Raspberry Pi 4 sports faster CPU, 4GB Ram, USB 3.0 and dual HDMI

A new Raspberry Pi has officially been unveiled. The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B sports a more powerful processor based on ARM Cortex-A72 cores, is available with 1GB, 2GB or 4GB of memory, gains a pair of USB 3.0 ports and now has twin HDMI outputs capable of driving 4K displays.

Raspberry Pi 4

Available immediately, the latest Pi offers increases in processor speed, multimedia performance, memory, and connectivity even when compared to the previous model, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ launched in March 2018.

In fact, Raspberry Pi chief executive Eben Upton said that “it’s basically a regular PC now” with approximately 3x the performance of a Raspberry Pi 3, the ability to decode 4k video, and drive two displays simultaneously.

Upton added that he thought a major new use case for the Pi 4 would be as a mini desktop system, thanks to features such as the increased power and the twin display ports. However, it retains the standard 40-pin GPIO header, and so can easily be used for all the other things the Raspberry Pi has been put to, such as robotics and process control.

Raspberry Pi 4 desktop kit

The SoC on the Pi 4 is a Broadcom BCM2711 clocked at 1.5GHz. This is just 100MHz faster than last year’s Pi 3, but these are now the high performance Cortex-A72 cores in place of the mid-range Cortex-A53 cores.

Pi enthusiasts have been crying out for more memory, and so the Pi 4 will be available in three versions, with 1GB, 2GB or 4GB of LPDDR4, in a separate chip next to the SoC.

Upton said that Raspberry Pi has “somewhere over 100k units of stock available on launch day, split between the three SKUs. We’ve prioritised 2GB for starters, but will adjust that over time”.

Another change is that two of the four USB ports on the Pi 4 are now the higher speed USB 3.0 alongside two USB 2.0 ports, which should deliver a benefit for applications using USB storage devices.

In place of the standard HDMI connector that has been present on all the full-size Pi models from the start, the latest Pi now has two micro connectors that enable it to drive 4K displays at 60 frames per second. The DSI display connector and CSI camera are still present, as is the composite video jack socket.

For connectivity, the Pi keeps the Gigabit Ethernet introduced last year on the Pi 3 Model B+, in addition to the dual-band 802.11b/g/n/ac wireless LAN and Bluetooth 5.0.

Other changes are that the recommended power supply is now 5V at 3A, and the power socket on the Pi 4 is now a USB-C type instead of a micro USB. This means that existing Pi power supplies will not work, and nor will most phone chargers, although those used with older versions of the Pi will not supply the necessary current anyway.

Fortunately, Raspberry Pi is also offering a new power supply unit that is designed to deliver exactly the right current (see picture, right).

For the operating system, Raspberry Pi states that an 8GB microSD card is still sufficient, but there is little price difference now between these and larger capacities such as 16GB or 32GB.

The pricing for the Pi 4 is as follows; 1GB $35, 2GB $45, 4GB $55. Using currency conversion rates at the time of writing, the base price works out to about £27.60 and means the Pi is effectively the same cost as the original that came out in 2012, but now roughly 40x faster and available with up to 16x the memory.

The image in the middle of this article shows the contents of the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Desktop Kit. This includes everything you need to get up and running, except a monitor. Buyers get the Pi, keyboard, mouse, PSU, display cables, case, microSD card with operating system and a Beginner’s Guide booklet. It will be on sale at the official Raspberry PI shop in Cambridge from launch at £105 inc VAT.

Raspberry Pi Trading said that the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B will remain in production until at least January 2026.

The premium text message scam

I’m writing up this blog entry to let people know about my experience with unwanted premium text messages, and the fact that the mobile operators appear unwilling to do anything about this issue, quite possibly because they profit from it while their subscribers get hit with unwanted charges.

It started in August last year, when I received a puzzling text message out of the blue. “To access your latest AllSports Tipsters betting tips, visit our site at [link]”. The sender was listed as just a five digit number. Well, I occasionally receive spam text messages trying to trick the receiver into clicking on a web link or fool you into thinking it is an urgent communique from HMRC and so on, so I just ignored it.

When my next mobile phone bill arrived, I noticed that it was more than the amount that I would normally pay each month, and perusing the itemised list showed that I had been charged £4.50 for a “premium message”. It didn’t take me long to match the date to the mystery text message, but I was dumbfounded. The phone company was charging me for receiving a message? What was going on?

