The Raspberry Pi 4 is the one with the strongest specifications in the Raspberry Pi stable of single-board computers (SBC). It is the most powerful of all Raspberry Pis with the highest amount of RAM and the fastest clock speed.
But even an excellent SBC can be made worse when a poor operating system is installed on it. That's why it is vital to find the right Raspberry Pi 4 OS to install on your Raspberry Pi.
Several factors come into play when choosing a Raspberry Pi 4 OS and there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to which is the best one. But we will take a look at several powerful Raspberry Pi 4 OSes in this article and try to help you figure out which is the right one for you.
What OS can run on Raspberry Pi 4?
The Raspberry Pi 4 can run several different distributions of embedded Linux and embedded Android OSes. Even a watered-down version of Windows can run on the Raspberry Pi 4. But not all Raspberry Pi 4 OSes were created equal.
Essentially, a Raspberry Pi 4 OS must be stable, lightweight, and be compatible with the Raspberry Pi's hardware.
Raspberry Pi 4 OS options: Find a new OS for your Raspberry Pi 4
When the Raspberry Pi first came out it was somewhat difficult to find a wide range of OSes that the device supported. Fortunately, there are now very many OS options for Raspberry Pi 4, giving users a broad choice.
Distributions for Raspberry Pi 4 OSes are typically either Linux or Android.
The choice to use Linux or Android depends on the use case for your particular device, and also the type of skill set you or your developers who will be working on it bring to the table. For example, if you only have Linux developers in-house, it might be a better idea to go with Linux.
Although Linux has been the traditional choice for Raspberry Pis, Google's Android system has enormous potential since it offers an outstanding user interface and experience. Android's worldwide success is, similar to Linux, due to this open-source approach, which makes innovation wildly accessible. Therefore, there is an extremely active developer community that provides its own applications but also whole Android distributions, mostly in the form of custom ROMs for special devices. Of which the Raspberry Pi is one. In common with virtually all smartphones, the Raspberry Pi uses an ARM processor, which simplifies porting Android to the single-board computer.
Raspberry Pi 4 OS list
There is an incredibly long list of Raspberry Pi 4 OSes. These include:
- Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian)
- Ubuntu for Raspberry Pi
- RISC OS
- Chromium OS
- Windows 10 IoT
- Arch Linux
- And many others
We will look at our favorite OSes in detail below.
What is the best OS for Raspberry Pi 4?
Whenever discussing the best OS for Raspberry Pi, there is no clear answer for everyone. Very specific use cases might favor one option as the best Raspberry Pi OS over another one.
But putting those specific use cases aside, theRaspberry Pi 4's best OS must at least meet the following criteria:
The Raspberry Pi 4 OS should be fast and not lag. This is dependent both on the specific Raspberry Pi 4 OS chosen as well as the use case for that Raspberry Pi device.
✔️ Ease of installation.
Installing a Raspberry Pi 4 OS should not be complicated.
✔️ Strong support.
Whether you get a proprietary Raspberry Pi 4 OS or an open-source one, there should be strong support for it. Abandoned projects could lead to bugs that might force you to install a different Raspberry Pi 4 OS in the future.
✔️ Widely used.
The same applies to how many people use the Raspberry Pi 4 OS you have chosen. If not many people use it, then it will likely become abandoned.
✔️ Touch-screen support (optional).
Not every Raspberry Pi 4 OS use-case will require touch-screen support. But if you do intend to attach a touchscreen to the device, as is often done in many industrial devices, then touch-screen support is imperative. Additionally, the touch-screen interface should be intuitive and responsive.
✔️ Hardware compatibility.
The Raspberry Pi 4 OS you choose needs to be compatible with the device's hardware.
10 Raspberry Pi 4 OS options to look into
Let's take a look at the Raspberry Pi 4 OSes we feel are the best suited for your Raspberry Pi.
Raspberry Pi OS
This is the official Raspberry Pi 4 OS produced by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This OS used to be called Raspbian because it is based on the Debian distribution.
The Raspberry Pi OS excels as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS because it was built with both stability and performance in mind. Users can also install many of the Debian packages on it.
This Raspberry Pi 4 OS is particularly suited to users who want to use their Raspberry Pi as a desktop machine because Raspberry Pi OS comes built with the PIXEL desktop, which is itself based on the free desktop environment LXDE.
The Raspberry Pi OS has several applications pre-installed, including:
- Mathematica (which is worth many thousands of pounds but which is free on the Raspberry Pi)
- Python 2 and 3
- Scratch (a GUI-based programming language)
- Web Browser
- File Manager
- And more
Ubuntu desktop for Raspberry Pi
Ubuntu for Raspberry Pi is a very popular Linux-based Raspberry Pi 4 OS.
This Raspberry Pi 4 OS provides a full desktop experience right from your device! It lets users work, browse the web, and even develop software. The Ubuntu Raspberry Pi 4 OS has a modern interface and comes pre-installed with many of the packages that the official Raspberry Pi OS provides.
It's easy to install more packages simply by using the apt command in the Terminal.
Windows: WoR Project; Windows IoT
Even Windows developers can avail themselves of a working Raspberry Pi 4 OS. A few distributions exist for this, such as the unaffiliated WoR Project, and also the official Windows 10 for IoT.
WoR Project has a slightly complicated installation process but seeing as this Raspberry Pi 4 OS would be especially for Windows developers, it is conceivable that the person installing it will be somewhat tech-savvy already.
Windows 10 for IoT is a watered-down version of Windows 10 and fortunately can be downloaded for free from Microsoft's website.
This is a good choice for anyone who is married to Windows development. But, as the saying goes in computer programming: Just because it can be done doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea!
