Can Raspberry Pi Be Used As A General Purpose Computer?

Raspberry Pi since the time of its inception has attracted the attention of electronics and hardware enthusiasts alike.

Whether you are looking to get your feet wet in practical electronics or wanting to create an automated server-based project, Raspberry Pi is your best bet.

After the release of Raspberry Pi 4, the enhanced and updated hardware base has attracted many high-end applications and queries of what more can be done with it.

One such query that I see popping up in my mail box now and again is, can Raspberry Pi be used as a general purpose computer?

The answer is, it depends what you regard as a general purpose computer. If your primary task list includes web browsing, word processing, light image editing, watching YouTube videos etc. a Raspberry Pi 4 PC with 4 GB RAM can act as your daily driver.

However, be aware of the fundamental fact that you are not going to get a workstation out of a Raspberry Pi yet.

So, don’t expect a $35 credit-card size PC to replace a high-end full-throttle workstation. Having said that I don’t see why you can’t set it up as a secondary PC on which you can carry out your everyday lightweight tasks.

Now that I have answered your main query about can raspberry pi be used as a general purpose computer, let’s answer some queries you have but don’t know you have them.

Because a question is never a means to an end really, it’s kind of like a key to exploration.

So, let’s explore the topic a bit further and make our learning a bit more comprehensive.


These articles are as tasty as a Raspberry,


Core Differences Between A Raspberry Pi and Desktop Computer

So, in the first exploratory steps let’s look at the main differences between a raspberry pi and a desktop computer.

Now first thing that you need to understand is both of them basically perform the same function, both are compute units.

Because both of them are basically computers, the difference will have a relative aspect about it.

The core difference between them is that of size, processing power and the fact that the small size of the Raspberry Pi makes it very apt and viable for practical electronics projects.

I mean think about it, you wouldn’t want to put your main desktop processing power to create a project like a handy and portable SNES.

So, its really about application.

There are going to be cases where using a Raspberry Pi wouldn’t make any sense or will be just downright inapplicable.

And I think its important to establish to do I regard as a general purpose computer because it will mean different things to different people.

When I say, a general purpose computer I mean any PC which according to you will perform every task a computer is supposed to perform for you.

So, here are the differences between a Raspberry Pi and a general purpose computer.

  • CPU Architecture.

As far as the core operating centre is concerned usually your general purpose computer should have a x86 or x64 architecture. 32-bit CPUs are getting rarer by the day, most CPUs today will either be x64 or AMD64.

The Raspberry Pi uses ARM based CPU which is a Reduced Instruction Set Processor (RISC).

The difference between x86 and ARM architectures is that in ARM the instruction execution is primarily register based with some fetching and saving happening directly from the memory.

In x86 architecture on the other hand fetching and executing can happen directly on memory as well.

Because of the simplicity of architecture, ARM based CPUs tend to take less silicon area and provides copious power saving feature make them ideal processors for something as concise as a Raspberry Pi.

  • Processing Power.

In general, the core processing power of your general purpose computer is going to be more than the processing power of your Raspberry Pi.

But for most cases that you would want to deploy your Raspberry Pi, you will find that its processing power is more than enough.

Just for the sake of comparison, consider the Pentium G6400. It’s a $75 CPU with dual cores and hyperthreading capable of running at a speed of 4 GHz with 4 MB L3 cache and comes with an integrated UHD graphics.

Contrast that with a Raspberry Pi 4 which contains a quad-core 1.5 GHz ARMv8 processor and the entire Raspberry Pi 4 board comes at half the price of the Pentium CPU alone.

So, the important thing here is usability and applicability, the Raspberry Pi is designed to meet specific purposes and you will find that it is equipped for most purposes it is designed for.

  • Presence Of GPIOs

Perhaps the biggest difference between a general purpose computer and a Raspberry Pi, is its capacity to interact with the physical world outside its own domain using General Purpose Input/Outputs or GPIOs.

As a matter of fact, just a few days ago I wrote an article on do Arduino sensors work with Raspberry Pi.

I thoroughly enjoyed that article and it is going to give you a lot of insight into how you can deploy Raspberry Pi to interesting projects. Do check it out.

