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There are so many amazing things that you can do with a Raspberry Pi, from running your own space program Raspberry Pi Projects: A Car With Night Vision, Google Glass-like Translation, And More Raspberry Pi Projects: A Car With Night Vision, Google Glass-like Translation, And More We’ve previously looked at some excellent uses for this British minicomputer, but the fact is that it is just so versatile that there is always something amazing to talk about. Who would have thought that... Read More to building a media centre The Hardware You Will Need To Build A Raspberry Pi Media Center The Hardware You Will Need To Build A Raspberry Pi Media Center With so many ways of using it, you shouldn't be surprised to find that the Raspberry Pi has sold over 1 million units. Although designed for one key purpose (programming) this small credit card-sized computer... Read More . But what about using it as a desktop PC?

Although ostensibly intended as a compact computer that can be produced cheaply in order for students to learn programming basics, the Raspberry Pi has developed into something of a phenomenon. But rather than build a retro gaming centre Retro Gaming on the Raspberry Pi: Everything You Need to Know Retro Gaming on the Raspberry Pi: Everything You Need to Know Indeed, who in their right mind would have guessed that the little Raspberry Pi could prove so vital as a platform for so-called retro gaming, offering support for a vast array of emulators and different... Read More or NAS box Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into An NAS Box Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into An NAS Box Do you have a couple of external hard drives lying around and a Raspberry Pi? Make a cheap, low powered networked attached storage device out of them. While the end result certainly won't be as... Read More , how does it measure up performing basic desktop tasks?

After all, there may be times that you need to check your email or browse the web. You might want to use your Raspberry Pi to make notes of what you’re doing (perhaps keeping track of your progress using the programming tools, for instance), or use the web browser to carry out some brief research.

Performance wise, a Raspberry Pi isn’t going to be able to handle web pages with active content and may struggle with video feeds, but on the whole it can make a useful desktop PC, if set up correctly.

Preparing for Pi PC

Along with the Pi itself, you’ll need a few extras. To use the computer as a desktop PC, you will need a keyboard and mouse, items you may have avoided using if you’ve been accessing the device via SSH Setting Up Your Raspberry Pi For Headless Use With SSH Setting Up Your Raspberry Pi For Headless Use With SSH The Raspberry Pi can accept SSH commands when connected to a local network (either by Ethernet or Wi-Fi), enabling you to easily set it up. The benefits of SSH go beyond upsetting the daily screening... Read More .

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You’ll also need to install your preferred Raspberry Pi operating system, such as Raspbian What You Need to Know About Getting Started with Raspberry Pi What You Need to Know About Getting Started with Raspberry Pi The Raspberry Pi computer is the latest in a line of compact, multi-function devices, shipped as a barebones package so that end users can use the hardware for virtually any computing project that comes to... Read More , although there are several alternatives of varying degrees of suitability 7 Operating Systems You Can Run With Raspberry Pi 7 Operating Systems You Can Run With Raspberry Pi Who can argue with a $40 computer? Especially one that also forms a good base for electronics projects! I certainly can't. But the hardware alone is only one side of the story: you still need... Read More . Also consider a hard disk drive and other storage Storing and Accessing Data Using Raspberry Pi: What Are Your Options? Storing and Accessing Data Using Raspberry Pi: What Are Your Options? We're looking here at the different storage uses that your Raspberry Pi can be put to, from configuring it as a NAS box controller with an external hard disk drive connected to creating your own... Read More if you’re planning to try using the Pi as a standard desktop long-term.

Our guide to the cost of a Raspberry Pi should give you an idea of what you will need for this configuration, and how much you may need to spend What Is The True Cost Of Running a Raspberry Pi? What Is The True Cost Of Running a Raspberry Pi? The Raspberry Pi - a small, compact and versatile computer, capable of processing HDMI and MPEG-2 being the central component of any number of weekend projects from retro gaming stations and media centres to smart... Read More .

Optimising Your Raspberry Pi Desktop

After installing your preferred operating system for the Raspberry Pi, you will need to optimise it for desktop use. The following configuration steps apply to Raspbian.

