Raspberry Pi 5 Review — Hands-On with the Most Powerful Raspberry Pi Yet

Available to buy this October in 4GB and 8GB variants, the Raspberry Pi 5 offers beastly performance — and PCIe connectivity to boot.

Gareth Halfacree
8 months agoHW101

Since its launch in 2012 the Raspberry Pi has become synonymous with the words "single-board computer" in both the maker and embedded industrial markets. The launch of the Raspberry Pi 4 in 2019 brought improved performance and higher memory capacities — but, facing years-long stock issues which are only now being resolved, has been languishing for want of an upgrade. Until now.

The Raspberry Pi 5 is at once more of the same and something entirely new. It mimics the footprint of its predecessors near-perfectly, and runs the same software — but it delivers a headline-grabbing claim of three times the performance and, for the first time in a mainstream Raspberry Pi model, high-speed PCI Express connectivity to external hardware.

But does the Raspberry Pi 5, four long years in the making, deliver?

The hardware

  • CPU: Broadcom BCM2712 4-core up-to-2.4GHz Arm Cortex-A76 (16nm)
  • GPU: Broadcom Videocore-VII
  • Hardware Video Decode: H.265 4k60
  • Hardware Video Encode: None
  • "Southbridge"Chip: Raspberry Pi RP1 (40nm)
  • RAM: 4GB/8GB LPDDR4x at 4,267MHz
  • Storage: microSD, M.2 Key M NVMe (with optional HAT)
  • USB: 2× USB 3.0, 2× USB 2.0
  • PCI Express: 1× PCI Express Gen. 2
  • Network: Gigabit Ethernet with Precision Time Protocol (PTP), dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
  • Display Outputs: 2× 4k60 HDMI, 2× four-lane MIPI DSI (shared with CSI)
  • Camera Inputs: 2x four-lane MIPI CSI (shared with DSI)
  • GPIO: 40-pin header (populated), dedicated fan header, debug UART, physical power switch
  • Power: USB Type-C 5V 5A, Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) (with optional HAT)
  • Cost: $60 (4GB), $80 (8GB)

Raspberry Pi fans will be both unsurprised and pleased to see the overall board design is largely unchanged, following the same rough layout as the mainstream models all the way back to the Raspberry Pi Model B+. A closer inspection, however, reveals the new Raspberry Pi 5 is something of a throwback: the Ethernet port is to the left of the port cluster and the two USB 2.0 ports to the right, swapped in comparison to the Raspberry Pi 4 and a return to the layout of the Raspberry Pi 3.

Elsewhere the board hews more closely to the Raspberry Pi 4's layout: it retains the same pair of micro-HDMI 2.0 ports, though this time both are capable of running at a 4k60 resolution simultaneously, along with a USB Type-C connector for power. Nestled between these are two newcomers to the port selection: a battery connector for the new real-time clock (RTC) and a dedicated debug UART, compatible with the Raspberry Pi Pico Probe.

To the right are a pair of the same size connector as you'll find on the Raspberry Pi Zero, and these again represent a first for the new Raspberry Pi 5: they're MIPI ports, designed to automatically switch between Camera and Display Serial Interface (CSI and DSI) modes depending on what you connect. That means the board offers, for the first time in the mainstream models, dual-CSI camera support — or dual-DSI display, or one of each.

That leaves a gap a the left-hand end of the board, where the Raspberry Pi 4's DSI connector lives — but it has not been left empty. A compact connector here provides connectivity for a spare PCI Express Gen. 2 lane — previously available exclusively on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 range, unless you fancied desoldering the Raspberry Pi 4's USB 3.0 controller and accessing it there. This is designed primarily for use with the new M.2 HAT, a Hardware Attached on Top (HAT) accessory providing support for a high-speed M.2 SSD reaching, at stock settings, a throughput of 452MB/s with a suitable SSD fitted.

That same connector then opens up the possibility of high-speed connectivity to a range of hardware — from HATs providing multiple SATA ports for network attached storage (NAS) projects to machine learning accelerators. At the time of writing, though, nothing had been announced beyond the M.2 HAT from Raspberry Pi — and previous attempts at getting high-performance graphics cards running on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 never got far off the ground. Support, then, may be spotty, at least until developers get to grips with making drivers for the Raspberry Pi 5.