Chromium OS is the open-source version of Google's Chrome OS and there is a version of it that can be used as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS. You can also install the Chromium Web browser on the Raspberry Pi with this version.
Like Chrome OS, Chromium OS is a web-centric OS and uses very little local device space to carry out its tasks. This makes the lightweight OS particularly suited as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS.
Raspberry Pi 4 Lineage OS
Lineage is a Raspberry Pi 4 Android OS that is quite popular. Because it is based on Android, users can connect a touch screen to the Raspberry Pi and be met with Android's familiar user interface.
LineageOS was forked in 2016 from an earlier Android distribution called CyanogenMod. The company that was making CyanogenMod discontinued its development but kept the rights to the name which is why it was rebranded to LineageOS.
The version of LineageOS that works with the Raspberry Pi 4 is not the official LineageOS but rather a version maintained by a developer called KonstaKang.
OmniROM is another custom ROM variant of Android with plenty of features. Most importantly, the project pushes stability as a top priority.
The makers of OmniROM are veterans of the custom ROM scene. Like LineageOS, OmniROM has its roots in CyanogenMod.
There is also a Raspberry Pi 4 OS version of OmniROM that is maintained by an XDA user called maxwen. By downloading the necessary files of the OmniROM Raspberry Pi 4 OS version, you can go through the steps of installing this Raspberry Pi 4 OS on your device. This installation is done via images that need to be unpacked and transferred to an SD card.
Incredibly, RISC OS is over 30 years old! But it is a solid contender as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS because it is one of the few OSes that has been specifically written for ARM devices.
The RISC OS was designed in Cambridge and was released for the first time in 1987. It is a powerful OS that has since been adapted to function as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS. Users can download the Raspberry Pi 4 OS version from the RISC OS website and then install it on the Raspberry Pi.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Arch Linux which does not support the ARM architecture. To use Arch Linux as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS it is necessary to use the Arch Linux ARM version which has been specifically ported to function on the Raspberry Pi's ARM architecture.
Many people use Arch Linux because of its flexibility. It is highly customizable and therefore known as a "DIY" operating system. It has a massive repository of packages known as the Arch User Repository (AUR).
Gentoo is a flexible embedded Linux distribution that is another good choice as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS. Unlike other binary distributions, users can customize whatever features they want installed. Support for Raspberry Pi 4 comes out of the box with gentoo but installing it as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS is a little bit of a major process and so is only recommended for power users.
Emteria.OS: Enterprise-ready Android OS for Raspberry Pi 4
Several elements set emteria.OS apart from other Raspberry Pi 4 OS choices.
Firstly, emteria is an Android-based Raspberry Pi 4 OS (like LineageOS and OmniROM) which means that users can install and use existing and custom Android apps on there. Therefore, this Raspberry Pi 4 OS has excellent touch-screen support through the familiar Android interface.
The second major factor making the emteria Raspberry Pi 4 OS a great OS for Android use cases is that it's so incredibly easy to install. Users simply sign up on the emteria website and download the relevant installer. The Raspberry Pi 4 OS is then installed onto an SD card which is placed into the Raspberry Pi and, voila, the Raspberry Pi 4 OS is ready to roll.
One essential element that makes emteria a great long-term choice as a Raspberry Pi 4 OS is that it has a strong team behind it. Users can deploy their devices, knowing that the company behind this has a vested interest in keeping the software running well because of its many enterprise-level clients who sign up for the larger packages of many thousands of devices. Private users can register up to three devices using the free Starter plan.
LineageOS and OmniROM are excellent OSes but both lack the enterprise support that emteria.OS comes with. Both are more or less maintained by a single person. The Raspberry Pi LineageOS version by KostaKang cannot be used commercially. And OmniROM, although an excellent system, requires expert knowledge whenever you want to customize it for specific use cases.
In addition to the OS emteria provides a reliable cloud Over-the-Air (OTA) update infrastructure, providing OTA firmware updates (FOTA updates) for Android. These IoT OTA updates (updates of an internet of things device via the internet) can be built and distributed automatically to protect Android devices from online threats and provide the best possible user experience.
Emteria.OS is also available for Intel x86 (as Android x86) devices and support Rock Pi Android use cases.
How to choose the best OS for Raspberry Pi 4
No definitive test of all available Raspberry Pi 4 OSes has been conducted to name a clear winner for the best or the fastest OS for Raspberry Pi 4.
The best Raspberry Pi 4 OS is the one that meets all the desired requirements, and best fits the individual use case.
We might personally prefer Android OSes for the Raspberry Pi, but the Linux OSes are strong contenders.
What is the best Raspberry Pi OS?
We believe that Android is the way to go for the Raspberry Pi because of the enormous community support behind it. Due to the huge number of Android users in the world, many people are already highly familiar with its touch screen interface and there are many useful apps out there ready to use.
There are three Android OSes on our list above, and if you're looking for an OS only for personal use, then any of them might work for you.
As soon as you need an enterprise-ready OS, LineageOS is automatically out of the running because it cannot be used commercially. And OmniROM doesn't have the necessary infrastructure behind it for enterprise needs.
Emteria is enterprise-ready and is also a very easy Raspberry Pi 4 OS to install and realize first product prototypes with. There is a strong team of experts behind the OS that keeps it up to date with Over-the-Air software updates so that any security patches are provided ASAP.
The OS can be used for individual devices and also for Raspberry Pi fleet management.
Emteria provides a Device Hub that makes it incredibly easy to manage devices remotely, doing everything from updating settings to installing applications from this simple cloud-based interface.
Learn more about emteria.OS and how it can power one or hundreds of thousands of devices easily.