Snappy answers to st***d questions
Can you use a Raspberry pi 4 as a desktop computer? Well, I bought one a few weeks ago and, of course, it depends on who you are and what do you use it for. The short answer for the typical LTT fan is no: you won't be playing Fortnite, Mortal Kombat 11 or Quake 4 (but I have seen some people install Quake 3)
Before I continue let me clarify I am a bit of a freak in that, although I have an i5 laptop with an SSD, I usually work on an old desktop that I salvaged with a Core2duo and 3GB of RAM, so I'm used to waiting a few seconds for programs to start. I didn't even notice it until I got the pi.
This thing is fast, specially with Raspbian. So I find myself choosing to use the pi instead of my desktop more and more. So, if you are new to Raspberry pi, let me share what I have learned in these weeks. I'll tell you about the bumps I had along the road and the mistakes I wouldn't make again so, hopefully, you'll be off to a smoother start.
I am a teacher and I bought the pi so I didn't have to carry a laptop if I wanted to show something to students -which is typically a PDF, sometimes a website- I am planning to use it in 2020 in any TV or projector with HDMI a classroom may have. On day one I ran into my first insurmountable problem. My old 32" TV does not talk to the pi. Spoiler alert: it never did.
I have to say I am also a rookie in Linux, so right away I had to struggle with the root access to the main configuration file so I could alter some HDMI parameters. For a moment, only partially, I managed to get an image on the TV but at a very low resolution. After a few restarts, the image was gone again. What seemed to work momentarily was editing /boot/config.txt to uncomment the lines
and change the 4 in the last one for a 9.
You can choose between HDMI and composite but you have to tell the pi, you cannot just plug something into the 3.5 combo jack and expect it to work.
You have to go to the main manu and clic Preferences/Raspberry Pi Configuration and set Composite Video to Enabled.
You cannot use any cable either. I played with the RCA connectors in mine to find the Red one was video but the image quality was so dismal that I immediately dismissed it.
According to the forums the "no HDMI signal" may affect older LCD TVs. The pi worked perfectly on my newer LG TV so I used that one instead. But the pi lost a point here. I was not expecting to have to troubleshoot any HDMI connection.
Because it worked briefly, there is a clear chance for a fix. Because I plan to connect it to many different displays I will have to try and see if it mostly works on them or if it mostly doesn't.
Once the pi was running on the 43" LG, I started wondering what should I install.
I immediately tried the full Raspbian + recommended software install. You download the image from https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/ and "flash" it to a micro SD with Balena Etcher. Download Etcher from https://www.balena.io/etcher/ then you just select the image you downloaded -you don't even need to unzip it, select the micro SD and click "Flash!" Using that method, you can try a few distros. Noobs is even easier. You just copy the files to the card and boot the pi with it. It will guide you through the installation. Pinn is an enhanced Noobs you can download from https://sourceforge.net/projects/pinn/ and gives you more options.
I installed Manjaro ARM and considered Kali Linux before just settling for Raspbian. It's super fast and the 4GB of RAM in the pi are overkill as it typically uses 250 megs of Ram. 600 with Chromium and 1 tab open, a word processor, and an mp3 player. I have had as many tabs and apps as I have wanted and I have never seen Raspbian use 2GB of RAM. So I decided to stick to Raspbian for now. If you want to experiment, all you need to do is get another SD so, why not?
Chromium works ok. It will spike the processor on start up, or as it loads a video but YouTube will settle around 20% of processor load which may bring up the temperature to 55º C. I have read tales of 60º C idle on early pi 4 but that must have been solved because a small fan keeps mine at 45º C, 50º on load. Plays 1080p fine.
I have tried other browsers. Vivaldi just died upon loading YouTube.com. Download the installer from https://vivaldi.com/es/blog/vivaldi-for-raspberry-pi/ and run "sudo dpkg -i [/filepath/filename]" to install. Midori will play YouTube but plateau at 40 to 50% CPU load. "sudo apt install midori" Firefox has the same cpu load problem when playing videos only sometimes it crashes playing even 480p or lower "sudo apt install firefox-esr"
So, in early 2020, the default included Chromium seems to be also the best choice to browse the web and watch videos.
