Can we use Raspberry Pi 4 for Office Work?

It’s quite understandable if you find it a bit strange to have two HDMI ports on a Raspberry Pi 4. But it does have them for a reason. Although you could dismiss a Raspberry Pi as an SBC that’s at best used for simple DIY builds, it is actually fast enough to operate like a PC. What’s more, the ports on the Pi can be used to run multiple monitors too.

Working in a Laptop

Will Raspberry Pi 4 Replace Desktop Machines?

A $55 computer wouldn’t possibly provide all the features of a $1000 desktop machine, especially if the small computer is almost the size of a credit card. To test its capabilities, we tried building a pc using Raspberry Pi 4 and used it for a week. Surprisingly, it worked flawlessly with just 4 GB of memory. But first, a little bit of background on the current Work from Home Situation.

RAspberry Pi 4 as WFH PC
Raspberry Pi 4 as WFH PC

COVID and Work From Home

COVID-19 deeply affected everything; literally everything. The lockdown was enacted, and social distancing was the social reality. In addition to video calls, many people have begun using conferencing apps to stay in contact with loved ones. Some 3 billion people, excluding healthcare and defense officials, have been required to work from home due to the lockdown. And with the Raspberry Pi for office work use, you won’t be disappointed.

Can Raspberry Pi be used as Work from Home PCs?

There are a couple of things that we need to discuss first to understand the current state of things with Raspberry Pi. Debian Buster has been released, the latest Raspbian image was released last July 10, and much of the issues associated with their initial release have been fixed as well.

How Raspberry Pi 4 Performs?

Earlier models of the Raspberry Pi encountered difficulties when attempting to be used for day-to-day desktop tasks. As long as you’re patient, the system isn’t all that bad. While the longest wait is typically required to start a new application, once it is running, the delays are manageable. I was stunned by the Raspberry Pi 4. It starts new applications quickly and consistently once they are running. This system loads everything from a slow SD card, which means it is significantly slower than my latest laptops. The Raspberry Pi 4 does not annoy or distract me, and once the system is running, it’s hard to tell it apart from other systems I use.

I notice a slight difference in certain instances. When I need to backspace a long way in either LibreOffice or Chromium and I hold down the Backspace key, the display continues to delete characters even after letting go of the key. This was a common issue with older laptops. I don’t consider it a significant issue. For you to get used to it requires only a minor amount of effort.

Optimizing for Memory

The Raspberry Pi’s memory usage is an interesting area for optimization. This is the point at which my testing for this analysis became more interesting. According to multiple utilities, Raspbian appears to consume approximately 450MB of memory during startup. Therefore, the Raspberry Pi for office work is acceptable.

While LibreOffice and GIMP continued to function normally, adding Chromium caused the system to crash completely. Screen updates (such as repositioning a window) are on the verge of bringing the system to a close. When I checked resource usage using the Task Manager; the system appeared to be using 700MB of the available 950MB, so I didn’t believe there should have been a memory shortage. A word of advice; Make certain that “Show memory used by cache as free” option is unchecked in Task Manager.

However, establishing that it was a memory problem was straightforward. When I noticed that the CPU usage was only 60-70 percent, I realized that I could run LibreOffice and GIMP or Chromium on their own and everything would be fine. However, if I attempted all three and the memory usage exceeded 700MB, everything slowed significantly.

What about other versions of Raspberry Pi 4?

Things improved significantly with the 4GB model. Overall performance was satisfactory due to the smooth operation of both input and screen updates. Even though the program and load tests were identical on the 2GB system, the Task Manager estimated that 1.3GB of memory used. This simply means that a subset of processes had buffers or cache memory allocated based on the system’s total memory capacity (likely). The Raspberry Pi clearly enjoyed 4GB of memory, and thus I believe that the CHF 10.- price-difference is worth it.

Finally, I switched to the 8GB version from the other system, ensuring that the operating system configuration and applications remained identical. The performance of the 2GB and 4GB configurations was almost identical. Memory usage and the rate of input and display updates were identical. I tested with several other applications and noticed no performance degradation.

This means, if you intend to use your Raspberry Pi 4 as a desktop computer capable of running a large number of applications- you must purchase the 8GB model. The price difference is small, but the performance gain is large. It’s a very simple choice. You should consider the best Raspberry Pi for office work.

