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Raspberry Pi 2 is way more powerful, still just $35, and available now

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The Raspberry Pi Foundation's low-cost computer was an instant phenomenon upon its release in 2012, and now, just shy of three years later, it's back with a new one. The foundation is today announcing the Raspberry Pi 2, an equally cheap, equally tiny computer that's meant for use in electronics projects, assisting experiments, and teaching kids how to code.

There are two key changes on this new model: its processor is now a lot more powerful and it includes twice as much RAM. What doesn't change is just as important: it still sells for only $35.

"It's a major leap forward in terms of computing power for users," says Mike Powell, a technology development manager for Pi distributor Element14. Powell believes that the Pi 2 will open up a lot of new opportunities because of its added computing power. "A whole wave of new applications are now possible," he says.

To get more specific, the Pi 2 is running a quad-core, ARMv7 processor clocked at 900MHz (the foundation says that it expects power users to clock it even higher), and it includes 1GB of RAM. The original Pi included a single-core, ARMv6 processor at 700MHz and only 512MB of RAM. Aside from that, the new model is pretty much the same as the latest "Model B+" Pi board. It supports up to 4 USB connections, its primary storage is a Micro SD card, and it all fits on a small green board. The Raspberry Pi Foundation says that performance increases will vary depending on what you're doing with it, but on the whole, they're going to be substantial.

"You're going to see the most celebration from the hackers and the makers."

In particular, the foundation sees the Pi 2 as being most important for its educational aspirations. "You're going to see the most celebration from the hackers and the makers because they're clamoring for better performance," says Pi evangelist Matt Richardson, "but I don't think the education realm realizes how much they're going to like it too." Richardson believes the simple fact that the Pi 2 is faster and more responsive will give students coding with it a much more positive experience.

The Pi's low cost has made it a great match for schools. Beyond being used to teach coding and computer skills, the Pi can also be used to create basic electronics projects, too. It's not totally clear how widely they've been adopted by schools — as Richardson suggests, hackers and makers are its loudest demographics — but the potential is definitely there. That's bolstered by the Pi's inclusion of powerful software like Mathematica, which usually costs hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Until today, the foundation maintained that a new version of the Pi was still a few years out, in part because changing its processor would result in backward compatibility issues. Obviously, something changed — but Richardson says it's just a matter of the computer being ready sooner than expected. Declining costs now allow them to include a faster processor at the same accessible price. And as for backward compatibility, both Richardson and Powell believe that everything designed for the original Pi should work here, aside from a few edge cases that might require tweaking.

If the Pi 2's launch goes anything like the original Pi's launch, then these tiny computers are likely to be in incredible demand at launch. Hopefully, once the hobbyists are satisfied, plenty of machines will head out for educational uses as well. The Pi 2 goes on sale today through the foundation's distributors, including Element14.

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