The Raspberry Pi is a great little computer, but can it replace the standard office or school desktop? A recent Twitter exchange (in which I lauded Pi’s power values) got me thinking, so I decided to test my theory.
For the next seven days, I only use the Raspberry Pi. All the work I write and edit throughout the week will be done on a credit card sized computer posing as an office computer.
Can a Raspberry Pi work like a desktop PC?
Recently I noticed on Twitter a conversation about the lack of modern computer equipment in the school.
Now you may think that I am completely wrong. Of course, the people I interacted with on Twitter were doing:
This is a fair argument. The only way to know if the Pi can replace a PC for office tasks is to try it. What general tasks can you expect from a standard desktop?
- Internet connection
- Email address
- Web browsing
- Word and spreadsheet processing
All of these features are available through the standard Raspberry Pi Raspbian Stretch operating system. With the right setup and a focus on performance, using a small computer for everyday work should be achievable.
Admittedly it won’t be ideal for everyone. My daily workload looks something like this:
- Check email
- Check the slack
- Editing a Job
- Internet research
- Editing photos and screenshots
There may be some music playing, although I often submit this challenge to Amazon Dot. Based on this, I believe that it is possible to use the Raspberry Pi as a desktop PC and still be productive.
Okay, let’s find out…
Day 1: Initial setup
The first step was to plug in a keyboard and mouse, find a display that I could use for a few days, and plug my Raspberry Pi into the network.
However, I will need to select a device first. With 12 Raspberry Pi devices to choose from, I chose the best edge with the Raspberry Pi 3 B+.
This computer has a 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor, 1GB of RAM, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and 4 USB ports. There’s also a microSD card slot for main storage, though I only use 8GB for that. Any additional storage I need will be provided via the USB stick.
I usually work with a five-day week, Monday through Friday, but it makes sense to set up the Pi beforehand. So I prepared everything on Sunday evening. Of course, the last thing anyone wants to do is spend time setting up their computer on a Sunday night.
Luckily, setting up the Raspberry Pi desktop took less than 30 minutes.
Day 2: Using a wireless mouse
Starting the week on Monday morning, I booted up the Pi, mostly out of curiosity to see how far I could push it. After all, I needed to know what to expect. What will slow down your computer? What apps should you avoid downloading?
It turned out that getting started was hampered by a problem with my wireless mouse. Every movement and click had a delay of half a second, enough to be distracting. Luckily I was able to fix this with a small change to /boot/cmdline.txt
sudo nano /boot/cmdline.txt
Here I scrolled to the end of the line and added:
After saving and exiting ( Ctrl + X then follow the instructions on the screen) I rebooted the Raspberry Pi. After restarting the mouse was without delay!
It was always the hardest day, but after a few minutes everything seemed to be working fine. My password manager plugin worked fine, saving me considerable time, and all the viewing and editing tasks I did ran without issue.
Day 3: Using multiple browser tabs
It would be a work day or a break: writing and research. Will the Raspberry Pi have multiple browser tabs and word processing?
Restricting activity to four or five open tabs worked. My main problem was probably syncing data from Dropbox so that I could take on any current job. Luckily, everything went well, giving me access to my files and opening them in Office Online.
While using LibreOffice was ideal, I could lose my job if this crazy idea didn’t pan out… Meanwhile, editing WordPress in a browser window on a Raspberry Pi was indistinguishable from using my regular laptop.
Day 4: switch to a laptop for today
I’ll be honest, being stuck in my home office all week sucks. So today I ditched Raspberry Pi computing and worked on my laptop at a local coffee shop. By default, the Pi isn’t portable enough to accommodate this, so…
Day 5: All is well except keyboard issues
Back to work using Raspberry Pi.
One of the things I’ve noticed so far is that most things are actually good. However, the keyboard I use is a huge pain. It’s just awful typing. Using a laptop yesterday didn’t help adjust to this keyboard.
The main thing here is to choose a decent, comfortable and comfortable keyboard. This is a good lesson for any computer project, especially for a desktop computer.
Day 6: Image editing works great
This is the last 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 GIMP installation process, gleefully noting its presence in the Raspbian repository. After a few minutes, I cropped and resized as if using a full desktop.
Do not get me wrong. GIMP on Raspberry Pi is hardly suitable for high-end photo editing. However, for medium-resolution photos and graphics, this is fine.
Day 7: What about games?
Saturday is a day of rest. For me, this means that some games…