For Christmas I got a Raspberry Pi 4. I had to order a thermal cooling case as well as a USB-C power lead as well as a microHDMI to HDMI adapter (first one didn’t work, second one did luckily). I got the 4GB version so expect some great performance.
I installed NOOBS on the microSD card. NOOBS is 32-bit and installs 32-bit OSes (sadly) but Raspbian runs great on the Pi 4 despite it having a 64-bit CPU and 4GB RAM, and you’d expect to be performance limited due to 32-bit restrictions. But it runs fine. But when you have a 64-bit CPU and 4GB RAM you want a 64-bit OS that utilises this. So I choose Debian 64-bit, for which there are several forks out there, but I decided to manually build my own image with qemu-user-static, debootstrap, and loopback devices and images. It was a long process but worked. I was able to install 64-bit Debian Buster onto my Pi 4.
I chose a desktop environment to install: XFCE. I wanted to remain light on the Pi’s resources. However, XFCE just didn’t look attractive for me. I decided to flash a fresh image and choose KDE Plasma instead.
KDE Plasma ran incredibly laggy, to which I later found out I had to enable the graphics acceleration overlay by adding dtoverlay=vc4-fkms-v3d to config.txt. After that KDE Plasma ran smooth.
I installed some stuff (some games, coding utilities, and graphics programs) and they all ran smoothly. Even 3D games like GLtron ran wonderfully. Graphics programs were quick to load, and coding on the Pi 4 felt like an amazing and responsive experience.
Your experience may depend on your variant. The Pi 4 has a 1GB RAM variant costing £35, but even an extra £10 for the 2GB variant at £45 would be worth it as 1GB just doesn’t hold up anymore. The 4GB version is £55, which is worth the money to get the extra performance and multitasking benefits.
It’s recommended to use a case with the Pi 4, as when I tried it without it became very hot and slow. A case with a fan is recommended, I bought a GeeekPi transparent case which looks nice and cools the Pi 4 right down.
Can it replace your desktop PC? Yes, but also not fully. There are lots of games that are still too intensive even for the new BCM2711 SoC to handle. Not to mention it’s still ARM, meaning not all programs can run that require x86 or x64. ARM’s a good thing though, however, as it keeps the price down whilst keeping good performance. If the Raspberry Pi Foundation wanted x86 or x64, they’d have to put in something cheap like a Celeron or Atom which just isn’t as good as the ARM CPUs provided by Broadcom.
However, for some open source Linux games, which can still be incredibly fun, as well as word processing, web browsing, and media editing, the Pi 4 is up to the task of replacing that old Windows 7 desktop you are still clinging onto (and I’m warning you right now that W7 support ends on 14th January so you may want to look at upgrading).
The Raspberry Pi has came far from that £30 SBC that ran slowly back in 2012 made to inspire young people coding to a capable desktop replacement. It’s original purpose still stands however, and the Pi 4 is an amazing device to use for coding purposes.