Using a Raspberry Pi as a Desktop PC: 7 Things I Learned After a Week
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The Raspberry Pi is a great little computer, but can it substitute a standard office or school desktop? A recent Twitter exchange (in which I extolled the values of the Pi’s power) got me thinking, so I’ve decided to put my theory to the test.

For the next seven days, I’m using only a Raspberry Pi. Every piece of work I write and edit for an entire week will be done on a credit card-sized computer posing as an office PC.

Can the Raspberry Pi Work as a Desktop PC?

I spotted a conversation on Twitter recently about the lack of modern computer equipment in school.

Now, you might be thinking I’m totally wrong. Certainly, the people I engaged with on Twitter did:

It’s a fair argument. The only way to find out if the Pi can replace a PC for office tasks is to try it. What general tasks might you expect from a standard desktop?

  • Internet connectivity
  • Email
  • Web browsing
  • Word processing and spreadsheets
  • Printing
  • Collaboration

All these features are available via the Raspberry Pi’s default operating system, Raspbian Stretch. With the right set up and a focus on productivity, using the little computer for day-to-day work should be achievable.

Admittedly this won’t be perfect for everyone. My daily workload looks something like:

  • Check email
  • Check Slack
  • Editing work
  • Writing
  • Pitch emails
  • Internet research
  • Editing photos and screenshots

There might be some music playing, although I often farm that task out to the Amazon Dot. Based on this, I reckon it’s possible to use a Raspberry Pi as a desktop PC and stay productive.

Right, let’s find out…

Day 1: The Initial Set Up

Getting started meant hooking up a keyboard and mouse, finding a display I could use for a few days, and connecting the Raspberry Pi to the network.

A Raspberry Pi desktop setup

First, however, I would need to choose a device. With 12 Raspberry Pi devices to choose from, I opted for the best advantage with a Raspberry Pi 3 B+.

This computer has a 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU, 1GB of RAM, built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and 4 USB ports. There’s also the microSD card slot for the main storage, although I’m using just 8GB for this. Any additional storage I need will be provided via a USB drive.

Normally I work a five-day week, Monday-Friday, but it made sense to have the Pi set up in advance. As such, I got everything ready on the Sunday evening. Of course, the last thing anyone wants to do is waste time with computer set ups on a Sunday night.

Fortunately, setting up my Raspberry Pi desktop took under 30 minutes.

Day 2: Using a Wireless Mouse

Kicking off the week on Monday morning, I booted up the Pi mostly out of interest to see just how far I could push it. After all, I needed to know just what I could expect. What would slow the computer down? What apps should I avoid loading?

It turned out that getting started was hampered by an issue with my wireless mouse. Each movement and click had a half second delay, enough to be distracting. Fortunately, I was able to fix this with a minor edit to the /boot/cmdline.txt

sudo nano /boot/cmdline.txt

Here, I scrolled to the end of the line and added:

usbhid.mousepoll=0

After saving and exiting (Ctrl + X, then follow the instructions on-screen), I rebooted the Raspberry Pi. Upon restarting, the mouse was lag-free!

This was always going to be the toughest day, but within a few minutes everything seemed to be running fine. My password manager plugin worked fine, saving considerable time, and every browsing and editing task I performed worked seamlessly.

Day 3: Using Multiple Browser Tabs

This would be the make or break day: writing and research. Would the Raspberry Pi be up to multiple browser tabs and word processing?

Microsoft Office Online

Apparently, yes.

Limiting activity to four or five open tabs worked. My main problem was probably syncing data from Dropbox, necessary for me to grab any ongoing work. Fortunately, this went well, giving me access to my files and opening them in Office Online.

While using LibreOffice was a perfectly fine option, I had one eye on losing work if this mad idea didn’t pan out… Meanwhile, WordPress editing in the browser window on the Raspberry Pi was indistinguishable from using my usual laptop.

Day 4: Switching to the Laptop for Today

I’ll be honest, being stuck in my home office all week kind of sucks. So today I ducked out of Raspberry Pi computing and worked off my laptop from my local cafe. The Pi just isn’t portable enough by default to accommodate this, so…

Day 5: All Good Except for Keyboard Woes

Back to work using the Raspberry Pi.

One of the things I’ve noticed so far is that most things are actually fine. However, the keyboard I’m using is a massive pain. It’s just awful to type with. Using the laptop yesterday hasn’t helped adjusting to this keyboard.