I could make an Omlet on top of Pi – Heating Issue

Temperature Rise in Raspberry Pi
Temperature Rise in Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi hardware issues revolve around CPU temperature and potential overheating. This has been an issue for the first Raspberry Pi Model A, and has only worsened with each new model and faster CPU speed. The news is not good, as the tests show, and the Raspberry Pi 4 will only make things worse. Surprising news: This issue is at least in part dependent on the amount of memory available on the Raspberry Pi; as I will explain next.

To begin, let me explain how I arrived at the CPU temperature and possible overheating. “vcgencmd”, a command-line utility built into Raspbian, offers detailed statistics on the CPU and GPU. The command “vcgencmd measure temp”  should be done in about 5-10 sec. Besides this, if the Processor heat increases above a certain threshold, a thermometer icon will show above the corner of a Raspbian pc. Whenever a central processing unit reaches around 80-85°C, the sign shifts to a filled thermometer, then the OS begins routing the CPU’s rate in order to cool it. When I first became aware of the CPU temperature, I was using the 8 GB model of the Raspberry Pi for the work office and was working on some workshop documentation using LibreOffice and GIMP. I tried to touch the case’s top and noticed it was extremely warm; when I checked it with vcgencmd, the temperature was right around 80 degrees. When looked at seriously, it is apparent that there is very little room for airflow to cool the CPU through that case. After removing the case’s top, the temperature dropped sharply until it was safely below 80 degrees. I can, however, go up to 80 by scrolling text in LibreOffice Writer.

In the 4 GB version, the opening around the housing and the seal were widened, allowing for better airflow. As predicted, the standby heat is around two points lesser due to the lesser ram and vented case.

However, some software made the temp go up. Removing the lid made a noticeable difference again, indicating that the gap was not a “magic solution” in the first place.

The last attempt was to use the 2 GB Pi. Though it’s certainly better than Rpi 3, people wouldn’t think it to be the best Raspberry Pi for office work. It did not rise significantly above 80 degrees.

I discovered that I need more research on this heating problem. At least three ways to deal with this problem I can imagine: heat sinks, better-ventilated cases, or fans to assist in cooling. Thus, with the orders I’ve placed, I expect to have everything I ordered by the end of the week.

Can you use Raspberry Pi 4 as a Desktop PC? Here is what I learned while Working from Home during this COVID 19 lock down period.

0 and 1 – I wish it had a Switch

Another source of contention for a large number of Raspberry Pi users is the lack of an on/off switch. This has been addressed and, at the very end, dismissed. It was insignificant for Raspberry Pi’s original target market (education). However, if you intend to use the Pi 4 as a desktop system, this may be significant.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, plugging in a power cord or power supply will power on a Raspberry Pi. You shut down and power off Raspbian (via the desktop drop-down menu or by typing “shutdown -h now”), and the final thing it does is blink the disk access LED ten times to indicate that it is safe to remove power. Then, you unplug the power cord or switch off the power supply.

However, the problem is that if the power is off before Raspbian has completely shut down, the file system on the SD card can become corrupted. Despite the fact that this has never happened to me, I have heard about it from a variety of people who use Raspberry Pi for office work.

And there is this new OS

The Raspbian GNU/Linux OS has had a reasonably good development journey so far under Simon Lang. It was his planned efforts that started around half a decade ago that helped in the slow but definite improvements for the Raspberry Pi desktop.

Anyone who’ve ever tried Raspberry Pi may have encountered issues at some point or another, but the overall quality of the the Raspbian GNU/Linux is greater than ever, making the Raspbian desktop really easy for users to build and use.

If you didn’t know, Raspbian comes in three different versions:

  1. Lite – This is the text-only version of Raspbian. With the least functionality, it’s not the best option for desktop users.
  2. With Desktop – this upgraded version of Raspbian uses a Pixel graphical desktop along with a few other minimal applications.
  3. Recommended Software – This is the version of Raspbian where you get the Pixel graphical desktop and plenty of other features and applications that are commonly used on the Raspberry Pi.

It would be better to start from the ‘With Desktop’ mode at first rather than going straight for the ‘Recommended Software’. This is because the packages included in the RS version are usually used by educational and hobby users. After installing the ‘With Desktop’ version, you can always add necessary utilities or applications to the base system later on.

Thats Not IT!

Even if the software and performance of the Raspberry Pi 4 are sufficient for your needs, you should consider the peripherals before committing to using the device as a desktop computer. Some issues may arise as you select your hardware configuration and peripherals (such as keyboard and mouse).  

