evaporate as usual!

Owners will need a recent NOOBS or Raspbian Linux image from the Foundation’s downloads page, they say.  At launch, they are using the same 32-bit Raspbian userland that they use on other Raspberry Pi devices; over the next few months, they plan to investigate whether there is value in moving to 64-bit mode.

Other OS’s than Raspbian, such as the Acorn legacy system RisOS Pi, may possibly need time to catch up, depending on how compatible they are with the new Pi 3. If in doubt about RiscOS, contact ROOL.

For more general info on the new Pi 3 Model B, a FAQ about the new model, and the whole range, see the official Raspberry Pi website:

Many happy returns!

Needless to say, Retro Computing News would like to wish both the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the Raspberry Pi itself




BBC Micros attend first Cotswold Jam of 2016

Getting in a jam in the Cotswolds!
Getting in a jam in the Cotswolds!
January 30th 2016 saw the Cotswold Jam Raspberry Pi hobbyist computing group hold their first exhibition and showcase of the year.

As with previous shows, I was asked to attend (as Ident Computer) along with my exhibits consisting of Acorn model B BBC Micros and own build ‘Micro \ One’ computers based around the Raspberry Pi board, running the RISC OS 5 operating system.

January’s event was the first time the Jam has been over subscribed, with 100+ children and adults attending. As a result the event was held in the newly refurbished computer labs of the University of Gloucestershire’s Cheltenham Campus, in the South Midlands.

Jam sessions

The Jam started at 1pm and was mainly divided into workshops, general discussion and demonstration areas, both using classrooms and computing labs and a lounge area (were I was set up) which was for more formal talks and practical demos.

A number of Raspberry Pi computers were made available for visitors to use by the event organisers, these in addition to Pi boards bought in by the public, this being actively encouraged.

Almost all demos, talks and workshops were based around the Pi’s default operating system, that being ‘Raspbian OS’ which is a cut down version of Linux Debian, with most sessions and workshops based on how to code using Scratch, Python and the video game Minecraft. The latter naturally proved very popular with the younger visitors.

RISCy business
Tom Williamson speaks about RISC OS
Tom Williamson speaks about RISC OS

For the older generation and, increasingly, interested computing students, I gave an introductory talk about RISC OS and the BBC BASIC programming language using an ultra low-cost Raspberry Pi Zero, which is a new board released by the Pi foundation in November of last year.

What was so remarkable about this model was the fact it was released as a freebie on the front cover of a mainstream computing magazine (The MagPi)! The boards are now so cheap (Costing £4 / $5 at time of writing) they could be given away for practically nothing!

However, despite being a fully working 1GHz, ARM CPU with 512MB of RAM based computer board, very few are up and running. This is manly due to older OS ‘ROMs’ not being compatible and some distros such as RISC OS having not yet been officially patched. This meant that, come the show, I had to use my own ‘hacked’ version of RISC OS to get the Pi Zero up and running for the demos and talk.

Beeb power
BBC Micro's on parade!
BBC Micro’s on parade!

No such issues with my other exhibits! The BBC Micro’s have been extremely popular and my personal fleet of fully refurbished and modernised micros has now toured a number of events. Kids continue to be fascinated by them and adults (the kids of the 80’s and 90’s) love to reminisce, and I have always been surprised by just how well the BBC Micros continue to be received by the visiting public.

Game Pi
Nanogangs by Tom Williamson
Nanogangs by Tom Williamson

For this year I’m working on a new game called Nanogangs, which I had the idea for when I was about 12 years old. The game is being written in BBC BASIC without the use of any assembly language, so it can be easily ported to modern systems such as RISC OS Pi.

For the Cotswold Jam I had two versions running, one for the BBC Micro B the other for my ‘Micro One’ Pi-based own build computers.

Fun with Nanogangs!
Fun with Nanogangs!

The game went down very well and its nice to be able to write and showcase new software for these machines in 2016! The game will be used to demonstrate BASIC coding and also hopefully will make it to limited public release for both BBC Micro and RISC OS / Raspberry Pi later this year.

Join in the fun this April
Tom's own 'Ident' Pi-based computers on show
Tom’s own ‘Ident’ Pi-based computers on show

Free tickets for the next Cotswold Jam event happening on the 30th of April 2016 will be available from their web site:

And my fleet of BBC Micros and RISC OS machines should make a return visit for the event:

Anyone is welcome to attend, but it should be remembered this is a Raspberry Pi event, meaning all content and projects need to have some reference to or use of Raspberry Pi boards, such as in my case: Acorn, RISC OS and BBC Micros being directly related to the Raspberry Pi. The group are always looking for volunteers, helpers and showcase content, and can be contacted via the Cotswold jam website. So, maybe see you there?

Tom Williamson

Ident Computer

Our thanks to Tom for the first of hopefully many reports. We can testify personally that his exhibits and work are well worth a look!
All photos by Tom Williamson. Photos and screen shots remain copyright of the author.