Did you know your Raspberry Pi can be used as a desktop PC? Perhaps you’ve already tried building a media center and a retro gaming station, and now you want to settle things down. Maybe your own desktop PC is no longer fit for purpose.
Either way, the Raspberry Pi 3 (the newer the better!) makes an ideal desktop replacement for basic productivity purposes. But are you getting the best performance? We’re guessing you’re not.
So, if you want to use your Raspberry Pi 3 as a desktop PC and enjoy maximum performance, try these seven tips. Some of them might even work for other Raspberry Pi projects…
1. Apply Our Performance Tweaks
Any version of the Raspberry Pi can be used as a desktop PC, but the more recent Raspberry Pi 3 (released in 2016) is more suited than earlier versions. Whichever device you opt for, you’ll need to make sure that you’re getting the most out of it.
The tips you find in this list will help you. But for hardware tweaks to improve overall system performance, ensure you have things like an adequate power supply, and a good quality SD card. We’ve compiled a list of great tweaks to improve your Raspberry Pi’s performance, so check those out before proceeding.
Once you’ve applied those changes, read on!
2. Use the Chromium Browser
Several browsers are available for the Raspberry Pi. While the Vivaldi browser is a good alternative, for the best productivity on the Raspberry Pi 3 you should opt for Chromium. Fortunately this is pre-installed, and you’ll find it in the Internet menu.
There are several reasons why you should use Chromium, not least because it delivers continuity with your current desktop. Assuming you’re using Chromium on Windows or macOS, you can sign into the browser on the Raspberry Pi and sync your favorites, for example.
More importantly, Chromium offers a degree of stability and performance that the other browsers do not (yet). It’s the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s preferred browser for the Pi 3, and has been included since the release of the PIXEL desktop in September 2016. Chromium should run well with the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3; older devices are better served with the Epiphany browser.
3. Google Apps Work in Vivaldi!
Remember, the Raspberry Pi 3 uses a 1.2 GHz CPU with just 1 Gb of RAM. You’re not going to get PC-like performance out of it, so use with moderation.
Along with apps, however, Chrome extensions will also (mostly) work in Chromium. This is important for enjoying the same browsing experience as you would on a PC or laptop computer.
4. Keep Browser Tabs to a Minimum
Speaking of extensions, it’s a good idea to employ a “session manager” add-on to ensure superior tab management.
Your best solution here is to run several tab sessions, along with a bookmarking tool. Keep your tabs focused on the task at hand, and save irrelevant reading for later. It’s basic productivity and time management, but becomes more important when you’re using a lower spec machine as your desktop computer.
Even a Raspberry Pi 3 will struggle with over 10 tabs. For the best results, keep it to around five most of the time.
5. Use LibreOffice for Productivity
Although Google Drive is an option via the Chromium browser, you should rely on LibreOffice for a superior office experience. Raspbian Stretch has the open-source office suite built in; you’ll find it in the desktop menu under Office.
Here, you’ll find LibreOffice Writer for word processing, Calc for spreadsheets, Impress for presentations, Base for database design, and more. It isn’t quite at the level of Microsoft Office, but should be adequate for 95% of users.
If you enjoy using LibreOffice, when the time comes to move away from the Raspberry Pi as a desktop (and return to some of the more interesting uses), you can take the suite with you. LibreOffice is an open source office suite available for Windows and macOS as well as Linux.
6. Use a Cabled Keyboard and Mouse
The Raspberry Pi 3 has wireless internet and Bluetooth. Despite this, however, it is recommended to rely on a cabled keyboard and mouse for the best performance.
While it is advantageous to run a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (or integrated pointing device) for flexibility, power-wise it doesn’t always work out. This is especially the case if you haven’t connected the Raspberry Pi to a reliable power supply.
You may already know that Bluetooth Low Energy is designed to use as little power as possible. But with a computer as low spec and low power as the Pi, even a minor drain can result in power issues. Using cabled peripherals is the best answer here.
7. Install Some Extra Software
Although there is a great selection of applications bundled with the Raspberry Pi’s preferred Raspbian Stretch operating system, you might need a few extras. For instance, you might wish to access the command line quickly: Guake is a good option here.
Or you might require access to Dropbox. As this isn’t officially supported on Raspbian (or any Raspberry Pi, as there is no ARM version of Dropbox) you’ll need help. The answer is the Dropbox Uploader tool.
These, and several other useful tools, are featured in our look at the best apps to install on your Raspberry Pi.
Are You Using Your Raspberry Pi as a PC?
If you want to use your Raspberry Pi 3 to replace a desktop computer, start with these seven tips to improve productivity. Here’s a recap:
- Apply Raspberry Pi performance tweaks
- Use the Chromium browser
- Favorite Google apps work with Chromium
- Only open a few browser tabs
- Rely on LibreOffice for word processing and spreadsheets
- Avoid using Bluetooth
- Install some extra apps