Finding your Raspberry Pi isn’t quite reaching its limits? You’re not alone. The Raspberry Pi is more powerful than ever, but it can still be tricky to set up right if you want good performance.
It doesn’t matter how you’re using your Raspberry Pi: if it isn’t configured to run at its most optimum, you’re going to have a bad experience.
So, take a look at our best tips to find out what you can do to squeeze the most out of your Raspberry Pi. Get ready for some awesome performance!
1. Connect a Reliable Power Supply
One thing you need to make sure with any Raspberry Pi setup is that you’re using a reliable power supply. The Raspberry Pi 3 (which is the best solution for desktop use) requires a micro-USB power connector. Ideally this should be connected to a power supply adapter with a 2.5A capacity.
While it may seem more convenient to connect the Pi directly to a USB port on your power bar, or to use your smartphone charger, these deliver unreliable results.
Consider this: You’re using the Pi for desktop work, internet, email, office tasks. Some programming. You don’t want the computer to suddenly freeze or shut down because you’re asking too much of it. Avoid this by ensuring the power supply is up to specification, and reliable. You’ll find a 5V 2.5A power supply is more than powerful enough.
2. Employ a Lightweight Operating System
Once your power requirements are sorted out, you’ll need to install a distro that uses as few resources as possible. Pushing performance on your Raspberry Pi means keeping things to a minimum, and several Linux operating systems (distributions or distros) have been developed with this purpose in mind.
Even Raspbian is available in a lightweight “lite” flavor, but you might also consider DietPi or even the non-Linux RISC OS for a truly low-footprint experience.
The aim here is simple. With an operating system that takes up less space and demands few resources, you can dedicate what’s left to your current project. It could make the difference between success, and failure.
3. Ditch the Bloatware
Running out of space on your Raspberry Pi? You can reclaim almost a full gigabyte of storage on your microSD card by removing some of the preinstalled software. You know those tools you never use?
For instance, while the Raspberry Pi 3 and later is suitable for use as a desktop, you might not need that functionality. So the presence of LibreOffice may seem utterly pointless. Ready to save 250MB?
Open a terminal window and enter:
sudo apt purge libreoffice* sudo apt clean sudo apt autoremove
It isn’t just LibreOffice that takes up space on your Pi. Wolfram takes up around 830MB. You can remove that with the same command, substituting libreoffice* with wolfram-engine.
Furthermore, you could ditch minecraft-pi, and even sonic-pi, to make more space on your microSD card. The same is true of any software you don’t need.
Of course, if you find yourself mass purging software, it might be a better idea to simply use one of the lightweight distros highlighted above.
While a number of websites will not appear as they usually do (or they’ll be less functional), browsing will be far quicker.
5. Overclock (But Keep It Cool)
Overclocking your Raspberry Pi is an obvious solution to poor performance. It comes in particularly useful when using your Pi as a media center with Kodi, or playing retro video games. While older games don’t need accelerated performance, those from consoles from the 1990s and early 2000s do.
If you want to overclock your Raspberry Pi, the tools to do so are provided in most distros. For instance, in Raspbian, you can open the Raspberry Pi Configuration on the PIXEL desktop, or use raspi-config in the command line. See our full Raspberry Pi guide to find out more on this.
Here, use the arrow keys to select Overclock, then choose the increased setting you wish to use. For the best results, step up to the next level, save, then restart your Pi and the app(s) you’re hoping to gain improved performance from.
If you’re overclocking your Raspberry Pi, you should consider some cooling solutions. Everything from heat sinks to liquid cooling is available for this little computer. These can do a remarkable job of keeping the temperature of your Pi’s SoC low, but note that overclocking will reduce the lifespan of the little computer, regardless.
All models can be overclocked, but the best boost is likely to be found in a Raspberry Pi 3. Our full guide to overclocking the Raspberry Pi will gave you all the steps you need. Be sure to treat overclocking with care, and not expect too much from the Pi.
Overheating can be a problem, as can pushing the computer beyond its physical capabilities.
6. Use a High Performance microSD Card
Another option is to consider the quality of your microSD card. Whether you’re using a Raspberry Pi Zero or a Raspberry Pi 3B+, the speed of the microSD card matters. In short, it can vastly improve the performance of your Raspberry Pi.
It’s simply a case of recognizing which microSD cards to steer clear of.
To start off, anything from an unrecognized manufacturer should be avoided. These are often relabeled reject cards, or poorly made, and will only bring frustration. Stick to Samsung, SanDisk, and Kingston for good quality cards.
Make sure you’re using the right type of card for the Raspberry Pi. Many Pis ship with microSD cards when bought as bundles. These are typically Samsung microSDHC cards with the class 10 rating. This indicates the minimum write speed, guaranteed to be at least 10MB per second or higher.