The major takeaway here is to choose a decent, usable, comfortable keyboard. This is a good lesson for any computing project really, especially for a desktop computer.

Day 6: Image Editing Works Fine

Image editing on Raspberry Pi with GIMP

It’s the final day of using the Raspberry Pi for work. With a couple of articles to submit, I realized it was time to edit some images. Rather nervously, I began the process of installing GIMP, happily noting its presence in the Raspbian repository. A few minutes later I was cropping and resizing as if using a full desktop.

Don’t get me wrong. GIMP on a Raspberry Pi is unlikely to be suitable for high-end photo processing. For medium resolution photos and graphics, however, it’s fine.

Day 7: What About Playing Games?

Saturday is a day of rest. For me, that means some gaming…

The Raspberry Pi makes a great retro gaming machine. Thanks to wireless HDMI technology, you can even stream games from a PC to a TV using a Raspberry Pi How to Stream Steam Games to Raspberry Pi Without Moonlight How to Stream Steam Games to Raspberry Pi Without Moonlight Want to stream games across your network from your PC to a TV? Here's how to set up a Raspberry Pi running Steam Link. Read More . On this occasion, I opted to install DOSBox on the Raspberry Pi How to Play Classic PC Games on Your Raspberry Pi How to Play Classic PC Games on Your Raspberry Pi An incredible library of classic older games and software is available for Raspberry Pi. Here's how to install old PC games on a Raspberry Pi! Read More and revisit some of my favorite retro gaming experiences.

The Raspberry Pi: It Makes a Productive Desktop PC!

So, after a week, can the Raspberry Pi can act as a substitute desktop PC? Here’s a quick summary of my experience:

  1. Extensions pre-installed in Chromium seemed to conflict with those that auto-installed when I signed in with my Google account. Disabling the extra extensions solved this.
  2. Multiple browser tabs must be kept to a minimum.
  3. The Raspberry Pi isn’t easily portable.
  4. Slack cannot open! I use Slack regularly, but the Raspberry Pi seems unable to cope with the webpage. Additionally, the Linux app version doesn’t seem to work.
  5. Downloading from the cloud can be slow.
  6. The wrong keyboard and/or mouse can prove troublesome.
  7. GIMP runs on the Raspberry Pi, affording quality image editing.

Overall, these are minor issues that wouldn’t trouble most users, and it’s been an acceptable experience. Writing and editing, my stock-in-trade, has been straightforward, as has basic image editing.

Ultimately, this proves my point about the Raspberry Pi’s viability as a desktop PC. Sure, there have been moments of frustration, but standard office users and students probably wouldn’t miss much. The keyboard was also an issue, but on the other hand using my favored mouse has been an advantage.

In short, I believe my point that the Raspberry Pi is an adequate low-budget computer is vindicated. It isn’t perfect, but it serves its purpose, and can prove a valuable stop-gap until more suitable PC equipment can be sourced.

Looking for an affordable or sensible alternative to a desktop PC? If the Raspberry Pi doesn’t suit, why not consider Samsung DeX? Since 2018 Samsung phones and tablets have shipped with a hidden desktop mode that lets you use Android like a PC What Is Samsung DeX? Use It to Turn Your Phone Into a Computer What Is Samsung DeX? Use It to Turn Your Phone Into a Computer Did you know that modern Samsung phones have a desktop mode feature called DeX? Here's what it is and how to give it a try. Read More .

Explore more about: Linux Desktop Environment, Productivity, Raspberry Pi.

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  1. CMcHugh
    October 4, 2019 at 11:39 am

    This doesn't prove the point though. Schools need PC's that can do a lot more than just Internet, Email, Web browsing, Word processing and spreadsheets and Printing. They need to run a whole office suite including databases, they need to have a media suite to run photo and video editing tools, they need to be capable of software development and programming etc etc. Yes the Raspberry Pi is a great tool, and for some modules within the education system it would be useful, but it would not replace desktop PC's.

  2. Mal
    August 26, 2019 at 10:45 am

    Would more RAM help? 1GB seems a bit low. Would 4GB provide an "Asus Chromebox 1" experience (at least...)?

  3. Jason
    July 23, 2019 at 6:50 am

    Any possibility to a new article using a Pi 4? I'm using one now and rather enjoying.

  4. alby
    March 31, 2019 at 11:04 pm

    this is my laptop DIY based on raspberry pi 3b+ with card reader,DVD rom light scribe
    ethernet cable,10.1 inch touch screen.....what else...work fine.....