I wasn’t really even sure of what a “premium message” was, so I googled it. This is the definition I found on the Which? website:

Also known as ‘reverse billed’ messages, premium rate text (SMS) messages come from four, five or six-digit numbers and are normally for subscription services such as games or weather updates.

It went on to explain that

SMS text messages of this kind can only be sent out if you sign up to the service

But of course, I hadn’t signed up to the service – I had never even heard of the company before that message popped up on my phone.

I decided to take the matter up with my mobile operator, since it was this company that was actually billing me for the message. I won’t reveal which operator it is, but suffice to say it is one of the big four, which owns its own network infrastructure and thus has total control over anything that traverses its network.

The operator in question has an online chat facility on its website that enables customers to talk to helpdesk staff, so I started here. I explained the problem, but the response from the helpdesk guy was something like “Oh, that’s just messages you will have signed up to receive.” I explained that I had in fact never signed up to receive any messages from any service, but the helpdesk chap was adamant that I “must have” signed up to receive them, and to take it up with the company sending the messages.

But, I had no idea which company was actually sending the messages; all I had to go on was the five digit number, or shortcode that it was associated with. The helpdesk chap then contradicted himself and said that was OK, the mobile operator could contact that company on my behalf and stop the messages.

What about the money I had been charged for receiving an unwanted message? Would I get that back, I inquired. There was a pause. “As you have been such a loyal and valued customer, we are prepared to refund you the cost of the message in this case,” was the reply, after the guy had presumably copied and pasted it out of a list of ready prepared statements.

The helpdesk guy also suggested I should text a reply back to the shortcode sender saying “STOP”, which I duly did.

Shortly afterwards, I received a text message from the phone company telling me that I would receive a refund. “That wasn’t too much trouble,” I thought.

Sadly, my satisfaction didn’t last long. A few weeks later, another premium message, identical to the first, pinged into the messages box on my phone. When my next bill arrived, I was annoyed to see that not only had I been charged another £4.50 for receiving a totally pointless message, but that the cost of the original message had not been refunded, despite the text confirmation from the phone company stating this would happen.

Back to my mobile operator, only to find that the chat service was offline, so I had to call them up and sit in the hold queue. I explained the situation all over again, and was once again assured by a helpdesk operative that I “must have” signed up to receive these messages, as it was “impossible” for me to be receiving them otherwise.

Here’s a tip that I learned: ask to speak to the complaints department, because the people there seem to be more clued up and more motivated to solve your problem than the grunts staffing the frontline helpdesk.

The chap from the complaints department admitted that this was a problem his company was aware of, but still claimed that it was unable to do anything about it. This is an absurd assertion for a company that owns and has full control over its own network. It’s like an IT admin claiming that there is nothing he or she can do to control which resources users have access to.

The best that he could do, he claimed, was to put a cap on the charges for my account, so that I could not be charged any more than the monthly amount specified in my contract. This I instructed him to do, and also mentioned that I had not received the refund I had previously been promised. He told me that I would receive a full refund for the unwanted messages in my next bill.

I also texted “STOP” back to the number sending me the messages, just in case.

A week or two later, I received another of the premium messages, identical to the first one. “Ha ha,” I thought, “are they going to get a shock when they try to collect the money for that!”

Alas, what happened is that the refund for the previous messages was deducted from the amount that I owed on the next bill, which meant that the total was lower than the cap level. I was thus charged yet again for receiving a premium message.

I realised I was now in a sort of Catch-22 situation, where every time I complained about being hit with a charge for an unwanted message, the phone company would refund the money, but the very act of doing this would mean that the scammers would be able to hit me with  a charge again!

In frustration, I searched around on Google for a solution, and found the Phone-paid Services Authority website, which allows anyone to find out information about a service provider by keying in the shortcode number associated with it. This elicited the name of the company responsible for the messages and an email address. I sent them a terse email asking them to stop sending any messages to my mobile number, and finally, the messages ceased.

The moral of the story is that if you fall victim to this premium text message scam, don’t bother contacting your mobile phone company – they will do nothing to stop the messages, and will claim that they are unable to do anything about them. This is a preposterous notion, since it implies that they do not have control over their own network and billing system.

What it means is that the mobile operators have built a service that is ripe for abuse by any unscrupulous company that chooses to send premium rate messages to mobile subscribers – effectively helping themselves to a customer’s money – and are not prepared to do anything to address this situation.

Instead, if the sender refuses to act on you sending “STOP” back to them, then go direct to the Phone-paid Services Authority and find contact details for the company sending the texts, and contact them directly – their website also lets you report abuses. However, there is no guarantee that this will stop the abuse. When will our hapless regulators close this loophole that seems to allow unscrupulous companies to take money from UK consumers for almost literally nothing?


