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Best Raspberry Pi OS – for retro gaming, media centers, and overall

Which operating system is best for the Raspberry Pi?
Last Updated on February 6, 2024
The ultimate Raspberry Pi operating system experience - the best Raspberry Pi OS.
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The lightweight Raspberry Pi device revolutionized the accessibility of the computer, but what’s the best Raspberry Pi OS? In the ever-evolving world of single-board computers, choosing the Best Raspberry Pi OS is pivotal for maximizing performance and utility. This article serves as a comprehensive guide, written to spotlight three operating systems that impeccably align with the Raspberry Pi 5’s hardware capabilities. This ensures that enthusiasts can harness the full potential of this remarkable microcomputer for various and innovative applications. Let’s dive in to see which of these operating systems for the Raspberry Pi could be the right fit for your build!

How we picked the best Raspberry Pi OS

Selecting the best OS entails a methodical analysis where multiple facets are meticulously assessed. Primarily, our focus gravitates towards public benchmarks and user testimonials, which provide a prism through which real-world performance and usability are unraveled. However, at PC Guide we’re no strangers to the Rasberry Pi, and we were able to pull on our in-depth topic knowledge to inform our choices of operating systems to put on this list. In our selection matrix, adaptability and versatility also hold pivotal roles. We gravitate towards operating systems that embody a spectrum of applications, from programming and web browsing to gaming and media playback.

To ensure that our list is comprehensive and accurate, we conducted extensive research into the latest Raspberry Pi OS systems available. After careful consideration of all aspects of each system’s design and purposes, we were able to narrow down our list to three top choices.

Editor’s Choice – Raspberry Pi OS

Highly optimized for Raspberry PiMay seem basic to advanced users
Active community supportLimited to Debian-based applications
Comprehensive documentation availableLimited by the hardware of the Rasberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi OS is the official operating system for the Raspberry Pi 5, formerly known as Raspbian. It’s a Debian-based OS that is optimized to run on Raspberry Pi’s hardware. Featuring a user-friendly interface and solid stability, the Raspberry Pi OS comes pre-installed with a set of essential applications and useful developer tools.

For someone venturing into the world of Raspberry Pi, this OS acts as a great starting point. It’s not just the official support that makes it stand out, but also its community of users and developers who are active and willing to help. It makes various projects, be it in programming, IoT, or simple computing, quite approachable.

The Raspberry Pi OS is best suited for individuals who are starting their journey with the Raspberry Pi. Its seamless integration with the hardware, a wide array of built-in tools and applications, and a supportive community make it the best overall choice.

Best for Retro Gaming – Retropie

Wide supportSetup and configuration can be complex
Highly customizable and configurableRequires sourcing and managing
Vibrant and active communityNot focused on modern gaming

Retropie is an operating system that transforms your Raspberry Pi 5 into a powerful retro gaming console. It supports a wide array of gaming consoles, arcade systems, and even some home computers. The OS is highly configurable and allows for the addition of new systems, tweaking settings, and customization of the gaming experience.

For gaming enthusiasts with a penchant for nostalgia, Retropie is a treasure. It allows users to relive the golden age of gaming, bringing classics from consoles like NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and many more back to life. This retro gaming emulation is ideal for gaming enthusiasts who want to use their Raspberry Pi 5 to relive classic games from various consoles and arcade systems. Its flexibility, wide compatibility, and active community make it a top choice for retro gaming. In terms of how much storage you might need, an 8 GB micro SD will get you a basic install of a few games, whereas a larger storage option, such as 128 GB or 256 GB will let you get your hands on every game under the sun. Without a doubt, investing in the best keyboard for Raspberry Pi will further enhance your experience of using this unique and charming OS.

Best for Media Center – OSMC

Sleek, user-friendly interfacePrimarily focused on media playback
Wide range of supported media formatsMight lack advanced features
Extensive customization optionsMight experience buffering issues

OSMC (Open Source Media Center) is a free and open-source media player, based on Debian and using Kodi as a front-end. Designed for the Raspberry Pi 5, OSMC is a Linux distribution that’s easy to install and use. It offers a simple, elegant, and user-friendly interface for playing your favorite music, movies, and TV shows.

OSMC turns your Raspberry Pi 5 into a powerful, versatile media center. Its simplicity and sleek interface make it easy for anyone to play and manage their media collection. The support for various plugins and add-ons means that users can tailor their media center’s functionality to match their needs, adding streaming services, weather information, and more.

On the whole, the OSMC is best suited for users looking to convert their Raspberry Pi 5 into a dedicated media center. Its emphasis on simplicity, customization, and a wide range of supported media formats make it the go-to option for a home media setup. Furthermore, downloads are an easy process. Open the OSMC website on your internet web browser of choice, select your current operating system, whether that be Windows, MacOS, or Linux AppImage, and get your process started.

Features and considerations

When scrutinizing various operating systems for the Raspberry Pi, including the latest Raspberry Pi 5, numerous features and considerations leap to the forefront. The kernel of any potent OS lies in its compatibility and ability to extract the maximum performance from the Raspberry Pi hardware, including its clock speed and RAM.

Besides compatibility, user-friendliness forms a cornerstone in the evaluation process. An OS with an intuitive user interface and robust community support tends to lower the entry barriers for beginners while maintaining a realm of exploration for seasoned users. Alongside this, an easy installation process is a must. However, given that all Raspberry Pi models from the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (2016) and later ship with on-board Wi-Fi, you should be able to get your desktop environment going with ease.

Finally, it’s worth considering that while these OS’s can be downloaded directly onto your Rapsberry Pi computer, they can alternatively be installed on an external SSD drive, to improve the boot and daily usage speed.

Final thoughts

While Rasberry Pi’s incompatibility with Microsoft OS may seem like a drawback, it actually allows users to discover a broad range of alternative operating systems they might not have previously turned to. Topping our list is the Raspberry Pi OS, our Editor’s Choice, a venerable option that shines with its user-friendliness and robust feature set, making it an exemplary choice for beginners, seasoned users, and supporters of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Retropie emerged as a haven for retro gaming enthusiasts, and OSMC transformed the Raspberry Pi 5 into a potent media center. The recently released Raspberry Pi 5 emerged as a powerhouse of versatility, bringing advancements that amplify its adaptability in a multitude of domains, from hobbyist projects and educational pursuits to professional and industrial deployments. Therefore, it’s worth checking out some different operating systems to make the most out of this unique yet powerful computer.

Marla writes across a wide range of topics across PC Guide, including AI, PC hardware, and news on the latest tech releases. She's a passionate writer that's interested in the future of technology.