If you ask an electronics enthusiast as to when will he use a microcontroller setup like Arduino and when will he use a Raspberry Pi;

Although, there are so many situations where one can replace the other, he will probably say microcontrollers for sensing and actuating and Raspberry Pi for a setup that can talk to server and relay communications on a network.

So, say you are looking to create a standalone project that detects engine parameters like temperature, pressure, RPMs etc. and transfers them over on to a network where it can be saved to be accessed later by different teams, something like a Raspberry Pi is your perfect choice.

  • Size & Cost.

Now if you are in the market to build a pc for yourself, at the very least to build something that performs and serves you well for years down the line, you will need $400 or more, and that is excluding the peripherals.

It can be more or less than that depending on how much you are willing to spend and what you need but in general the cost is going to be high.

With Raspberry Pi, you basically get the core hardware required for PC operation embedded in a silicon chip the size of a credit card at small price of $35.

Of course, you cannot expect to hit the same performance levels from both computing systems but if you are clear what your needs are and find that most of them can be taken care of with Raspberry Pi, I am pretty sure its performance will surprise you.

  • Performance.

Talking about performance, if you are indeed trying to use Raspberry Pi as a general purpose computer you ought to know what you will get.

With the upgraded Raspberry Pi 4, you will get better application load times and if choose the 4 GB or 8 GB model, you can run most of your frequently used apps like LibreOffice, Chromium, GIMP simultaneously.

We will discuss the prominent features in this new Raspberry Pi iteration a little later into the post.

But if you are really willing to deploy a Raspberry Pi based PC as your daily work driver get at least the 2 GB version.

With general purpose computers of course, you can basically develop a PC that can stretch the performance to whatever it is that you require.

It comes with a price premium of course but with PC parts, you get what you pay for.

  • Upgrade Capabilities.

Probably the biggest reason why building PCs is so cherished in hardware community is because of its modularity, variety and upgrade capacities.

There are multiple choices for each computer part to choose from depending upon what you want and whatever is new in this ever-evolving market.

You can pick your parts such that they will combine for optimum performance and will leave an option to replace any said part for a better one in the future ensuring that the performance you receive from your PC stands to the test of time.

With a Raspberry Pi, you are pretty much fixed with the core performance and the only thing you can change or upgrade are the peripherals which don’t contribute to the performance as such.

Raspberry Pi 4 New Features

Now that you know the core differences between a Raspberry Pi and a general purpose computer, let me just quickly relay the new features that Raspberry Pi 4 is smacked with.

Looking at the specifications you will have a greater idea regarding just how powerful is Raspberry Pi 4 is and can raspberry pi be used as a general purpose computer.

In order for you to have some gauge I will list out the newer features in comparison to the previously successful and accepted model which is the Raspberry Pi 3 B+.

Once you are versed with what Raspberry pi brings to the table you will be able to analyse whether any and all tasks that you have in mind, can be carried out with Raspberry Pi or not.

If they do, in the subsequent section I will teach you how to hook everything up and create a full fledge general purpose computer out of your Pi.

Before we understand the difference subjectively and from the perspective of can raspberry pi be used as a general purpose computer, have a quick look at the upgraded raspberry Pi specifications.

SpecificationRaspberry Pi 3B+Raspberry Pi 4
CPUBroadcom [email protected] GHzBroadcom [email protected] GHz
RAM1 GB LPDDR2 SDRAM1GB,2GB, 4GB LPDDR4 SDRAM
Bluetooth5.04.2
GPIOstandard 40-pin GPIO headerstandard 40-pin GPIO header
USB 3.0 portsNo2
USB 2.0 ports42
DisplayHDMI (1080p)2 X micro-HDMI ports (support up to 4K).
Codecs-H.265 (4K60), H.264 (1080p60, 1080p30)
  • Processor, Memory and Graphics

The 4th generation iteration of Raspberry Pi packs enhanced features compared to its previous versions.

The presence of a faster 1.5 GHz processor is sure going to attract attention of people who value performance. That isn’t to say that that Raspberry Pi 3’s 1.4 GHz processor was any less.

But it’s always good to see newer iterations keeping up with faster processing demands.

