July 3, 2019
Joel Hruska

New Raspberry Pi 4 Firmware Reduces Temperatures, Boosts Performance

The Raspberry Pi 4’s improved specifications promise significantly improved performance compared with the Raspberry Pi 3B, but benchmarks have shown there’s a snag: heat. Under significant multi-core load, the RBP4 can hit 80C fairly easily, causing the chip to throttle. This can reduce performance substantially.

CNXSoft has done several articles exploring aspects of the RBP4,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce including a recent update on the impact of a firmware update for the VIA VL805 PCIe USB 3.0 used on the board. It’s not clear how this update will make its way into consumer hands just yet, but the RBP4 apparently hadn’t implemented Active State Power Management (ASPM) for its USB3.0 controller. The firmware update performed this task and the results were a substantial increase in 7zip performance.

Raspberry-Pi-4-VLI-805-Firmware-Temperature

Image by CNXSoft

Temperatures were still over 80C, but 7zip performance without a heatsink improved from 4423 to 5298. That’s on par with the performance CNXSoft saw from adding a heatsink to the RBP4 without a firmware update (5397). The heatsink is still better for sustained performance, however — by the time CNXSoft had run their third benchmark loop, the RBP4 had begun to throttle back.

Based on what we know about the Raspberry Pi 4, I’d be surprised if a heatsink and even a tiny fan didn’t improve performance over the bare chip in any scenario where the board is going to be under serious load. This will depend on the particulars of the workload, of course, but a heatsink for the device is likely a good idea, and a tiny fan might not go amiss either, depending on what you want to do with it. Benchmarks from Medium suggest that the Pi4’s Video Core VI GPU is more powerful than the older hardware on the RBP3, with frame rates in Quake III Arena (1280×720) rising from ~28 to ~42.

Undoubtedly we’ll see more cooling solutions for the RBP4 in months to come, but the device’s performance is high enough to be genuinely interesting in ways previous iterations of the hardware weren’t. It may still be a low-end hobbyist device, but RBP4 moves away from being a gadget or toy and towards something that can genuinely handle a wider range of compute tasks.

As we’ve said, it’s not clear how early adopters can get their hands on this updated BIOS just yet, but it’ll presumably become available at some point in the not too distant future. Just be advised that even with this change, anyone planning to put a serious load on the board for a prolonged period of time will need at least one a heatsink to keep performance stable.

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