The recently launched, speedier, Raspberry Pi 2 continues the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s legacy of providing affordable computing for educators and tinkerers alike. They recently announced that they have exceeded 5 million units sold, making them the fastest selling British computer.
Having recently written a review of the new Raspberry Pi 2 that I received from element14, I was rather surprised when Mark Beckett contacted me with a tip off that his Raspberry Pi 2, also from element14, was a little different. A colleague from UNSW also had his hands on the new Raspberry Pi 2 from element14, and I was eager to meet with him and check what his Raspberry Pi 2 looked like as well.
Gotta’ Catch ’em All!
This started a bit of an interesting expedition to take a look at some of the Raspberry Pi 2 photos around the internet and see what variations have been spotted. Of course, I will credit the imagery where I have borrowed it for research purposes.
The Early Days
According to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s launch blog posting, the BCM2836 had been ‘in progress’ for a while, with the silicon arriving last year (2014). On the page is a video showing the demo board with the new CPU – which can hardly be described as a Raspberry Pi just yet.
The earliest partial image that I spotted is actually from Les Pounder’s blog post at element14, titled Can the Raspberry Pi 2 Replace your Desktop Computer? The header image there shows a silkscreen saying Raspberry Pi 2 Model B V1.0, which I’ve reproduced above. I haven’t otherwise encountered any V1.0’s, and I would be rather intrigued to know what the differences are.
Doing some further scouring, I decided to hit-up the main sellers of the Raspberry Pi for their imagery. Remarkably, they showed very similar imagery – this is from element14’s 360 degree virtual tour:
Interestingly, their virtual tour imagery doesn’t actually represent the stock that I received. This unit is Made in the UK, but features a dark green PCB from KCL rather than KCE. The datamatrix code on the underside resembles my one, as does the tinning on J5 and on the pad underneath the centre of the Ethernet jack. Another interesting difference is the HDMI port, which has two springy contact fingers and no taping on the jack, and the USB ports which do not have the TE Connectivity logo on them, as in my experience with previous element14 stock. This seems to be a fairly early part because the date code on the Elpida RAM appears to be week 13 of 2014.
Likewise, RS Components has also very similar imagery on their site:
While the imagery from RS is not as clear, it also features identical KCL PCB with different green colour, datamatrix label above the microSD slot, tinned J5, two finger HDMI port and no TE Connectivity logo on the USB connectors.
We can conclude that even these units are likely to be early units shipped for marketing purposes. Part of the reason I say this is the pencil markings on the Broadcom SoC – 44 for element14 and 47 for RS Components’ images. This may have been a serial number, with the pink paint spot indicating it had been tested.
Actually Shipping Units – From the UK
The unit I received from element14 UK, which I reviewed in my earlier posting, looks like this:
The main differences are the KCE manufactured PCB (which is normal for element14, from previous experience) with a lighter green colour. The Elpida RAM is later, dated week 47 of 2014. The HDMI port has three springy fingers and some tape covering the top. The USB connectors come from TE Connectivity. The unit is Made in the UK.
Actually Shipping Units – From Australia
Mark Beckett has generously permitted me to use his very well taken shots of his board, which I’ve rotated, cropped and straightened. His unit was purchased from element14 just the day after launch day. He was very eagle eyed and tipped me off that his board looked a little different to mine:
The differences can be initially hard to spot, but they include (amongst others):
- Two wiper HDMI port, no tape.
- Not KCE manufactured PCB, instead replaced with different silkscreening with E305654 and Underwriter’s Laboratory logo.
- Made in P.R.C written next to the microUSB port – not Made in the UK.
- Datamatrix marcode not above microSD slot, has different format, implies week 1, 2015 and week 4, 2015.
- Elpida RAM dated earlier at week 44, 2013.
- J5 is not tinned, as is the pad underneath the Ethernet port.
- Codes on the microSD and USB ports different (maybe serial number related)
Interestingly, I haven’t been able to spot the PCB manufacturer anywhere on this board.