As far as memory is concerned, Raspberry Pi 4 is taking giant leaps. There are 4 different models to choose from which are 1GB, 2GB which should be sufficient for electronics and hobby projects.

And if you are looking to use a Raspberry Pi powered computer as a daily driver, 4GB or 8 GB model is what you need to get.

  • Performance Enhancements

This performance comparison graph by MagPi paints a very clear picture of the performance enhancements of Raspberry Pi when compared with other older models.

Raspberry Pi 4 Performance Benchmarks can raspberry pi be used as a general purpose computer
Raspberry Pi 4 Performance Benchmarks

I think this benchmark graph answers the query can raspberry pi be used as a general purpose computer in a very quantitative way.

It’s pretty clear that as far as deployment for desktop applications is considered, Raspberry Pi 4 is a pure pocket-sized beast.

  • Connectivity

Both the models are rich in ports and modes of connectivity. They have to be actually if you wish to deploy it for a range of functions it promises.

The different headers and ports options available on the board are wireless LAN, Bluetooth, USB, Ethernet and GPIOs.

Among these, the Raspberry Pi 4 has Bluetooth 5.0, two dedicated USB 3.0 ports and an unconstrained Gigabit ethernet port as upgradations over the 3B+.

  • Display

The updates in the display side for Raspberry Pi 4 is garnering the attention of enthusiasts more than anything else.

The new iteration features two HDMI ports which you can use to hook up two monitors simultaneously, hello coders.

The resolution has also taken a bump upwards, from 1080p (full-size HDMI) in 3B+, Raspberry Pi 4 has the capacity to drive 4K video at 60 FPS.

A very enticing feature, if you want to use raspberry pi as a general purpose computer where you can stream high-quality media.

  • Power

Raspberry Pi 4 comes with a new USB-C power connector, whereas the Raspberry Pi 3B+ received power via a micro-USB connector.

What still remains common among the two models is the support for separate Power Over Ethernet (POE) HAT, if your application for the board requires remote networking.

You can power both the boards with the help of a power supplying Ethernet connection.

How To Build A Raspberry Pi General Purpose Computer?

Well, now that you have a comprehensive knowledge on what Raspberry Pi 4 brings to the table, I think its pretty clear that manufacturers want users to use Raspberry Pi for things more than electronics projects.

Now how can you build a general purpose computer out of a Raspberry Pi.

I have already created a number of posts that will help you get started with Raspberry Pi, if you are an absolute beginner.

Open these incredible articles in a new tab and do as directed to get started with your Raspberry Pi.

Still, let me quickly lay out the steps you need to follow to set up a Raspberry Pi 4 as a general purpose computer.

Here are all the accessories that you are going to need.

I am pretty sure you will have most of these accessories available to you already, just ensure you have all of them at your disposal.

Once you have, follow the steps below.

Connecting Everything

First and foremost, lets go ahead and connect everything together.

  1. Firstly, take your USB keyboard and mouse and connect them in one of those big USB A slots on your Raspberry Pi 4. You can connect them in any of the available sockets but prefer connecting them to one of those black connections saving the faster blue ones for other devices like flash drives.
  2. Next connect your HDMI monitor to the Raspberry Pi using the Micro HDMI to HDMI cable. Raspberry Pi 4 comes with two micro-HDMI sockets. You can use any of the two sockets.

Setting Up Raspberry Pi With Raspbian

I have created a detailed post on how to setup a Raspberry Pi, which you can check out here.

However, this is the TL; DR version if you want to catch a train or something.

  1. Format your SD card using the SD card formatter tool that you can download from here. Here is the detailed step by step instruction post, on how to format an SD card for Raspberry Pi.
  2. Download NOOBS (New Out Of Box System), useful if you want a list of operating system to choose from.
  3. Extract the NOOBS zip file that you downloaded and transfer all the contents from the NOOBS folder onto your SD card.
  4. Next, insert the SD card in which you copied all the contents onto the Raspberry Pi.
  5. Now connect the power supply and switch everything on.
  6. In the opening screen when the NOOBS installer option appears choose Raspbian and click install.
  7. Once the installation is complete, your Raspberry Pi will reboot, load the Raspbian OS after which you should see the Raspbian welcome screen.
Raspbian welcome screen can raspberry pi be used as a general purpose computer
Raspbian Welcome Screen

Is Raspberry Pi Worth It?

