Use a Raspberry Pi 4 as a full time computer

The Hardware

First step to building a Raspberry Pi 4 desktop computer that you can use as a full time PC. Hardware list:

  1. Raspberry Pi 4
  2. Pi 4 case and power supply
  3. 2.5″ Hard Drive, preferably SSD
  4. Micro SD card, minimum 4GB
  5. Keyboard and mouse, TV/computer monitor

Step 1. Buy a Raspberry Pi 4 with 4GB minimum, 8GB models are out there. Simple right? They are sold in various places, including eBay, Amazon, Microcenter, etc.
I have no affiliation with any seller and don’t care where you buy it.

Step 2. Get a nice case. There are many out there and I have purchased (wasted money!) on many. This is the one I’m using now from Geeekpi and I love it because it spreads out the ports, puts them in the back like a real desktop and has full size HDMI ports.

Step 3. Next, you will need a hard drive case, a 2.5″ hard drive, and a cable to connect the drive. I recommend this case, which also includes the USB C cable:

For the power supply, I recommend the Argon ONE, which almost never leaves the Pi with too low of a voltage. The official Pi 4 power supply is also great and is around the same price.

Any 2.5″ hard drive will work but your mileage will be greater with a 7200 RPM hard drive or an SSD drive by Samsung, Segate or Western Digital.

Step 4. You will also need a micro SD card for the initial setup. Because initially space isn’t a big deal, you only need a 4GB card, so anything you have laying around will probably work but if you are going to repurose the card later, or use for a backup Pi system (recommended), a nice 128GB micro SD card by Sandisk would be perfect.

Step 5. Also needed is something obvious that you likely also have lying around – a keyboard and mouse and a monitor to display your system.

The Operating System

You will need to flash the Raspberry Pi OS on your SD card. To do this, download Balena Etcher, which is available for Windows, Mac OSX and Ubuntu.

You will also need to download the Raspberry Pi OS image here. Download the 32-Bit image with Desktop (not the Lite version).

Here’s a tutorial on flashing the Pi OS image with Etcher.

Pi 4 Firmware update that allows USB booting

Boot up your new Pi OS image using the SD card in your Pi 4 and make sure your USB drive (hard drive, flash drive, or SSD) is connected. Follow the new user prompts. Open a terminal and type the following commands (sudo password is usually “raspberry”):

sudo apt update
sudo apt full-upgrade
Sudo nano /etc/default/rpi-eeprom-update

Change the FIRMWARE_RELEASE_STATUS value from “critical” to “stable.”

sudo rpi-eeprom-update -d -a

Verify firmware date. Open a terminal and type:

vcgencmd bootloader_version

Should output a firmware with a recent date.

Power down your Pi 4 because it’s now ready to boot Raspberry Pi OS from a USB drive!

Go back to your PC.
Use PC/Mac to flash Raspberry Pi OS image to USB drive using the Balena Etcher guide.

Now, mount the SD card you setup to your PC.
Copy all .dat and .elf from existing Pi OS SD install’s boot directory to the boot directory of new USB drive.

Leave the SD card out of your Pi 4 and attach the new USB drive with the new Raspberry Pi OS and boot it. Your Raspberry Pi 4 should now be equipped with a bootable USB drive with the advantages of faster speeds, higher reliability and more storage!

Useful Programs

Now that you have a working system, it’s time to install some useful programs. Open up your terminal and type in the following commands for the programs you may find useful:

Before you install anything, update your system in the terminal.

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

obconf (for multiple desktops)

sudo apt install obconf

>>>Right-click taskbar, Add/Remove Panel Items, Add, “Desktop Number / Workspace Name”

Rhythmbox (Swiss Army knife of an audio program)

sudo apt install rhythmbox

VLC (another great audio program)

sudo apt install -y vlc

abcde (CLI/Terminal CD ripper)

sudo apt-get install abcde lame eject id3 id3v2 eyed3 normalize-audio vorbisgain mkcue mp3gain libdata-dump-perl flac

One single FLAC file:
abcde -1 -o flac -a default,cue

Pulse audio (manage sound-cards)

sudo apt install pulseaudio
sudo apt install pavucontrol

7zip (7z compression)

sudo apt-get install p7zip

Sound Juicer (CD ripper)

sudo apt install sound-juicer

Filezilla (FTP/SFTP program)

sudo apt install filezilla

Transmission (Bit Torrent program)

sudo apt install transmission

Private Internet Access (PIA) (Commercial VPN)


sudo apt-get install openvpn
cd /etc/openvpn
sudo apt-get install unzip
sudo unzip

Find the VPN server you wish to connect to.
Look for a .opvn file that matches the desired location:
ls -l

Connect to the server. You will need to enter in your username and password. Example:
sudo openvpn US\ Chicago.ovpn

Optional: Save your password in a text file so you don't need to enter credentials each time
sudo pico /etc/openvpn/pass.txt

In the text file, on the first line, type your username.
Second line, your password. ^X (save)

Now, type "auth-user-pass pass.txt" at the bottom of the desired VPN server file. Example:
sudo pico US\ Chicago.ovpn
^X (save)