The heart of the board is, of course, the new Broadcom BCM2712 system-on-chip. Built on a 16nm process and encased in a metal heatspreader, for good reason, the chip includes four high-performance 64-bit Arm Cortex-A76 cores clocking from 1.5GHz to 2.4GHz — and with 2.6GHz a reasonable target for those looking to do a little overclocking.

The chip also features a new Broadcom Videocore-VII graphics processor running at up to 800MHz, and is linked to the buyer's choice of 4GB or 8GB of LPDDR4x memory. A new dedicated fan connector lives to the upper-right, with pulse-width modulation (PWM) speed control — and is fully supported by the Raspberry Pi 5 Active Cooler, an optional heatsink-and-fan accessory which comes highly recommended for sustaining peak performance.

The most interesting part of the new hardware isn't found in the BCM2712, though, but in an unassuming chip near the USB ports: the Raspberry Pi RP1. As the name implies, it's an in-house creation of Raspberry Pi's application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) team — interestingly pre-dating the better-known RP2040, though reaching market later. It's a 40nm part designed to decouple the "low-speed" interfaces from the BCM2712, handling Ethernet, USB, the MIPI ports, and the general-purpose input/output (GPIO) connector.

Speed demon

On the topic of performance, it's fair to say the Raspberry Pi 5 delivers. The Raspberry Pi 4, with its dual-HDMI outputs and up to 8GB of memory, was positioned at launch as a desktop-class device — but the Raspberry Pi 5 truly delivers on the promise of its predecessor. The new chip is little short of remarkable, delivering a comfortable threefold gain in synthetic testing.

Synthetic benchmarks are one thing, but real-world performance is king. Here, the gains are lower: our 8GB test unit showed a "mere" doubling of performance compared to a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B 8GB. Exact gains depend on workload, of course: the Raspberry Pi 5 chewed through a GIMP image editing benchmark in 19.6 seconds to a Raspberry Pi 4's 38.2s, and a ten-page Tesseract optical character recognition (OCR) task in 25.6s to 53.5.

Cryptographic work sees Twofish-CBC encryption fall just short of doubling at 120.3MB/s throughput to 65.2MB/s, but if you're using the AES-256-CBC algorithm you can expect to see encryption and decryption leap from 87.1MB/s and 98MB/s respectively to 1,079.6MB/s and 1,902.7MB/s thanks to new acceleration instructions — making real-time encryption easily reachable.

A desktop machine, though, is likely to spend most of its time in the browser. Using the default Chromium browser on both devices, the Raspberry Pi 5 pulls far ahead of its predecessor: in the JetStream 2.1 browser benchmark the device scores 87.873 points to the Raspberry Pi 4's 37.868 points; switching to the Speedometer 2.1 benchmark sees an even bigger improvement, going from 19.8 runs per minute to 58.4 runs per minute — nearly three times the performance.

It's not just the CPU, though; the Raspberry Pi 5 comes with very little untouched. The microSD slot is dead-on twice as fast as on the Raspberry Pi 4, giving storage a welcome performance boost. USB 3.0 storage devices show a smaller but still welcome gain, going from a peak 363MB/s throughput to 420MB/s — unless you have two of them. The USB 3.0 ports on the Raspberry Pi 4 use shared bandwidth, meaning accessing two drives simultaneously halves the speed of both; the Raspberry Pi 5 has dedicated bandwidth for each port, which tested at 842MB/s read and 832MB/s write aggregated across two USB SSDs.

Even the Wi-Fi connection sees a boost. While the Raspberry Pi 5's radio hardware is identical to that of the Raspberry Pi 4, the faster CPU and boosted memory bandwidth mean peak performance is majorly lifted: in real-world testing on a relatively uncongested network, the sustained throughput on a 5GHz connection shot up from 77.3Mb/s on the Raspberry Pi 4 to 232Mb/s on the Raspberry Pi 5. Ethernet remains steady model-on-model, though the Raspberry Pi 5 adds the benefit of Precision Time Protocol (PTP) support.

Finally, there's that new GPU. Here, the gains are even more impressive than on the CPU side: workloads which take place entirely on the GPU, like the GeeXLabs shadertoy demos, show more than a fourfold performance gain — and even that old stalwart OpenArena hits nearly 131 frames per second at 720p, approaching three times the performance of a Raspberry Pi 4 at 50.5 frames per second.