It actually is. With the new iterations of Raspberry Pi, in addition to deploying it for practical electronics, you can look towards creating a second computer capable of driving your everyday tasks that don’t require heavy resources, all under $35.

When you are getting such a handy piece of tech, capable of performing so many tasks at such a low price, the question really isn’t about worthiness to be honest.

It’s more about what kind of tech do you usually immerse into. Do you like hardware and practical electronics in general?

If yes, then I think getting a Raspberry Pi for yourself will really push your creative limits when you deploy it for uses where a full-fledged workstation may not be needed.

The phrase, don’t use a sword where a needle is required comes to mind.

So, if you love computers, hardware, electronics, Arduino and enjoy working or aspire working on cool projects, yes, Raspberry Pi is most definitely worth and you must have it in your arsenal.

Similarly, if you want to create a secondary PC, that you can deploy in order to carry out tasks that don’t demand a lot of resources, with the ramped-up specifications, I think that’s an excellent idea.

So, in essence, with $35 a piece it really isn’t a question of whether a raspberry Pi unit is worth it or not, the real question is do feel you need it and can you find a use case where its deployment will make sense.

If the answer is yes, hit that buy now button.

FAQs

Right than I think we have answered the question can raspberry pi be used as a general purpose computer in as much comprehension as possible.

Here are a few residual questions that I think anyone who wishes to try and use Raspberry Pi as a general purpose computer will have, somewhere back in his or her mind.

Let me just quickly answer some of these frequently asked questions about Rasberry Pi before I conclude this post.

Can Raspberry Pi Be Used As A Server?

Yes, you can use your Raspberry Pi unit as a web server. You can deploy it as a unit that will be capable of hosting and serving files from cloud. Setting it as a web server is easy and when you are done you can use it to host a website, create your personal cloud or even a plex server.

Out of the many practical deployments you can subject your Pi to, creating a web server is a very common one.

At its very core a server is nothing but a computing machine that has the necessary software that accepts and responds to different requests received through a network.

Here a network can be as small as that containing just two units and as big as the internet.

So, creating a web server using a raspberry Pi can be an excellent way to get your feet wet in networking and server-side development.

Can Raspberry Pi Run Windows 10?

Technically you can, but officially the only version available for Pi is Windows 10 IoT core where although you won’t be able to run Windows as a standalone OS with GUI, you can run segmented visual studio on the system.

However, there have been many out of the box thinkers who have found a workaround and successfully installed full desktop version Windows 10 on Raspberry Pi.

I wouldn’t recommend going this route if you are a beginner for the simple reason that it isn’t required and won’t fulfil any fruitful purpose.

Raspberry Pi is originally designed to work with Linux based OSes like Raspbian, and I recommend sticking with them if you wish to use Raspberry Pi at its optimal capacity.

Can Raspberry Pi Run Multiple Programs At Once?

Yes, Raspberry Pi can run multiple programs at once just like any other desktop computer. However, opening multiple programs will mean using more system resources. However, with the advent of newer versions of Pi featuring 2, 4 and even 8 GBs of RAM, running multiple programs on Pi flawlessly is very much viable and possible.

And if you are indeed looking to use Raspberry pi based system as a general purpose computer I highly recommend having a 4 GB or an 8 GB version.

Enough leeway, to open and work on multiple programs simultaneously.

With that ladies and gentlemen, we are at the end of this comprehensive post on can Raspberry Pi be used as a general purpose computer.

I think I have covered everything that you need to know, yet if you have any other query regarding the discussed topic or otherwise do not shy away and leave your feedback in the comments section below.

Additionally, subscribe to the blog and to my YouTube channel to stay in touch and receive awesome content like this regularly.

Take care of yourselves and I will see you around!

Tada!

Electronics Engineer | Former Deputy Manager | Self-Taught Digital Marketer. Owner & Admin Of A Network Of Blogs and Global E-Commerce Stores

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