HackSpace magazine

Review: Raspberry Pi Zero 2W

By Ben Everard. Posted

In February 2012, Raspberry Pi launched its first computer, based on the BCM2835 system on a chip. A lot has changed in the intervening nine years, but the little BCM2835 has remained in the Raspberry Pi line-up. After the Raspberry Pi 2 supplanted version 1 in 2015, the BCM2835 lived on in the Raspberry Pi Zero (and later the Zero W). It’s continued to power projects big and small, providing cheap access to computing around the world. However, after nine years of service, is it time to let this little chip slip into a dignified retirement (though the original Zero will still be available)?

The Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W ($15) is a pin-compatible replacement for the original Zero (or Zero W), that brings in a significant boost in processor performance. The BCM2710 silicon die (which particularly avid Raspberry Pi watchers will recognise from the Raspberry Pi 3), brings in four cores running at 1GHz. The single-core performance is about 40% up, and with four of them, any multi-threaded workload will see a significant uplift. You might even be able to get a bit more speed out of it if you add a cooling system.

Alongside this, there are the same features that we know and love from the original Zero: 512MB of RAM, microSD card, Mini HDMI, USB 2.0 OTG, micro HDMI, micro USB (for power), Raspberry Pi standard 40-pin header, and camera connector. In other words, if you can connect a thing to an original Zero, you can connect it to the Zero 2 W and get added processor power.

As you would expect from Raspberry Pi, the software upgrade should be seamless. Raspberry Pi OS will work as expected. In fact, if you have a reasonably recent version of the operating system running on another Raspberry Pi Zero (or other model), you can simply take the SD card out, pop it in a Zero 2 W, and you should be up and running. Other operating systems should also work.

This is a whole heap more performance, but what does this mean in use? Obviously if you’re using a Zero as a desktop, upgrading will make a huge difference to day-to-day use, but a large number of Zeros are embedded in projects. The small size and price makes this little board great for adding processing power to – well, just about anything. While the speed boost will be great for all users, there are a few areas that we think will particularly benefit from the extra speed.

Machine learning – such as TensorFlow – can add features such as object recognition to cameras, but is a CPU hog. The added processor power will be a huge boost for these, and should mean more complex models can run in real time.

The small size of the Zero makes it a popular choice for handheld gaming, and the added processing power will mean more games will run. Added to this is the fact that it’s the same form factor and it’s a drop-in speed-boost for gamers.

The speed-up – and particularly the extra processing cores – means that the Zero can do more in parallel, such as hosting a web interface and controlling hardware, which are two tasks that 3D printer-controller OctoPrint needs to do. While the original Zero wasn’t recommended for OctoPrint, the new Zero 2 W works well and is supported.

After six years, the Zero is long-due an upgrade. The new Zero 2 W keeps the small size and form factor of the original Zero, and boosts the performance. This big leap in performance brings both a bit more slickness to the desktop, and a whole lot more possibilities for projects. We’re looking forward to seeing what you all build with it.



The tiny Raspberry Pi gets a big speed increase.


From HackSpace magazine store