Update: We’ve got them in the Maker Shed!
This morning, the Raspberry Pi Foundation took the wraps off of their newest creation, the Raspberry Pi Model A+. Just as the original Model A was a stripped-down version of the Model B, the new A+ inherits the many improvements from the Model B+, but in a smaller size and with fewer features. Available for purchase starting today and pegged at a mere $20, the Model A+ is now cheapest Raspberry Pi that you can buy.
The A+ has a lot of the same specs as its predecessor, the model A. It’s the same Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip (SoC) with 256 megabytes of RAM. But unlike the model A, it has a much nicer look and feel. No longer are there unpopulated parts of the PCB, which means that its overall footprint is smaller and it’s much lighter. Like the improvements brought with the Model B+, it has the expanded 40 pin breakout, takes MicroSD cards, and has rounded corners with mounting holes in each corner. In fact, you may notice that the mounting holes are aligned with the Model B+ mounting holes. Not only will this make swapping the B+ for an A+ rather easy, but also HAT expansion boards will be compatible with the A+ in addition to the B+.
“When we announced Raspberry Pi back in 2011, the idea of producing an ‘ARM GNU/Linux box for $25’ seemed ambitious, so it’s pretty mind-bending to be able to knock another $5 off the cost while continuing to build it here in the UK, at the same Sony factory in South Wales we use to manufacture the Model B+,” said Eben Upton in the announcement post blog post.
Thanks to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, I’ve had a Model A+ to experiment with over the past couple weeks. My first impression was how remarkably small and light it is. With no Ethernet port and only a single USB port, it has a very slim profile. That, combined with its smaller PCB footprint means its overall dimensions and weight are greatly reduced. The difference in size is striking. Since many Raspberry Pi projects entail putting the board in some tight spots, the A+ will be useful in cases when the B+ is just too big. I should note that although the Model A+ can fit into an Altoids tin, the board doesn’t quite lie flat inside.
The second significant feature is its price tag. At $20, it’s amazingly affordable and priced very competitively against microcontroller boards and single board computers that are available to makers now. It’s no surprise since Raspberry Pi has always been a leader in affordability. After all, the mission of the non-profit foundation is to get these boards in the hands of young people so that they can learn how computers work and how to program them. By setting the price so low, it removes a big barrier to experimentation with computers.
Booting up the board, it’s everything you’d expect from a Raspberry Pi. Just keep in mind that with 256 megabytes of RAM, the model A+ has half the volatile memory of the B+. (This was also true with the previous generations of both boards.) This means that memory-intensive applications will take a performance hit when compared to a B+. Using the basic tools from the command line and desktop environment, I didn’t notice a ding in performance. Keep in mind that the amount of RAM that’s allocated between the CPU and GPU is adjustable with the raspi-config configuration tool. You may need to make adjustments to optimize the Pi for your application.
Without the extra components, the Raspberry Pi Model A+ draws about 30% less electrical current than the B+. After booting to the Raspbian login with a USB keyboard and mouse plugged in, the A+ drew about 220 milliamps whereas a B+ with the same setup draws about 310 milliamps. With this power savings, the A+ would make a good choice for battery-powered projects.
It’s no secret that the original Model A hasn’t been a big seller for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. In an interview with John Biggs at Techcrunch Disrupt, Eben Upton said that there was only about 100,000 Model A units sold versus the nearly 4 million sold of the Model B and B+ combined. Perhaps with the lower price, smaller size, and a bunch of “plus” enhancements, the new Model A+ will start to earn its keep in the world.