I use PDFs a lot and I would love an editor like Master PDF Editor or PDF Studio but they don't run in ARM processors so you're stuck with "viewers".
The included document viewer is very smooth but limited in the annotation, and highlighting department. Because I need to highlight and annotate my PDFs sometimes I installed Evince. I also installed Filezilla for FTP. Shotwell for light image editing -such as cropping and changing brightness. Evolution to handle email, contacts and calendar and replace the included claws mail. I never imagined to do anything video related on the pi, but one day I needed to cut a small video and downloaded Pitivi. It crashed until I configured it not to use proxies for videos. It wasn't smooth at all but I managed to cut and export. I found Handbrake can help you recode a video. The pi 4 handles h264 well so you should use that codec. Htop comes included for a glance of CPU, RAM and processes but Glances includes info about network and disk use. Install and type "glances" on the terminal. I use Audacity for audio editing and there is and ARM version of Reaper, the DAW, you can download from reaper.fm and install using the "dpkg -i" command.
Evince "sudo apt install evince"
Filezilla "sudo apt install filezilla"
Shotwell "sudo apt install shotwell"
Evolution "sudo apt install evolution"
Handbrake "sudo apt install handbrake"
Pitivi "sudo apt install pitivi"
Glances "sudo apt install glances"
Audacity "sudo apt install audacity"
On the back of giants References
The best series of articles I found on the pi 4 are in this thread. https://www.linuxlinks.com/raspberry-pi-4-chronicling-desktop-experience-week-1/ beware of the recommendations to get better web video in Chromium using only GPU. It is true, you get way better YouTube with an idle CPU but my sound configuration broke so badly I could not manage to fix it and it became impossible to watch regular videos online without using the modified player.
On page 22 of MagPi 85 here https://magpi.raspberrypi.org/issues/85 there is also a very good article of someone using the pi 4 for a week.
Because I am an Linux rookie, I have been watching this 7 hour video on how to master Linux
Command line bonanza Seeing where you are and moving around
Copying, moving, creating and removing
cp [file] ./destination (copy)
mv [file] /dir (moves)
mv dir dir2 (renames)
touch [file] (creates file)
nano [file] (creates/edits)
rm -rf [dir] (deletes dir with files inside)
Super User and ownership
sudo su (changes to #)
su [user] (returns to $)
chmod 644 [file]
chown user:group [file]
chown -R user:group [dir] (recursive)
Searching, installing and uninstalling apps.
atp install [program]
apt remove [program]
apt-cache policy [program] (checks if it is installed)
apt-cache search [keyword] (searches repos)
dpkg -i [local file] (installs local file)
find . -type f -name "*.txt" (case sensitive)
find . -type f -iname "*.txt" (not case sensitive)
find . -size +20M
find . -type f -not -iname "*.php"
Find inside files
grep [keyword] [file]
grep -n [keyword] [file] (line number)
grep -n -i [keyword] ./* (not case sensitive, recursive)
ps aux | grep [program]
pgrep [program] (shows PID)
kill -9 [PID]
service [service] status
sudo service [service] start
sudo service [service] stop
sudo service [service] restart
sudo systemctl start [service]
sudo systemctl stop [service]
systemctl status [service]
Other commands I found elsewhere
ip addr show
hostname -I (shows IP)
uname -a (system info)
uname -r (kernel ver)
uname -m (x86 o ARM)
df -ah (HDD space)
du -sh [dir] (disk use)
mount /dev/sdx /mnt
etc/fstab (mount on boot)
So, Can you use a Raspberry pi 4 as a desktop computer?
Yes. I am doing it right now. I wrote this article, cropped the images and posted everything while listening to music. You can work, and even multitask as long you understand you are using an ARM processor. Form my requirements -take one and a half kilograms off my briefcase- it is perfect. What do you want to use your pi for? Tell me in the comments!