Power hungry

Power, then, is one of the few places the Raspberry Pi 5 falls down. While it shares a USB Type-C connector with its predecessor, it's a lot more power hungry: the 5V 3A official power supply suitable for the Raspberry Pi 4 has been replaced by a 5V 5A supply. It also stops frustratingly short of being standards-compatible: while the Raspberry Pi 5 negotiates over USB Power Deliver (USB PD), it can't handle the newer Programmable Power Supply (PPS) standard — and the few USB power supplies capable of delivering 5A at 5V do so through PPS, not PD. As third party supplies hit the market, this will change — but for now it's the official Raspberry Pi power supply or nothing.

Use of a supply which can't negotiate 5A at 5V isn't impossible, mind you: in testing at the desktop, with a single 1080p display and a USB keyboard and mouse attached, the Raspberry Pi 4 never went above 12W — far short of the 25W its specifications demand. Peak power draw is only achievable with high-power USB accessories — and to protect the device, the Raspberry Pi will automatically reduce the current output of its USB ports unless it detects a compatible 5A supply.

Even at 12W, though, the Raspberry Pi 5 is a hungrier beast than the 7.5W a Raspberry Pi 4 needs at full tilt. That hunger shows itself as a serious heat issue: during torture testing, which loads both the CPU and GPU, the Raspberry Pi 5 began throttling after just 40 seconds of sustained load. That Active Cooler accessory, then, is a must-have — or, at least, a fan: in testing with a simple fan attached, the Raspberry Pi 5 completed the torture test without throttling once.

For those who value silence over raw performance, there is some good news: the power and thermal management capabilities of the Raspberry Pi 5 are good enough that it can run under throttle conditions indefinitely without damage, and even running at its lowest clock of 1.5GHz you can expect the Raspberry Pi 5 to at least draw level with or even mildly outperform an unthrottled Raspberry Pi 4. That, if nothing else, should really drive home the performance difference between the two.

Conclusion

Perhaps the only way in which the Raspberry Pi 5 disappoints is in breaking with pricing tradition. Since the original model launched back in 2012, Raspberry Pi has always tried to have one model of its flagship product at the pocket-friendly $35 price point. That's been difficult to maintain in recent years, as component and production costs alike rise, and the Raspberry Pi 5 finally breaks with tradition: the device will launch at $60 for the 4GB model and $80 for the 8GB model.

That's not to say the things don't represent value for money. On a pure performance standpoint, you're getting an awful lot of bang for your buck — and rival devices offering weaker performance are easily found well in excess of those price points. The limited number of compatible power supplies is a bigger issue, tying you in to Raspberry Pi's in-house design until compatible third party models come along, but even then the pricing is keen.

There are a couple of caveats of which buyers should be aware, however. The biggest of these is a shift away from hardware video encoding: the Raspberry Pi 5 drops all hardware video encoder blocks from its GPU, meaning all encoding has to take place in software.

There's plenty of processing power to make that happen, but at the cost of a higher power draw — and tying up at least one core of the processor, where a Raspberry Pi 4 would be able to encode on the GPU and keep all CPU cores free for other tasks. There's also no 3.5mm audio/video jack, having been ditched to make room for those twin CSI/DSI connectors.

Another is in the use of that oh-so-tempting PCI Express lane. While it holds the promise of high-speed connectivity to a wide range of devices, compatibility issues are likely to rear their heads for some time post-launch — and, as with the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 before it, some hardware like high-performance graphics cards may never prove fully compatible.

It does, at least, offer a way to connect high-speed storage without tying up a USB port — and if you're willing to tweak things and run it out-of-spec, you can even boost the link to uncertified PCI Express Gen. 3 and push nearly 900MB/s to a suitable NVMe SSD.

For anyone who found the Raspberry Pi 4 a little lackluster in the performance standings, the Raspberry Pi 5 is most definitely the answer — and it comes with all the usual benefits of the Raspberry Pi ecosystem, from a regularly-updated and well-maintained operating system to a populous and enthusiastic global user base. The ability to run two CSI cameras from a single board will also be of interest to those looking to play with stereo computer vision projects.

The Raspberry Pi 5 will be available to buy in October, priced at $60 for the 4GB and $80 for the 8GB models respectively; no details have been released regarding other models at this time, including a potential Raspberry Pi 500 all-in-one built around the same BCM2712.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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