  5. PS
    March 27, 2019 at 9:23 am

    This is the sort of thing that would work in the poorer African schools where money is really tight but there is a need to teach basic computer skills.

  6. Mark
    March 24, 2019 at 12:00 am

    I guess your conclusion is that the PI is workable.
    I feel I need to point out that #3 isn't fair since your goal was to check if "the Raspberry Pi can act as a substitute desktop PC?" #6 is likewise not really applicable since they aren't directly related to the PI (even though the laggy mouse thing has been part of Raspian forever). And #7 isn't a "minor issue."

    I agree that #4 could be a show-stopper for you and that the other items are potentially painful to deal with on a daily basis.

  7. ManualFocusRing
    March 23, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    I've been down that road. And yes, you can use a RPi as a desktop but it's honestly not that useful due to all the concessions that have to be made. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone that wants a PC experience that "just works".

  8. Juan Fischer
    March 17, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Yes, you can use the Raspberry Pi as a Desktop PC, in fact, I am using it right now. I use LibreOffice. My keyboard and mouse are from HP. There is only one advice; you must keep the tasks at a minimum, every tab in Chromium count as one.

  9. James
    March 17, 2019 at 11:38 am

    I always knew you had a masochistic streak. Counterpoint: you could just hit eBay and buy a far more powerful used laptop for less than the price of *just the pi*, delivered, and install Linux on that instead. More powerful, more compatible, more portable.

  10. Paul C
    March 17, 2019 at 6:52 am

    Just like everything else made by the GNOME devs, GIMP has always been a buggy POS that doesn't run on any machine no matter how much RAM it has. Oh it runs, but not for long, as soon as you import an image it promptly sucks up all available RAM and swaps everything else out, and then as soon as you Undo a few times it promptly crashes. It's been like that since the 90's. You're better off with any version of Photoshop; 6 or 7 must be pretty cheap these days on eBay and probably runs under Wine

    • Reynal C.
      March 17, 2019 at 11:41 am

      I never experienced such a thing, are you sure?

    • Mike Walsh
      March 20, 2019 at 11:22 pm

      WTF are you on about? Huh??

      To be fair, the Windows ports have ALWAYS been buggy as hell. Using the GIMP in its native Linux environment, where it was originally developed & built, is a far smoother, more enjoyable experience. I've put together numerous animations, including embedding dynamic GIFs into static images; it works very, very well indeed.

      As counterpoint to that, I also use Photoshop CS2; the last version of Photoshop to really & properly work under WINE w/out any major issues. I bought this 'back in the day', when I was running XP (before making the switch to Linux, some 5 years ago). It's an old version, to be sure, yet it's still a pretty powerful and capable piece of software.

      I'm probably one of only a small number of people who regularly use the two side by side, so can switch back & forth between them without any real issues. One thing's for sure; they may both be raster graphics editors, but they take (though similar) rather different approaches to the same tasks.

      It's just the way it is.....

  11. Aslam ks
    March 17, 2019 at 2:58 am

    Hi i am a student
    I need to make iot project for school raspberrypi's python must be included
    and any other exernal device
    I am also know about mit app inventer

    Can you know any easy and amazing project

    Please let me know ..........

  12. Pat
    March 16, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks for showing this feasibility. My thought was to velcro the Pi to the back of a touch screen monitor. My work profile is similar to yours, lots of research, writing. Doesn't seem to be a Pi laptop anywhere.
    ..p

  13. Ron Sharp
    March 16, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    In my experience, the first thing you need to do if you want to run a desktop Pi is change the OS partition from the SD card to a USB hard drive. It really makes quite a difference.

  14. Dave
    March 15, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    Since you can run windows 10 on ARM it would be fun to see how well that would go.

    • likefunbutnot
      March 18, 2019 at 4:53 pm

      Windows 10 on ARM isn't desktop Windows 10. It's enough of Windows to run universal apps. You know, the stuff like "News" and "Weather" that pretty much everyone ignores.

      Windows 10 is usable on 1GB RAM and a pretty low-end x86 CPU, just like Linux is on a Pi. You're fine until you try to do more than a couple things at a time. I definitely wouldn't bother with browsing across multiple tabs for example. It's just beyond my personal limits for masochism.

      I'm also not sure why anyone would really want to bother with using a Pi as a desktop aside from Novelty. Just the low, fixed amount of RAM would be enough to keep me away.