The Raspberry Pi Compute
If you've been living under a rock, you may not realize that the Raspberry Pi has taken the DIY computing market by storm. In 2015, it sold over 5 million computers, making the Pi the most successful British computer to date.
Featuring a Broadcom System-on-a-Chip, ARM core architecture, video output, USB, and a whole bunch of other peripherals, the Raspberry Pi has been at the center of many hobby projects. Over time, the Raspberry Pi has been released in different varieties and upgrades to enable Pi users to do more with their computers.
Even though the Raspberry Pi is a small computer, using a custom microcontroller in specific applications (industrial, for example), is still more advantageous. To combat this, the Raspberry Pi Foundation produced a cut-down computer called the Raspberry Pi Compute back in April 2014. While still having equivalent power, the Compute is a smaller PCB without the many external peripherals such as USB, HDMI, and Ethernet.
The original Compute Module. Image courtesy of Raspberry Pi.
The Compute, itself, is designed to fit in a DDR2 SODIMM memory slot (however, it does not function as memory), and is specifically aimed at industrial applications.
The Compute has always featured hardware from a previous version of the Raspberry Pi—but that is about to change with the release of the Raspberry Pi Compute 3 and Compute 3 Lite.
The Compute 3
The Compute 3 is based on the Raspberry Pi 3 hardware featuring more RAM, a faster quad-core processor, and 64-bit capability. As compared to the original Compute Module, the Compute 3 gives 10x processing capability while only being 1mm taller.
Other features include:
- BCM2887 processor up to 1.2GHz
- 1GB RAM
- 4GB onboard flash
The Compute 3 Lite for Flash Expansion
One problem Compute users face is the lack of flash expansion as there is no external card reader. To overcome this, a different version to the Compute 3, called the Compute 3 Lite, has also been designed—and it features a card reader.
Not only has the Compute Module been given an upgrade, but so has the IO breakout which includes USB connectors and HDMI so that booting from an OS (such as Raspbian) is possible.
The Compute Module 3. Image courtesy of Raspberry Pi
So what happens to the original Compute Module? According to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, since the original Compute is still the lower-cost and lower-power option they still view the product as valid.
“With the launch of CM3 and CM3 Lite, we are not obsoleting the original Compute Module; we still see this as a valid product in its own right, being a lower-cost and lower-power option where the performance of a CM3 would be overkill.” – James Adams, Raspberry Pi Blog
The Compute Module 3 is also largely backward-compatible with the original Compute Module. However, designers should be warned about the caveats, namely the larger power consumption of the Compute Module 3. This means that designers need to consider thermal effects when installing the Compute Module 3 into tight spaces while running the core at its maximum operational capability.
Other functionality that may be important in designs, such as radio communication, is also not present so third-party hardware will be needed to get the module wireless.
The new IO breakout board with installed Compute Module 3. Image courtesy of Raspberry Pi
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Where is the Compute Module headed?
The Compute Module is finding itself not only in industrial applications but in aerospace as well. In fact, the Compute Module is finding its way into space!
CubeSat (for those who are unaware), are miniature cube-shaped satellites that allow for sending devices into low earth orbit at a (relatively) affordable price—typically $100,000. In an environment where anything can go wrong, it is important that redundant systems are in place that can take over if primary systems fail. Due to their size and price, it is very easy to integrate multiple Compute devices into a single small satellite that can act as multiple redundant systems.
In short, the Compute Module is headed to space!
The Compute Module 3 will doubtlessly lend itself to use in other versatile applications, as well as use in devices around the world for up-and-coming developers.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has truly made a fantastic series of computers which has inspired many projects. The release of the Compute 3 shows how electronics are becoming ever more powerful and affordable.