Next time you want to connect:
cd /etc/openvpn
sudo openvpn US\ Chicago.ovpn

Meld (compare two files or directories)

sudo apt install meld

gparted (Disk utility)

sudo apt install gparted

Audacity (record audio)

sudo apt install audacity

Brasero (CD writer)

sudo apt install brasero

kid3 (mp3/FLAC tagger)

sudo apt install kid3

lynx (CLI/Terminal web browser)

sudo apt install lynx

Midnight Commander (CLI/Terminal file manager)

sudo apt install mc

fre:ac (snap program/CD burner, mp3 or FLAC file converter)

sudo apt install snapd
sudo snap install freac

Telegram (snap program/social media)

sudo snap install telegram-desktop

Traverso DAW

sudo apt-get install traverso

Simple Screen Recorder (useful for making youtube videos!)

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install simplescreenrecorder

Kdenlive video editor (video editor)

sudo apt-get install kdenlive

Retropie (all the retro game systems on your pi!)

sudo apt-get install git lsb-release
git clone --depth=1
cd RetroPie-Setup
chmod +x

Once the system is installed, you will need to run the script and install the base programs.

sudo ./

Then put your roms and bios files in the ~/Retropie directory. I’m assuming you know what you are doing here. If not, there’s plenty of help you out there on youtube and on the web.

Run the program in a terminal:


From there you will need to configure a joystick. After that, after a little trial and error, you will be up and running. 🙂

Tips and Tricks

Format a hard drive/thumb drive/sd card as FAT32:

Install the Raspberry Pi Imager:
sudo apt install rpi-imager

Run the program from the menu: /Accessories/Imagre
From the 'Operating System' tab, choose Erase, Format card as FAT32
From the SD Card tab, choose the right card (!)
Select 'Write' and let the magic begin.

*This is also an excellent tool to create a variety of bootable Raspberry Pi OS installs on your media
Measure CPU Temperature:
cat /sys/class/thermal/thermal_zone0/temp
echo "$((cpu/1000)) c"

Measure GPU Temperature:

sudo /opt/vc/bin/vcgencmd measure_temp

Write a program to measure temperatures:


Program Contents:

# Script:
# Purpose: Display the ARM CPU and GPU temperature of Raspberry Pi 2/3
# Author: Vivek Gite <> under GPL v2.x+
# Script revised by Brian Shunk
# -------------------------------------------------------
echo "Temperature of GPU and CPU"
echo "$(date) @ $(hostname)"
echo "-------------------------------------------"
echo "GPU => $(/opt/vc/bin/vcgencmd measure_temp)"
echo "CPU => $((cpu/1000))'C"
echo "Complete. Press return to exit"
read dummy

Turn off on-board wifi (for phone data sharing)
sudo ifconfig wlan0 down
Bluetooth issues
sudo apt-get install bluez*
sudo systemctl enable bluetooth
sudo systemctl start bluetooth
sudo service bluetooth restart && sudo service bluez restart
pulseaudio --start
Add a user to list of sudoers
sudo adduser <username>
usermod -aG sudo <username>
Add a program to the menu:

Preferences/Main Menu Editor/New Item

Add EXFat Support
sudo apt-get install exfat-fuse
sudo apt-get install exfat-utils
CAD on the Raspberry Pi 4
Install FreeCAD

Close all programs, open your terminal and type:

sudo apt install cmake build-essential libtool lsb-release swig libboost-dev libboost-date-time-dev libboost-filesystem-dev libboost-graph-dev libboost-iostreams-dev libboost-program-options-dev libboost-python-dev libboost-regex-dev libboost-serialization-dev libboost-signals-dev libboost-thread-dev libcoin-dev libeigen3-dev libgts-bin libgts-dev libkdtree++-dev libmedc-dev libopencv-dev libproj-dev libvtk6-dev libx11-dev libxerces-c-dev libzipios++-dev qt4-dev-tools libqt4-dev libqt4-opengl-dev libqtwebkit-dev libshiboken-dev libpyside-dev pyside-tools python-dev python-matplotlib python-pivy python-ply python-pyside libocct*-dev occt-draw libsimage-dev doxygen libcoin-doc dh-exec libspnav-dev

Download the FreeCAD source code:

mkdir freecad-build
cd freecad-build

Compile the FreeCAD source code:

cmake -DPYTHON_EXECUTABLE=/usr/bin/python2.7 -DPYTHON_INCLUDE_DIR=/usr/include/python2.7 -DPYTHON_LIBRARY=/usr/lib/arm-linux-gnueabihf/ -DPYTHON_PACKAGES_PATH=/usr/local/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/ ../FreeCAD-0.18.4/

make -j8

Run the program from here:

Spacenavigator/3D Connexion/Space mouse support for freecad
sudo apt-get install spacenavd
sudo cp ~/.Xauthority /root/
sudo /usr/bin/spnavd_ctl x11 stop
sudo /usr/bin/spnavd_ctl x11 start

Once you start FreeCAD, right click in the center of the screen.
Navigation Style/Blender