First of all, you will need to determine how much memory you wish to apportion to graphics. You can do this on the first boot of your Raspberry Pi or in the configuration menu later on, accessed by opening the command line and entering raspi-config. Next, head to the Advanced section, where Memory Split is the third option in the menu.

muo-rpi-desktop-split

Choosing the memory_split option, you should see that it is set to the default 64 MiB – 128 MiB is more suitable for running XBMC and watching HD video, while 32 MiB is perfect for low-intensity desktop tasks such as word processing and email. You can also drop as low as 16 MiB.

You might also opt to change the boot_behaviour option so that the Pi boots into command line rather than the X desktop. This is only advisable if you’re comfortable using a command line-based word processor or text editor.

Best Apps for a Desktop Pi

With your Raspberry Pi desktop computer up and running, you will no doubt want to use particular applications. Office, email and web browsing apps are all available for the Pi. Some are included – but would you want to use them?

The default browser in Raspbian is Midori, although this can be best described as slow, even on pages without JavaScript, AJAX and Flash (all of which will slow or break the browser). As an alternative, you might try Chromium, which can be installed from the command line with apt-get install chromium. After installation has completed, disable JavaScript with chromium –disable-javascript.

Email can be tricky to access through your browser as webmail apps tend to use a lot of AJAX and JavaScript. An alternative that would reduce load on your browser and CPU is Claws Mail, which can be installed using the command sudo apt-get install claws-mail. If you’re a fan of Mozilla Thunderbird, the Linux version Icedove Mail can be installed on your Raspberry Pi. Open a command prompt and enter sudo apt-get install icedove.

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For standard office tasks, head to the Pi Store 3 Ways To Install Software On Raspberry Pi 3 Ways To Install Software On Raspberry Pi Getting your hands on a Raspberry Pi will open up a remarkable world of computing projects, from media centres and NAS boxes to Android emulation, retro games and of course the computer’s core purpose –... Read More and install LibreOffice, a version of the popular Open Office fork that has been configured for the Raspberry Pi. Including a word processor, spreadsheet tool and presentation software, LibreOffice will complete your Raspberry Pi desktop!

Meanwhile, should you fancy kicking back and playing a game, you can take a look at our lists of top games from the Pi Store. The first includes FreeCiv Amazing Games You Can Play on the Raspberry Pi without Emulation Amazing Games You Can Play on the Raspberry Pi without Emulation You can probably see where I’m going with this, but I’ll spell it out just in case. A few nights ago I decided that rather than play Civilization V on my PC, I would look... Read More , while the second features the Quake clone OpenArena Four More Superb Games from the Raspberry Pi Store! Four More Superb Games from the Raspberry Pi Store! If you thought gaming on the Raspberry Pi was limited to setting up emulators with RetroPie or watching other gamers on YouTube (perhaps via the RaspBMC media centre solution) then prepare to be surprised. While... Read More .

Conclusion: The Raspberry Pi is a Desktop Computer Too!

I was asked recently why I find the Raspberry Pi so fascinating. After all, it doesn’t run popular MMORPGs, it can’t easily be used as a portable computer and it’s not ideal for things like multimedia production. When I pointed out the possibilities such as retro gaming and building a compact media centre, my friend confidently reminded me that standard desktops and laptops and even phones can do the same things.

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Then again, standard computers and phones cannot be the key element of a low budget space program. The price of the Raspberry Pi alone is reason enough to buy it – this computer is just as versatile (if not more) than a standard desktop, laptop or even a phone.

Using it as a desktop is just another demonstration of its flexible nature.

  1. DevMiser
    December 4, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Here's a link to a video showing how to assemble an inexpensive desktop computer using the Raspberry Pi 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqj9U-jeVkc
    The video shows how to assemble a full fledged desktop computer for under $75.00 using the Raspberry Pi 3, including:
    -The parts needed
    -How to format an SD Card and install the operating system
    -How to connect the hardware
    -The first time startup
    -How to update and upgrade the file systems
    -How to set the localization specifications
    -A tour of the desktop including the Libre Office word processor, Claws mail, Chromium web browser and the available integrated development environments

  2. Bob
    December 3, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Is this quite simple or is I quite hard to set up

    • Christian Cawley
      December 3, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      Definitely simple, especially with more recent devices and Raspbian versions (this post is 3 years old)

  3. robert june tria
    October 29, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    great article.. i mainly use my rpi3 as my desktop pc.. and now that the rpi foundation released raspbian pixel, it is way much better to use it as a desktop pc than before... i suggest you update this article using pixel..
    thank you and god bless!