Amazon shows how the Internet of Things should be done

Microcontroller and circuit board

One of the announcements that may have been overlooked among the slew of news coming out of Amazon’s AWS re:Invent conference was of Amazon FreeRTOS, an operating system for microcontrollers that is aimed at the Internet of Things (IoT). With this, Amazon is starting to build out an entire ecosystem that covers both devices and cloud-based services to deliver on IoT applications.

FreeRTOS is actually a product that has been around for some years. It is a compact real-time operating system kernel that supports a wide range of microprocessor architectures, from the venerable Intel 8051 to x86, ARM and microcontrollers from the likes of Atmel and NXP.

Last year, the developer of FreeRTOS joined Amazon, and so stewardship of the project has been taken over by Amazon Web Services (AWS). The firm has now created a version of the operating system that adds software libraries enabling devices to connect securely to the cloud, receive software updates over the network, and other functions.

The result is a platform that should make it relatively simple for developers to code typical IoT applications, which will be able to target a number of different silicon platforms, with initial supported listed as Microchip, NXP, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments.

As an example, developers can make use of MQTT based messaging to link FreeRTOS devices to the AWS IoT Core service, which serves as a kind of hub to enable secure interaction with cloud applications and other devices.

Naturally, the main purpose of FreeRTOS is to create IoT devices that can connect up to Amazon’s AWS services, aggregating sensor data and uploading it for collating and analysis in the cloud, for example. Amazon’s goal is to get as many people as possible using its cloud services, and FreeRTOS adds the endpoint piece to the puzzle of building a comprehensive ecosystem that should make AWS an attractive destination for those looking to build an IoT project.

Also unveiled at re:Invent were new services coming next year, such as AWS IoT Device Defender, designed to audit endpoint devices to ensure they adhere to best practices, detect abnormal device behaviour, and offer mitigation for security issues, along with an IoT Device Management service and a fully-managed IoT Analytics service to automates all of the steps that required to analyse reams of data from IoT devices.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that AWS and FreeRTOS would be an ideal candidate for every organisation or developer that is putting together an IoT type of application, but the cloud giant has made itself an attractive destination for many projects that may involve simple sensor and data collection processes.

Thoughts on Intel and AMD’s chip partnership

Sometimes, the news causes you to do a double-take, such as when Microsoft announced it was developing a Linux version of SQL Server or when Intel struck a deal with ARM to manufacture ARM-based chips for third parties.

The latest shocker also involves Intel, but this time it is teaming up with arch rival AMD to deliver a new Core processor for the mobile market that features an AMD Radeon GPU and HBM2 memory, all in a single chip package. The first fruits of this collaboration are set to come to market in the first quarter of 2018, including systems from major vendors, according to Intel.

Intel's Core chip with AMD Radeon GPU

At first glance, this may seem an unlikely partnership. Intel and AMD have been bitter rivals in the chip market since AMD started producing chips to compete against Intel’s 486 processors back in the 1990s.

However, it makes more sense if you think that both of the companies face competition in the GPU space from a third player, Nvidia. Intel’s integrated graphics and GPU capabilities in its processors have never been a match for those offered by Nvidia and AMD (which acquired graphics chipmaker ATI about a decade ago).

Intel’s official line regarding the new product is that it addresses a gap in the market for a “thinner, lighter, more powerful enthusiast mobile platform that delivers a premium experience.” Currently, a premium mobile platform calls for a processor paired with a discrete GPU chip, which isn’t ideal if you want to deliver a thin and light system.

What Intel needed was to integrate high performance graphics with the processor, and as its own graphics cannot cut the mustard, it needed a third party solution.

The bit of engineering magic that makes all this possible is Intel’s Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB) technology, which is a method of linking several silicon dies together in the one package using small bridges under the edges where they meet.

One advantage of this is that you can deliver a composite product from several dies that may come from different sources and produced using different manufacturing processes, and this is what the upcoming product does.

The yet to be named product, which will be part of Intel’s 8th Gen Core family, combines an Intel processor chip with what it describes as a semi-custom graphics chip from AMD’s Radeon division. In effect, AMD is producing a customised version of one of its discrete Radeon GPUs that Intel can then integrate to deliver the end product.

But there is an epilogue to this tale. Shortly after the announcement of the new chip, Intel disclosed it had hired AMD’s Raja Koduri, senior vice president and chief architect of the Radeon Technologies Group.