If you can’t get the hardware setup you would like to have, you’re not going to use it regardless of whether the performance is satisfactory. For this post, I’m assuming that you’re interested in setting up a “serious” desktop system, which means that you’re willing to spend at least enough money to get a proper hardware setup.

The RPi 4 Model B is available in three memory configurations: 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB. If you intend to use it as a desktop computer, you must purchase the 4GB or 8GB, model.  The difference in price is not much compared to the total cost of the setup, and the one way to doom a system to insufficient performance is to configure it with insufficient memory. However, based on the tests I’ve conducted thus far on the temperature issue, I’m not sure if the 8GB model is more prone to overheating than the 4GB. As I previously stated, I intend to conduct additional testing to ascertain this.

You’ll want to keep it protected from dust, dirt, coffee, and flying paper clips, among other things. The official Raspberry Pi Case is the most visually appealing case I’ve seen so far, at least when it comes to the RPi 4 board alone. This may change as new HATs and other add-ons for the Raspberry Pi 4 become available in the future. Something that has caught my eye, in particular, is the “mini-PC” cases that are now available for the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3. Once again, the temperature issue, the amount of ventilation, and possibly the ability to add a cooling fan to or inside a case may all play a role in this decision.

Whats new with the Power Supply?

Additionally, you’ll also need a power supply to complete your setup. Regardless of the issues, they reported with the Pi 4 and some “smart” USB-C power supplies and cables, I recommend purchasing the official 15 Watt USB-C power supply. This means you won’t have to be concerned about compatibility or whether it will provide enough power.

Other USB Peripherals

More options appear in the section where you will need a keyboard and mouse. It’s very simple: buy the Raspberry Pi’s official keyboard and mouse. However, the Pi 4 has four USB ports, so each corded device requires one of those USB ports. For me, there’s one more issue here: there is no Swiss-keyboard Raspberry Pi keyboard. What they have instead is a German keyboard sign. 

If you choose this way, be sure to connect them into the ports marked with a black spacer (the two on the left), as those are USB 2 ports. You just do not want to use up the USB 3 ports with a keyboard and mouse.

Using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse is your best option. It is not ideal if you limit yourself to one USB port. A better option is to use a keyboard/mouse combination with a single receiver. Either a “desktop set” that includes a matched receiver or something like the Logitech Unifying receiver, which allows you to pair multiple peripherals with the same receiver. You need to ensure that the receiver is in USB 2 port.

Keyboard and Mouse for Raspberry Pi 4
Keyboard and Mouse

Wireless Alternatives

The other option is to use Bluetooth devices, as the Pi 4 comes capable with built-in Bluetooth support. However, you must act responsibly in this case; as my encounter has been that some of the latest Bluetooth 4.x mice will not-pair with the Raspberry Pi 4. (or 3). I’ve attempted to pair a Logitech M720, MX Anywhere 2S, MX Vertical and MX Ergo trackball with a Raspberry Pi. None of them work. On the other hand, all of the older mice and keyboards I tested, including the Logitech M590 mouse and K380 keyboard, as well as a Kensington Wireless Trackball, paired flawlessly.

Finally, it will be required to use at least one display.  Even though the Raspberry Pi 4 has two micro-HDMI ports, using two displays is completely optional because using just one is just as functional. The critical point to remember is that the Pi 4’s connections are micro-HDMI, not full/mini-HDMI, as the Pi zeroes are. If you do not already own a micro-to-full-size HDMI cable, you should consider purchasing one. While there are numerous adapter plugs and cables readily available, their use may cause reliability issues and lead to a shortage of working connections. I’ve tested up to two 1920×1080 displays with no issues.

Can Raspberry Pi 4 replace Desktop PCs?

What is the conclusion here? Is the Raspberry Pi 4 a suitable option for a desktop computer? Yes, the performance is sufficient, the configuration is flexible, and the price is certainly reasonable. Indeed, I used one throughout the writing of this post, including; text editing, Internet searches, image editing, and, of course, the various peripheral and connectivity tests. And the 2GB and 4GB models performed admirably. I would highly recommend using 2/4GB of Raspberry Pi for office work. However, I would avoid the 1GB model because it is far too easy to run out of memory.

A Desktop PC
A Desktop PC

We must know that working from home is not a new concept and has existed for some time. It had already emerged even before to the pandemic. Numerous businesses and organizations had already implemented WFH prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, allowing their employees greater flexibility. WFH is not out of the ordinary. Almost everything can be done and managed from home in certain industries, including meetings, daily tasks, scrums, and follow-ups.

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