7. Don’t Abuse Your SD Card
After the power supply, the Raspberry Pi’s SD card is probably the weakest part of the setup. When the original Pi was launched with a standard SD card, it was particularly prone to failure. Later models of the Raspberry Pi rely on microSD cards, but again, there is a problem.
First of all, you need to ensure that you’re using good quality cards. $5 cards off eBay are not suitable. You should be using high quality cards for the best results, preferable microSDHC type cards. These have superior error correction, and are much faster than cheaper cards.
Looking after your microSD card is vital. One of the ways in which cards are misused is when it comes to switching off the Raspberry Pi. In short: do not unplug the Pi without first shutting down.
If the operating system is running when you disconnect the power, you risk corrupting the operating system, and even shorting a sector on your microSD card. The way around this is to always use the safe shutdown option in your chosen operating system. You’ll find a desktop button for this, but you can also use this command:
sudo shutdown -h now
This is one of the key commands every Raspberry Pi user should know. You can also time the shutdown:
sudo shutdown -h 12:01
This will shut your Raspberry Pi down safely at one minute past 12.
If you’re concerned about data on your Raspberry Pi, and want to maintain a level of continuity between projects, it’s a good idea to back up. See our guide to cloning your Raspberry Pi’s microSD card for more information.
8. Run From USB/HDD
You probably know that the Raspberry Pi boots from the microSD card. But did you know that it can be reconfigured, and the OS boot from a USB device? If you have a spare USB flash memory stick, or hard disk drive, this may prove useful.
It will certainly speed up booting, and make performance more reliable, while expanding the storage capacity of the Pi. This will only work on a Raspberry Pi 3. If you have this version of the board, you should certainly try this out.
In short, it means you can change the Raspberry Pi’s boot mode in Raspbian, then format the new storage and copy the key files from the microSD card. The card will still be required for the initial boot sequence, but everything else is then run from the USB device.
See our full guide on how to boot your Pi from USB, and improve your Raspberry Pi’s performance considerably!
9. Add External Storage
If you have a suitable external drive, perhaps consider adding it as extra storage for your Raspberry Pi files. USB hard disk drives, solid state drives, and standard USB flash sticks can all be used as additional storage for the Pi.
Our guide to increasing the storage space on a Raspberry Pi expands on this topic in some detail. If you prefer to use a USB flash device for additional Raspberry Pi storage, however, you’ll need to know how to mount the device before using it.
10. Use ZRAM as Super Fast Storage
Finally, there’s a secret in the Raspberry Pi’s hardware that you can use to create some ultra fast storage on your device. While the data stored here won’t be accessible when you reboot, this shouldn’t matter. After all, vital data should always be stored on a removable device, or in the cloud!
ZRAM uses the Raspberry Pi’s built in hardware for swap data, rather than relying on the microSD card. While microSD cards can be fast, ZRAM is typically faster. As the entire volume of RAM on your Pi is rarely in use, it makes sense to utilize this resource.
This video and script from NovaSpiritTech explains how to use ZRAM to improve performance on your Raspberry Pi:
If you simply want to get to grips with the code, you can download it from GitHub.
sudo wget -O /usr/bin/zram.sh https://raw.githubusercontent.com/novaspirit/rpi_zram/master/zram.sh
Once you’ve done that, make the file executable, then edit the rc.local file to run the downloaded script when you boot the Pi:
sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/zram.sh sudo nano /etc/rc.local
Here, find the exit 0 line, and in the line above, add
Then hit Ctrl + X to save and exit.
When you reboot your Pi, you’ll be using efficient ZRAM swapping rather than relying on spare (and slower) microSD card space.
11. Take It Easy, Don’t Push Your Pi
Consider what it is you’re using your Raspberry Pi for. Is it really suitable for that little computer? Isn’t it time you stopped using a Raspberry Pi for everything?
After all, it’s just a credit card sized computer. It does a lot for the size, and puts many of the PCs you were using 20 years ago to shame. But that doesn’t mean that you should employ a Raspberry Pi for every single project.
Other devices are available. Some projects may work better with a full PC, or laptop. Others might be improved by switching to a smartphone or tablet. Or another single board computer (SBC) entirely.
So, even with overclocking, a superior power supply and top-end microSD card, make sure your Raspberry Pi is the right device for the project. That’s arguably the best way to get top performance out of it.
Getting the Most Out of Your Raspberry Pi
By working your way through these tips and tricks, you’ll soon have a much faster Raspberry Pi. While intended for desktop use, many of these tips can be transferred to other uses. In summary:
- Use a reliable power supply
- Install a lightweight operating system
- Uninstall bloatware
- Try overclocking!
- Employ a high performance SD card
- Take care of your SD card
- Run the OS from a USB stick or HDD
- Use external storage
- Switch to ZRAM for data swap
- Don’t do too much at once
With all these changes, your Raspberry Pi will feel like a totally different computer! But still not fast enough? Maybe it’s time to consider one of these Raspberry Pi alternatives?