Koduri is to head up a newly formed Core and Visual Computing Group within Intel, and will spearhead a new effort to expand Intel’s integrated graphics with new high-end discrete graphics solutions.

Far from being a new-found partnership between Intel and AMD, the forthcoming chip can be seen as simply a stopgap while Intel boosts its own graphics proficiency, by poaching AMD’s graphics talent.


Something EPYC is missing from mainstream servers

HPE Cloudline CL3150 server

The major server vendors have all now officially announced a refresh of their portfolios, most timing this to coincide with the official launch of Intel’s Xeon Scalable processors this week.

HPE detailed its Gen 10 wave of servers last month, but Dell EMC, Lenovo and Cisco all saved much of the detail until Intel’s official announcement regarding its new server processors, based on the Skylake architecture.

This is no real surprise, as we’ve got used to the vendors tying their refresh cycles to the availability of new processor platforms.

But wait, where are the systems based on AMD’s EPYC processor platform, a chip designed to take on Intel’s Xeon processors? At the EPYC launch in Austin, Texas last month, AMD disclosed a number of vendors supporting their new chips, which included Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo.

I asked Lenovo where its AMD-based systems are, and the firm was somewhat less than forthcoming. One product manager stated that he had no knowledge of any EPYC models, while the official line from the firm’s press office is that their servers are Intel-based.

So, I checked back to AMD’s announcement of the EPYC server chips, and sure enough, there is an endorsement from Lenovo:

“The AMD EPYC processors present unique opportunities for our customers to lower Total Cost of Ownership via an unprecedented balance of cores, memory bandwidth, and I/O. We are excited to collaborate with AMD and several global Hyperscale customers to develop and deploy single socket and dual socket EPYC-based servers,” said Paul Ju, vice president and general manager, Lenovo Global Hyperscale Business.

It would seem that if Lenovo is using AMD EPYC chips in systems, these are being supplied by a different business unit that targets the hyperscale market, while its enterprise servers are entirely Intel-based.

Lenovo is not the only vendor taking this path; HPE’s sole EPYC server disclosed so far is the Cloudline CL3150 (pictured), an ultra-dense rack-mount system targeting software-designed storage clusters, again for the hyperscale and service provider markets.

Many of the other brands lined up by AMD are well-known white-box vendors such as Supermicro, Tyan, Inventec and Wistron, which also sell into the hyperscale market.

Meanwhile, Dell EMC gave a supporting presentation at AMD’s event in Austin, yet its 14G announcement makes no mention of EPYC-based systems, nor are any listed on its site.

The situation thus seems to be that the Tier 1 vendors are all steering away from offering EPYC-based systems to compete directly with Intel’s Xeon platform, except in the hyperscale arena, where factors such as up-front cost and performance per watt override other considerations.

Is this because the big vendors not want to risk the wrath of Intel by putting up Xeon and EPYC systems against each other, or is it that their analysis of AMD’s chips has convinced all of them that it is ideally suited to a different role than that of Intel’s?

The reality is that it could be either reason, or both. Or to put it another way, vendors such as HPE enthusiastically backed AMD’s earlier Opteron server chips, only to see the company fail to keep up with Intel’s rapid pace of development, and so the sizable fraction of the server market that AMD managed to grab for itself slowly declined and customers drifted back to Intel-based systems as their servers reached end of life and were replaced.

Lenovo, HPE and Dell EMC are likely taking the approach that they won’t rush to offer AMD-based enterprise servers immediately, and are waiting to see if there is customer demand for them. With server shipments to enterprises reportedly declining because of the growth in cloud services, this may never materialise.

Then again, perhaps AMD was wise to develop a chip that is ideally suited to high-density servers for the service provider market: this is the area that is showing the strongest growth at the moment, after all. With up to 32 cores, 8 memory channels and 128 PCIe lanes, AMD can claim with some justification that a single-socket EPYC server can do the duty of a traditional two-socket system, at much lower cost.

UPDATE: I asked Dell for details of its EPYC-based servers, and this is the response I received:

Yesterday Dell EMC launched the first wave of its 14th Generation of PowerEdge servers aligned to Intel processors, PowerEdge servers based on the AMD EPYC processors will be available in the second half of 2017.

AMD Ryzen Pro to bring workstation-class performance to desktops

AND Ryzen Pro graphic

AMD is aiming at the enterprise desktop market with an upcoming Ryzen Pro processor family based on its Zen core design, taking on Intel’s Core chips by offering more cores and greater security through encrypted memory support.

