Working retro with a Raspberry Pi

Since moving to a co-working space, I've started using a Raspberry Pi 400 as my primary desktop PC at home to avoid transporting my laptop back-and-forth each day. I'm mainly using it for writing blog posts, playing the odd game, and tinkering with some of my own projects.

After a few weeks of this, I've got some thoughts on the pros and cons of using it.

The setup

  • Raspberry Pi 400 board, overclocked to 2.2GHz
  • Logitech G203 optical mouse
  • AOC 1080p monitor, connected via micro HDMI cable
  • 128GB storage via micro SD
  • Twister OS
  • SpaceVim as my IDE
  • Lynx and Chromium for web browsing

I went with Twister OS over Raspberry Pi OS for the simple reason that it has a few retro themes that I like. After a bit of tinkering, I settled on the Windows 95 theme.

The Twister OS desktop, themed to look like Windows 95, except with modern applications

Chromium is fine for browsing most of the time, but it's a resource hog, so sometimes I'll decide to just use Lynx instead - it's kind of refreshing to not be bombarded with images, ads, and Javascript.

For working, there is a build of VS Code available, but I found it to be pretty slow and a resource hog, much like Chromium, so I use the SpaceVim distribution of NeoVim, which has just enough features to allow me to work relatively easily.

Pros

  • It's pretty snappy, especially after overclocking
  • I get a nice pang of nostalgia when I boot it up into the Windows 95 theme
  • Browsing with Lynx is great for filtering out a lot of the fluff
  • The computer itself runs off a 15W USB-C power supply, which is nothing to sniff at with current energy prices

Cons

  • Chromium is pretty slow. I find a lot of pages hanging when scrolling, even with hardware acceleration enabled
  • SpaceVim adds a whole new layer of complexity to Vim, which I've not yet fully got to grips with
  • It's a 1.8GHz ARM CPU, so it's pretty limited - especially coming from the M1 in my Macbook
  • The Pi 400 keyboard isn't great - it's quite cramped and the keys need a surprising amount of force to push
  • A lot of time needed to configure all of the different options

Overall, though, it's not a bad working setup. Once it's setup, it seems to be quite stable. And as a bonus it's an exceptionally cheap system: the Pi 400 is £70, and comes embedded in a keyboard, meaning you only need to buy a mouse and a monitor. I'd recommend it as either a backup desktop, a first computer, or a budget system for someone looking to get into computing.