As long as you keep your expectations in check, it’s perfectly feasible to run the latest Raspberry Pi as a desktop computer.
However, the base Raspberry Pi 3 is a bare bones board, so anyone wanting to set it up as a desktop PC will need to buy their own case and other add-ons.
Now Raspberry Pi manufacturer Premier Farnell has released the Pi Desktop, a case that offers most of what you need to build a Pi-based PC. The case includes a real-time clock, an mSATA solid-state drive interface, heat sink, and a power switch, with support for an optional camera.
The Pi Desktop case costs £39.99 ($49.99) but you’ll still need to buy your own solid-state drive, and Raspberry Pi board. All told this will likely take the price for desktop to more than $100 at the very least, so a little bit more than the $35 base board.
The Pi 3 already provides many of the essentials required in a desktop computer, four USB ports, albeit 2.0 rather than 3.0, and a HDMI port for hooking up the computer to a monitor, as well as built-in support for Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11n Wi-Fi.
The Pi Desktop supports up to a 1TB hard drive and also has the ability to boot directly from the SSD, which should significantly speed up the system compared to the more usual practice of running a Pi off an SD card.
When I tried to use a Raspberry Pi 3 as a work computer last year I found it worked reasonably well, providing you were willing to make a few tweaks. However, since I wrote that article the new Pixel desktop has been released, which makes the Pi a much better desktop PC out of the box. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the switch to Chromium as the default browser, which is far better suited at running Google’s G Suite than the old Epiphany browser, and also features hardware-accelerated video playback.
This is not the first kit for turning the single-board Raspberry Pi into a fully-fledged computer. There is also the pi-top, a kit that makes it relatively simple to build a 13.3-inch laptop around the Raspberry Pi. Although I found some problems with the Raspberry Pi 3-based version, some of my complaints should be addressed by subsequent improvements to the desktop software. However, the pi-top is more expensive than the Pi Desktop, with a price tag of $264.99, including the Pi 3.
The Raspberry Pi has been hugely successful since its 2012 launch as a low-cost board aimed at helping teach kids to code, with more than 12 million Pi boards sold.
The Pi Desktop is available here, and is expected to ship in June.