Raspberry Pi Desktop - x86 - Updated

Raspberry Pi Desktop – x86 – Updated

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has updated lightweight Linux for 32-bit computers.

When the first Raspberry Pi launched a little over a decade ago, the Raspberry Pi Foundation introduced the ARMv6 version of Debian 7. It worked, but there was a problem: while the Pi 1 had a hardware floating point module, the ARMv6 version of Debian It can not be used. FPU support required ARMv7 version.

Fortunately, Mike Thompson and Peter Green rose to the challenge and created Raspbian – which was later officially adopted by the manufacturer and renamed Raspberry Pi OS. It started as a seriously abridged version of Debian, recompiled for ARMv6 plus hardfp Support – Because the rather weak SoC of the early Pi needed all the help they could get.

The Raspberry Pi and its operating system have been huge successes, and both hardware and software are regularly updated. What gets less attention is that for five years, there has also been an OS version for the PC. It’s called Raspberry Pi Desktop. With the exception of two native components, such as Mathematica, they are the same set of customizations applied to the x86-32 version of Debian.

The PC version has now received an update to the same Debian 11 basis as the Pi version. However, unlike the Pi version, it didn’t go to 64-bit: this is still a 32-bit operating system for 32-bit PCs (and older Intel Macs), and it doesn’t use the fancy 3D window manager.

Most mainstream distributions are now 64-bit only. Ubuntu, for example, dropped 32-bit support in 2019. Distributions that still support the build are often more technical distros for more skilled users, such as Debian and Alpine Linux.

The Raspberry Pi Desktop is a welcome exception. It asks almost no questions during installation and has very few options for modification. There is no option for desktop or components, the only thing you can tweak is partitioning the disk. You get the PIXEL desktop environment, a slightly customized version of LXDE and some basic tools: Chromium browser, Claws email, LibreOffice, and some educational and programming tools.

Although the installer isn’t branded – Debian still appears everywhere – the resulting OS is. It is somewhat simpler than the default Debian installation process. It configures a Raspberry Pi graphical startup screen, etc., and once installed, it automatically starts a first-run wizard that installs updates, creates a user account, and finishes the configuration.

We found the installation to be very slow, but to be fair we were trying it on two very old computers: a Thinkpad X61 convertible and a Sony Vaio P, an aging Atom powered subcomputer. With only 2GB of RAM each, both work perfectly. The operating system automatically uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. adapters. On my Vaio, the installer didn’t pick up the Windows Thin PC install that it shared a hard disk with, but the command sudo update-grub This was fixed automatically and works fine.

For a low-end PC for a very non-technical user, Rasperry Pi Desktop is a great little OS. You won’t make your old computer magically fast again, but it works just fine. Programs run slowly from rotating old hard disks, but once they’re reeling in memory, they work quite usefully. It can handle light web browsing, for example, but for emails or basic productivity duties, it should handle fine.

There are still other 32-bit distros out there. Debian itself and Linux Mint Debian Edition 5 support x86-32 – but you’ll need a fairly fast machine, with 3-4 GB of RAM and 3D hardware, for Cinnamon to be responsive. Although ZorinOS 16 is only 64-bit, ZorinOS Lite 15.3 is still available in a 32-bit version, with Xfce.

The Pi OS, with the custom LXDE desktop, uses about 200MB of RAM idle, and will only run at 1GB. A little more than antiX Linux, for example, but more complete and well integrated. Even Alpine uses more than that, and definitely requires a few tech bits to install and configure, while the Pi OS needs nearly none. We tried adding Xfce to our Pi OS installation, only to find that RAM usage nearly doubled.

Since ChromeOS Flex now needs a 64-bit machine and 4GB of RAM, we say the Pi is the best way to revive an old PC for a non-technical user. ®

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