Just for completeness, I checked my colleague’s board as well. He had the box, and you can tell from the outside, this one was made in PRC.
The board looks pretty much the same as Mark Beckett’s board above, with slight batch-code and date-code differences.
A Pattern, or Not?
Aside from the silkscreen writing and the tinning on the pads, it seems like the three-finger HDMI port with tape is a UK thing, and the two finger one (new) with no tape is a China thing, or so I thought.
Then I came across this image from SK Pang Electronics (which I’ve cropped, rotated to better fit):
New HDMI connector, no TE connectivity ports, but Made in the UK. Maybe this is also an earlier one, but it doesn’t share the darker green and pencil marks of the true early ones. Maybe this one comes from RS’ stock? I’m not sure, but there seems to be some variation.
What’s the Deal?
Before anyone gets too alarmed, functionally, all of the boards should be identical. To the end user, there shouldn’t be any differences. Think of them more as cosmetic differences.
Despite that, there are still some rather interesting things to note. With the RAM of the original Pi, they started off with Hynix and Samsung as the suppliers. Clem Martins from element14 Communities tipped me off that there was some original Pis with Micron branded RAM on the board which needed an update to the firmware to work with. Since then, no Hynix or Samsung has turned up on the Raspberry Pi 2 – with all the RAM being Elpida. Further investigation reveals that Elpida was acquired by Micron Technology back in 2013.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s press release also had this interesting tidbit:
This has an identical form-factor to the existing Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+, but manages to pack in both the new BCM2836 and a full 1GB of SDRAM from our friends at Micron.
I’m not entirely sure, but I suppose this implies that the Raspberry Pi Foundation may have some strategic partnership with Micron and that the RAM will be coming from them in the future.
Another thing to note was the philosophy behind the Raspberry Pi, which they had made to keep the work in the UK as much as possible. While, at launch, some were manufactured in China due to cost reasons, they proudly announced that they were bringing production of the original Pi entirely back to the UK.
One of our distributors, Premier Farnell/Element14, already makes 100% of its Pis in the Welsh Sony factory in Pencoed, where Pis are built under licence. The other, RS Components, is in the process of moving the vast bulk of its manufacture to Wales as well (although they will continue to make a much reduced number of Pis in China for the Far East market).
– Liz Upton, 11th April 2013
While this is a very admirable outcome, it underscores their desire to make it the UK.
The upshot of all this? Element14/Premier Farnell have made the decision to move the bulk of their Raspberry Pi manufacture to South Wales. Moving manufacture like this is an enormous undertaking; from the start of the process, it’s taken us (especially Pete), Farnell and Sony nearly six months to get all our respective ducks in a row. The initial contract will see the Pencoed plant producing 30,000 Raspberry Pis a month, and creating around 30 new jobs.
– Liz Upton, 6th September 2012
So what happened? It seemed element14 had committed to the UK, and yet we are seeing the local element14 Australian stock come from China. Was this something that was done to ensure adequate supply for launch? Are the future plans to revert back to UK only manufacturing? I don’t have the answers unfortunately – but if element14 are willing to share, I’d be happy to hear about it.
That being said, Raspberry Pi’s have been Made in China – aside from the early batch. Egoman Technology Corp was licensed to produce Raspberry Pis for the local China and Taiwan market, and they were red to distinguish them from the regular Pis, but otherwise compatible (minus some regulatory markings).
Could we have received some units destined for the Chinese market? Unlikely, given the regulatory markings and the colour.
While the Raspberry Pi 2 boards may have cosmetic differences, they should function identically from a user’s perspective. It seems that some parts have alternatives in the BOM, so you might have different combinations of cosmetic differences. For now, it seems, the RAM is something that stays the same now (before, varying between Hynix, Samsung and later Micron).
The bigger (and more interesting question) is why the production itself was done in China, given their earlier resolve to keep as much of it as possible in the UK. We might never know the answer.