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Tech Forum

November 2016

Desktop Pi?

After the recent “forced” update to Windows 10, I am so frustrated with big computers and big software companies. I’m thinking of downsizing to the smallest, simplest computer I can manage.

Has anyone successfully replaced a desktop PC with a Raspberry Pi?

David Grear
Temple Hills, MD


It is possible to use a Raspberry Pi as a Linux desktop computer, although you’ll find that it’s quite slow for many things and the selection of ready to go software is somewhat limited.

You can however install Linux on your current PC in place of Windows and the result will be a much more powerful and versatile machine that is otherwise very similar to the Raspberry Pi in function. The range of Linux distros can be overwhelming and opinions on which is best are nearly as numerous. If you are relatively new to Linux and want something that just works, I would suggest trying either Mint or Ubuntu as both strive to be beginner friendly and come configured with a look and feel that will be familiar coming from Windows.

If you are feeling a bit more adventurous then Debian is one of my own favorites. If you want to test drive Linux before you make a commitment, look for what is known as a “Live CD” which is a CD or DVD you can boot the PC from without making any changes to the existing operating system.

James Sweet
via email

I attempted to use a Pi for a desktop, and it works, sort of. It was OK for web surfing but had some trouble with videos and other complex pages. Almost everything had some limitation. It worked great as a internet radio streaming device though, and that is where it lives now.

You also have to have a monitor with a HDMI or composite video (with an adapter with Pi 3) input, and by the time you buy all the pieces you need to make it work, you have spent a few bob.

Linux is the solution. Linux Mint KDE is my current favorite. If your current computer will run Win 10, it will have no problem with Linux. I have been basically Windows free for the last 10 years and it has progressively gotten better and better.  You can even dual boot it with Windows if desired to run those few pesky programs that refuse to run in Linux.

Allen Bradley
Greenville, SC

As much as I am liking my new Raspberry Pi 3, I am not ready to ditch my (Windows) computers and go all Pi. The OS seems very skinny on error handling. One ends up in the command line all too quickly. While the included LibreOffice performs OK, I feel a much better choice is Ubuntu if making the switch from Windows. Or consider a refurbished Windows 7 machine, which are plentiful. The Pi does quite fine for web browsing, but when it hiccups things get obtuse very fast.

Jim Lacenski
Bellevue, WA

I know some people who use Pis as their main computer. However, be aware that they are designed to run LINUX only (specifically, the “Raspberry Pi” version supplied), and they are not designed for heavy-duty use (i.e., games, audio/video processing, etc.). If all you need is a basic machine for Open Office and light web use (i.e., check e-mail), then a Pi could be what you want. Do a web search regarding Raspberry Pi accessories (there are many!) and applications to use to further see if a Pi-based machine is for you.

Ken Simmons
Auburn, MI