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Using the Raspberry Pi 4 as a Desktop Computer, Part 2: Should you do it?

March 09, 2020

Using the Raspberry Pi 4 as a Desktop Computer, Part 2: Should you do it?

It has been a week now of using a Pi 4 4GB as our primary computer.  In the previous blog post, we described how to set everything up.  Now we will share what it was like.

Videos

We found that YouTube ran flawlessly in Chromium.  We did not try any video editing, I suspect that would be painfully slow.

Web Browsing

 

As Chromium has gotten better and the Pi's processing power has increased, web browsing on a Pi 4 works amazingly well, especially compared to older Pi's.  We were able to run multiple browser tabs with email, web development tools, our various seller accounts, and various Google products with no problems.  I was surprised that Chromium now lets you authenticate and import all your Google information.

Of course nothing is perfect, and some sites, especially data intensive sites, do load slowly.  That said, they do load and we never encountered a site that did not work properly.

Word processing and spreadsheets

You can use LibreOffice, Google Docs/Sheets, or even Office 365 on a Pi 4.  All work great.  Larger web-based spreadsheets do load slowly.

Does it get too hot?

We initially ran the Pi without a heat sink.  With several websites and applications open, we did see the thermal warning come on a few times.  So we installed a heat sink and that seemed to solve the problem.  If you are really concerned, consider a fan, but it did not seem like we needed it.

Speeding it up and improving reliability

To speed things up a bit, we installed a cheap USB 3.0 SSD.  Tom's Hardware did a nice guide on how to set this up.  Basically you are booting off an SD and then immediately switching to the SSD, since the Pi 4, as of this writing, cannot natively boot off USB.  We noticed that applications opened faster, and you also get a more reliable filesystem that is not prone to the issues of SD cards.

Should I replace my home PC with a Pi 4?

 

 

If you only use your PC for web browsing and email, a Pi 4 might be a good solution for you.  We could see these being an economical way and environmentally friendly to replace machines in offices and schools that are still running Windows XP.

Personally, I will happily go back to my MacBook Pro, but I am going to keep the Pi 4 on my desk as a backup system.  Sometimes I pop by the office without my laptop in tow, and with the Pi 4 on standby, I can always get some work done now.  It is also nice to know that if my MacBook decides to stop working, my Pi 4 is a solid backup.

 




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