With Ryzen Pro, AMD is aiming at the corporate market, in contrast to its consumer-focused Ryzen chips launched earlier this year. The firm claimed that this is an important market for it, with over 350 major corporate customers, and said that it expects to double the number of enterprise-class products using its chips by the end of the year.

“We have a lot of momentum in the commercial space of the market, and now with the technology of Ryzen Pro, we believe we can take that to the next level,” said John Hampton, director of commercial business development for AMD.

Many people will be surprised to learn that desktop PCs are still around. The reality is that while laptops may have largely displaced desktop systems, they still have value for businesses in office environments and especially for smaller businesses.

Ryzen Pro is clearly being positioned against Intel’s Core processors, with AMD dividing up its portfolio into the Ryzen 7 Pro, Ryzen 5 Pro and Ryzen 3 Pro segments against the Core i7, Core i5 and Core i3, with clock speeds of up to 3.7GHz with frequency boost.

AMD Ryzen Pro vs Intel Core

As with the EPYC server processor that AMD recently launched, the firm is trying to compete by offering more cores in each segment. Thus Ryzen 7 Pro has 8 cores against the 4 of the Core i7, the Ryzen 5 Pro has up to 6 cores against the 4 of the Core i5, and Ryzen 3 Pro has 4 cores against the 2 of Core i3.

“Ryzen Pro for us will be a no-compromise solution versus Intel vPro,” said Hampton, claiming that AMD’s new platform has “more cores and more threads at every price point”.

AMD claimed that benchmark figures show that a Ryzen 7 Pro delivers up to 62 percent more multi-threaded performance than Core i7.

“We’re designing for the future. We believe that more and more commercial workloads will demand more core, more threads, more power, and so on,” Hampton added.

The target markets for each segment are power users running content creation and scientific applications for Ryzen 7 Pro, while Ryzen 5 Pro is the mainstream platform for advanced productivity, and Ryzen 3 Pro is for office productivity and entry-level tasks.

AMD Ryzen Pro SKUs

While the firm claims ‘workstation class’ performance for Ryzen Pro, the chips are aimed at business desktops and so not intended to compete with Intel’s Xeon chips in the actual workstation market. The upcoming Ryzen “Threadripper” may address this market. It will be comprised of two silicon dies rather than the single one of the Ryzen Pro, making for a processor with twice the number of memory channels and up to 16 CPU cores.

And despite AMD touting Ryzen Pro for content creation and scientific applications, it is a purely CPU-based chip, not an APU that integrates GPU cores like many of AMD’s existing processor lines. It is expected that the Ryzen Mobile chips for laptops will be APUs and combine Zen cores with AMD’s Vega GPU core. Meanwhile, Ryzen Pro systems will have to rely on discrete GPUs, either on the motherboard or in a PCIe slot.

But AMD is not merely counting on performance to differentiate from Intel’s chips. Like the EPYC line, Ryzen Pro features a built-in AMD Secure Processor that provides a hardware-based root of trust against malware threats, plus the transparent memory encryption technology that can be used to secure areas of memory used to store sensitive data, or the entire memory of the system.

As with EPYC, there is a small performance overhead when memory encryption is enabled, but this is in the order of a one or two per cent reduction in performance, AMD claims.

The AMD Secure Processor provides a secure boot feature by validating the system firmware to ensure it has not been tampered with before it will allow the processor cores to come out of their reset state and begin the normal boot process.

This is designed to prevent malware attacks that come in under the level of the operating system and attack the firmware, making them hard to detect and remediate.

AMD Ryzen Pro graphic

Ryzen Pro also features AMD’s SenseMI technologies, a set of adaptive features to a tweak the processor for optimum performance, as seen in the consumer Ryzen chips. These include Precision Boost to adjust the clock speed in 25MHz increments, and Pure Power, which is the flip side of this and optimises the power consumption for the workload.

With Ryzen Pro aimed at business buyers, other important features are reliability, stability, and manageability.

On the reliability front, AMD claims that the Pro products are sourced from silicon wafers with the highest yields to ensure fewer defective parts. Meanwhile, AMD offers 18 months stability for drivers and other low-level software, plus 24 month availability of processor SKUs for vendors.

On the manageability side, AMD supports the DASH standard developed by the DMTF (Distributed Management Task Force). The advantage of DASH is that it is cross-platform, and will work with both Intel and AMD platforms.

Availability of Ryzen Pro is set for the official launch on 29 August, when AMD will disclose the vendors which are offering systems based on the new chips, and information of the pricing versus Intel’s Core chips.