    • Christian Cawley
      October 29, 2016 at 7:15 pm

      We've a separate PIXEL article, but you make a good point, thanks!

  4. rodney
    January 31, 2016 at 7:29 am

    isn't it better to learn programming on a pc or laptop, table etc, real world programming that is actually useful...One could spend hours months years fu*king around with these rasberry/ banana things plus buying all the cr*p and extras while the Chinese keep getting richer in the process...i like steam engines but i really don't think i need to know how to build one when i could be learning how to repair fuel injection in a car...

  5. Samir Alhejaj
    July 23, 2015 at 11:19 am

    I wonder if we could be able to install Android, so we can use it as a TV box, lol :)

  6. Steve W
    February 13, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    I ordered a Pi 2 with the intention of trying it out as a desktop for web browsing, email (Thunderbird?), and word processing. I also need to try to connect to an HP all-in-one ink jet printer. This might be a replacement for an old Win XP machine for grandma. It would be great to see an update to this article using a Pi 2.

    • Andrew
      May 23, 2015 at 11:23 pm

      email -- IceDove is Thunderbird, but supported by Debian, I believe, not Mozilla.

      Also, IceWeasel is Firefox. Chromium is Chrome.

  7. Souljacker
    January 24, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Maybe it is possible to run VirtualBox on Raspian and install there a Windows XP. But i am not sure if the ARM has enough power...?

  8. Steve
    September 4, 2013 at 3:55 am

    The point of the Raspberry Pi is for people to learn how to program. You can just about use one as a PC, but most people use them to learn about programming, web development etc. I use mine as a web server: http://raspberrywebserver.com

    @MaNu, No win xp won't run on a Raspberry Pi, Linux only.

    • Jason
      November 10, 2013 at 6:11 pm

      You are absolutely correct. Windows XP was only designed for x86 and x86_64 architectures, not ARM, which is what the raspberry pi uses.

  9. Sinuhe
    August 27, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Why bother to tinker a Rapsberry if you can buy a powerful and out-of-the box ready Android stick for ca. 80$??? Take the Zealz GK802 for examples, Quad-Core CPU with 1 GB RAM, weight less than 2 oz including HDMI, USB ports, WiFi and Bluetooth connection! Performancewise, all the Android Sticks are much more powerful as the Rapsberry and its operating system and integration is simple topnotch!
    http://www.laptopmag.com/reviews/tablets/zealz-gk802-android-mini-pc.aspx

    • Christian Cawley
      August 29, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      Because a lot of people like to tinker :)

      It's not about performance.

      • MaNu
        September 1, 2013 at 5:35 am

        sir can we boot win xp in rasperberry pi???!!!!
        if can !!!!
        will it support .exe files to run on it!!!!
        thanks in advance

    • conix
      September 18, 2013 at 4:38 am

      More CPU power and more RAM but less useful than Raspberry Pi in many respect. XBMC runs a lot better on Raspberry Pi with native hardware acceleration than it does on most Android Sticks. Raspberry Pi runs most Linux desktop software while on Android you're stuck with Android apps only. Each have pros and cons, but I love my Raspberry Pi for its ability to run security camera server (Zoneminder) which cannot be done with the Android stick (I have one too).

  10. Carlos
    August 27, 2013 at 2:33 am

    Well, a basic desktop PC usage is possible with the raspberry but his proccessor doesn't have enough power to do multitasking work, such browsing the web and listening to music simultaneously.

    But basic web surfing, listening to music, programming or texts edition with Libre Office, one at a time is really possible and turns the Raspberry Py an ideal option for educational usage.

    Regards!

  11. Sara
    August 27, 2013 at 1:47 am

    I have trouble with Chromium, lots of freezing and crashing. Minecraft works great though!

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