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Raspberry Pi 4 gains 8GB RAM version and 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS

May 28, 2020 — by Eric Brown — 1685 views

Raspberry Pi Ltd. has launched a version of the Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB DDR4 for $75. It also released a beta of Raspbian — now called Raspberry Pi OS — with a 64-bit architecture that can fully exploit the 8GB RAM.

A new Raspberry Pi 4 Model B with 8GB of RAM has touched down for $75, making it the first under $200 Arm SBC we know of that provides 8GB entirely for the CPU, as opposed to sharing the RAM with a built-in NPU. The new model is joined by a new 64-bit version version of Raspbian to make the most of all that memory space. Like the 32-bit version, the 64-bit distro has a new name: Raspberry Pi OS. The news follows a beta firmware update last week for the RPi 4 that lets you boot from a USB device directly (see farther below).



Raspberry Pi 4 8GB model (left) and original RPi 4
(click images to enlarge)

The Raspberry Pi was one of the last of the major Linux-driven, quad-core Cortex-A53 hacker boards to release a 2GB RAM version. Yet, when Raspberry Pi moved to 4x Cortex-A72 cores with the Broadcom BCM2711 SoC on the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B last June, it added a 4GB DDR4 configuration costing $55. In February of this year, Raspberry Pi reduced the 2GB price from $45 to $35 and discontinued the 1GB SKU. Those updated prices remain the same.

To supply the slightly higher peak currents required by the 8GB of Micron RAM, the 8GB RPi 4 has removed the switch-mode power supply from the right-hand side of the board next to the USB 2.0 sockets. There is a new switcher next to the USB Type-C port.



Closeups of new Raspberry Pi 4 8GB RAM chip (left) and power switcher changes near USB Type-C port in left corner
(click images to enlarge)

An 8GB Pi is probably not going to help much on typical IoT applications, but it should help out in beefier edge server type jobs such as image processing and machine vision. Cluster projects and demanding desktop replacement applications should also benefit. The 8GB model is designed for the power user who intends “to compile and link large pieces of software or run heavy server workloads,” writes Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton in a blog post this morning. It is also useful for “keeping a lot of browser tabs open at once.”

Only 18 of the community-backed Linux SBCs under $200 in our January roundup of 136 hacker boards support 4GB RAM. Only a handful support more than that. Three are x86-based boards where RAM requirements tend to be higher: the UP Squared, Up Core Plus, and Odroid-H2.

The under $200 Arm-based boards with 8GB RAM options are Radxa’s RK339Pro based Rock Pi N10 and Vamrs’ VMARC RK3399Pro SoM Ficus2. In both cases, the RAM is shared between the RK3399Pro’s CPU and NPU. The RK3399-based Orange Pi 4 and Rock Pi 4 claim to support more than 4GB but do not offer 8GB models you can buy in single units. Some of the 8GB options are currently out of stock. Given these caveats, the new RPi 4 is in our estimation the first under $200 Arm-based SBC with true 8GB RAM support.

 
Raspberry Pi OS

The long-awaited 64-bit beta version of Raspbian brings the OS up to par with other 64-bit Linux distros available for the Pi such as Ubuntu, Gentoo, and SUSE. The 64-bit userland will be useful to “power users who want to be able to map all 8GB into the address space of a single process,” writes Upton.

Based on Debian arm64 port, the 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS is available only for the Raspberry Pi 3 and 4. The beta still lacks hardware video acceleration in VLC or Chromium.

The change was momentous enough that Upton and company decided a name change was due for both the 64-bit and 32-bit Raspbian versions. We imagine the Raspbian name won’t fade away quickly, however — Raspberry Pi OS seems a bit too much on the nose.

 
USB bootloader

Last week, Raspberry Pi launched a beta firmware update that enables booting files and software via USB. The USB bootloader avoids the need to bootstrap an SD card for storage. Users with the USB 3.0-equipped Raspberry Pi 4 can gain better performance from booting from USB.

A TechRepublic report quotes Upton as saying that while SD card performance was boosted by a factor of two on the Raspberry Pi 4, USB performance improved by a factor of 10. “So you’re getting 4Gbit/s, in theory, over that link, and that makes it a very good way of attaching storage,” Upton told TechRepublic.

Prior to the release, RPi 4 users could already use a USB drive as storage, but it required bootstrapping an SD card. Considering all the warnings about beta level hazards, you may want to continue to do so for a while. The official release is coming soon.

 
Further information

The 8GB RAM version of the Raspberry Pi 4 is on sale now for $75. More information may be found in the announcement and product page, which has links to distributors. Downloads for the 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS may be found here.

 

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