First Thoughts on the New Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3+

Just before the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Model B+ board back in 2014—a move that brought us the familiar classic Raspberry Pi…

Just before the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Model B+ board back in 2014—a move that brought us the familiar classic Raspberry Pi form factor—they also launched another board, the original Raspberry Pi Compute Module.

This board wasn’t aimed at the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s traditional educational market, or at makers, instead it was intended for business and industrial users who had started to make use of the Raspberry Pi inside things like advertising displays.

However like the other odd man out of the Raspberry Pi range, the Model A, we saw only sporadic updates of the Compute Module—with the latest update to the board introduced in 2017 with the arrival of the Compute Module 3. But earlier today we saw some major changes, with the announcement of the latest iteration of the Compute Module, the Compute Module 3+.

“…Compute Module 3+ is an evolution of Compute Module 3 and [original] Compute Module, bringing new features while keeping the form factor, electrical compatibility, price point, and ease of use of the earlier products.”James Adams, COO Raspberry Pi Trading

As makers, we haven’t heard much about the Raspberry Pi Compute Module. I held out some hope when it was introduced that other companies would pick up the form factor, that it would become a standard almost by default, and pin-compatible SODIMM modules from third-party manufacturers — perhaps Orange Pi, or Pine64 — would soon start to appear. The adoption of the standard SODIMM connector, which is readily and cheaply available from multiple vendors, for the module meant that it could be readily integrated into maker built hardware, and the module itself could be readily replaced. That way you could build a custom carrier board, but not be limited by the horsepower or features of the latest Compute Module.

It didn’t happen. Instead the Raspberry Pi Zero arrived, free on the cover of a magazine. Growing up, the free toys on the covers of magazines were made of plastic. They were cheap, and cheerful. But the last thirty years reduced the price of computing to the point where cheap and cheerful plastic toys could be replaced by other things, and history went down a different and perhaps somewhat more interesting path.

Nevertheless, the Raspberry Pi Compute Module has seen uptake in industrial context where the form factor, and the ability to easily replace or update the hardware on the carrier board, are seen as really important.

The New Compute Module

The new board is built around the Broadcom BCM2837B0 processor, the same processor used for the new Raspberry Pi 3, Model B+ and A+ boards.

However, due to power supply limitations, the processor speed is still clocked at 1.2GHz rather than the speedier 1.4GHz of the Raspberry Pi 3, Model B+. But similar to the Model B+, the new module does have the processor encapsulated in a new package with a heat spreader for better thermal control.

The better thermal control is going to be important to industrial customers. Though the new encapsulated processor does increase the z-height of the board fractionally, making it only “almost” a drop-in replacement for the existing module, the module does maintain full mechanical and electrical compatibility with previous modules.

Interestingly, and for the first time with a Raspberry Pi, there is a choice of specification. The base ‘Lite’ model of the Compute Module will ship with 4GB of Flash memory, but 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB versions of the board will also be made available.

Full information on the new Compute Module can be found in the newly released data sheets for the board.

The Development Kit

Unless you’re going to spin up your own PCB based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module specification, you’ll probably want to pick up the new Development Kit for the Compute Module which was updated today as well.

The refreshed development kit will include 1 × Lite and 1 × 32GB Compute Module 3+ modules, along with the Compute Module IO board, camera and display adapters, jumper wires, and a programming cable.

Availability

We’ve known for some times that, “the 3+ platform is the final iteration of the ‘classic’ Raspberry Pi” and whatever comes next will have new core silicon, on a new process node, with new memory technology. However, I’m not sure that we’ve heard that this is the last “40nm-based Raspberry Pi” before? If not, that’s a sort of interesting clue as to what’s ahead for the Raspberry Pi 4.

“Compute Module 3+ is, like Raspberry Pi 3B+, the last in a line of 40nm-based Raspberry Pi products. We feel that it’s a fitting end to the line, rolling in the best bits of Raspberry Pi 3B+ and providing users with more design flexibility in an all‑round better product. We hope you enjoy it.”James Adams, COO Raspberry Pi Trading

The new Compute Module will be available “at least January 2026” while the two previous modules, the original Compute Module and Compute Module 3, will continue to be available until “at least January 2023.”

The Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3+ is available today with the basic Lite module, with 4GB of Flash on board, keeping the same $25 price as the previous generation of Compute Module. The 8GB model costs $30, while the 16GB model costs $35, and the top end 32GB module costs $40.

The refreshed development kit is also being unveiled today, and while I can’t find an officially announced price at the moment, sources confirm that it should retail at $99. However, don’t be too surprised if you can’t get your hands on a Compute Module today, as like the rest of us the resellers only found out about the new boards today, and there are reports that links to some sites aren’t working yet.

Alasdair Allan
Scientist, author, hacker, maker, and journalist. Building, breaking, and writing. For hire. You can reach me at 📫 alasdair@babilim.co.uk.
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