Raspberry PI OS Lite vs Desktop: comparison between the 2 distributions


People new to Raspberry Pi ask themselves what OS use in their new board. When it comes to default RPI OS, the second question is what are differences Raspberry PI OS Lite and Desktop version.

This article will show main differences between Raspberry PI OS Lite vs Desktop, the two default choices for the famous single board computer.

Both are based on a debian linux distribution compiled to fit Raspberry PI hardware, so fully compliant with its drivers.

Raspberry PI 4 model B image

Raspberry PI OS Naming Notes

When you go to official Raspberry PI OS download page you can note that OS name includes version identification. You can find these 3 available download options for Raspberry PI OS:

  • Lite version, which is the smaller one to download
  • OS with desktop version, which is a larger file to download compared to Lite one
  • OS with desktop and recommended software version, which is the largest file.

Features in Raspberry PI OS Lite

Raspberry PI OS Lite is a minimal operating system. It fits the needs for very light OS with a minimal set of packages. It is suggested only for experiences people able to se ssh connections and remote management with a Command Line Interface (CLI), without Graphical interfaces or Desktop Environment. You can figure Lite version as a Server Operating System. In this version you will need to type in Linux commands to control Raspberry PI services.

For this reasons, Lite version requires a very low amount of RAM and CPU usage.

Raspberry PI OS Lite can become a Desktop version by installing required packages with built-in aptitude package manager.

Raspberry PI OS Lite doesn’t require a keyboard or monitor attached: you can install and use it doing all operations from remote SSH terminal shell.

Installation procedure can be found in Install Raspberry PI OS Lite in your Raspberry Pi.

At installation procedure finish, you will see something like the following image:

Features in Raspberry PI OS Desktop

Raspberry PI OS Desktop versions come with a defaul Graphical User Interface. Based on Pixel, it aims to be light and to run fastly in your Raspberry Pi. The desktop version includes all the scripts to display the icons. It also includes all the tools to configure your environment and utilities to interface other programs/applications. Command Line interface is still available using terminal window. Like all Desktop environments, even if optimized it requires anyway addicting packages and software, RAM and CPU usage will result increased if compared to Lite version.

Synaptic package manager supports software installation and offers a Graphical Interface to manage application addition or removal.

Raspberry PI OS Desktop requires keyboard, mouse and monitor, at least untill you will configure remote desktop service.

At installation procedure finish, you will see (after login) something like the following image:

Raspbian desktop logged in

Beside Desktop version, you can also install the Desktop version with some preinstalled software (Raspberry PI OS with desktop and recommended software). This version is suggested for people who want an environment ready to use, as it includes some free application like office programs. However, you can also opt for simple desktop version and install preferred software via Synaptics GUI.

Raspberry PI OS Lite or Desktop? Final Considerations

Raspberry PI OS is the default choise with RPi boards. Supported by Raspbery Pi Foundation, it is always compatible with their hardware. Opting for Raspberry PI OS Lite vs Desktop version depends on your needs and your Linux Skills:

  • if you want an environment easy to use for Linux non-experts and ready to start, then you should use Desktop version
  • if you want the best from you Raspberry PI performances and use it to expose services to other computers, the you should use Lite version

Last but not least, you can also evaluate more OS for your tiny board. Give a look at my alternative Raspberry PI OS list.


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