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.
Read more about the Raspberry Pi
- Raspberry Pi: The smart person's guide
- Raspberry Pi 3: The inside story from the new $35 computer's creator
- Raspberry Pi in 2017: New boards, new OSes and more
- Choosing a Raspberry Pi OS? Here's the definitive list
- New Raspberry Pi board: Compute Module 3 means you'll see Pi in more products
- Raspberry Pi and Docker: Tiny $35 computer gets major new release of HypriotOS (ZDNet)
- Turn any hard drive into networked storage with Raspberry Pi (CNET)
Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.