When you check all the Raspberry Pi OS versions available in Raspberry Pi Imager, it can feel overwhelming. They recently added a choice between 64 and 32 bits for almost all versions, making it even harder to pick the right one for your project. Let me guide you to make the right choice.
Raspberry Pi OS is now available in 32-bit and 64-bit editions. Not all Raspberry Pi are compatible with it, but with recent models, a 64-bit operating system improves the program performances.
We’ll start with a short introduction about the 64-bit version, then we’ll try it, and I’ll conclude with my thoughts about it.
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What is Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit?
What is a 64-bit operating system?
A 64-bit operating system is intended to better use the power of a 64-bit CPU, and improve the overall performance for several reasons.
You can expect an overall boost of about 25% in performance with a 64-bit operating system on a compatible device. And some apps will benefit even more from it.
It will also have better use of the memory available, especially on Raspberry Pi 4 with 8 GB (read this to learn the real difference between 4 and 8 GB).
In short, it is straightforward. If you have a 64-bit processor, you should use a 64-bits operating system. But the Raspberry Pi Foundation still offers a 32-bit version of Raspberry Pis OS on their website.
Why? What should you do?
If you are uncertain if your Raspberry Pi is already using a 64-bit system, you can read this tutorial to check it easily: How to Know Which Raspberry Pi OS is Running?
Raspberry Pi OS 64 bits introduction
In May 2020, the Raspberry Pi announced a new variant of the Raspberry Pi 4, with 8 GB RAM.
Simultaneously, they announced the name change from Raspbian to Raspberry Pi OS, and the release of an early beta for a 64-bit operating system for this new Raspberry Pi model.
This version remained in development for a very long time, it wasn’t a priority for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. It was only available as a “beta” for testers, not listed on the website at all, there was only a link on their forums.
Why was the Raspberry Pi Foundation not pushing it?
It seems kind of weird to release 64-bit chips without offering a 64-bit OS to use it. But as James Hughes explained, there are a few reasons for this:
We only need one distro, and it runs on all devices. This means a lot less maintenance work – we are a small team. […] There’s quite a bit of work involved with moving the entire distro over the 64bit, including some rather tricky work on anything that talks to the GPU, which is 32bit.James Hughes – Principle Software Engineer @ Raspberry Pi Ltd
So, they wanted to keep everything simple, for them and for us. While there are still many Raspberry Pi running with a 32-bit chip, they worked on the 64-bit development, but releasing it quickly wasn’t a priority.
Recently, they finally listened to their customers, and decided to include in on the website and in Raspberry Pi Imager. It adds a level of complexity if you are just getting started, but at least it’s available and officially supported.
There are still a few bugs in this version, but in most cases it should work just fine if your Raspberry Pi is compatible.
How to Install Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit
Here is the recommended hardware to follow this tutorial:
- A Raspberry Pi 4: It won’t work on an old model, and the Raspberry Pi 4 is currently the best choice for most projects.
- A fast SD card: This is my favorite. There is no point trying to optimize by using a 64-bit OS, if you have a slow an unreliable SD card. A USB stick is also an option (this one for example).
And as for most projects, adding these optional accessories can make your life easier:
- A good keyboard and mouse: I use this one, but other options are available (I tested most of them in this comparison).
- A decent monitor: always easier to follow the instructions when you can see what’s going on with the Raspberry Pi, not switching from your computer to the Pi all the time.
- The best Raspberry Pi case: it’s the one I use all the time. It keeps my Pi protected and cool, a must-have (tested here).
Download Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit
On the official website and in the Raspberry Pi Imager, the foundation continues to push the 32-bit version. You’ll find the 64-bit in the Raspberry Pi (other) submenu, or below on the download page.
There are a few reasons for this, that we’ll get into later in this article, but you can still try the 64 bits versions pretty easily.
Once downloaded, you can flash the image file on your SD card with Balena Etcher or Raspberry Pi Imager as usual.
Check my tutorial on how to install Raspberry Pi OS here if you need any advice about this.
On the first boot, you won’t see a difference compared to a 32-bit installation. The welcome wizard will show up as usual, and you’ll find the same applications pre-installed as on Raspberry Pi OS Desktop.
As the image is not updated every day, there might be updates available for the 64-bit version directly after the installation. So, it’s a good idea to start with a full update:
sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade
Another thing you will notice is that a few apps are missing in the “Recommended Software” tool. For example, there is no Minecraft Pi or Mathematica that you can install directly from there.
These software packages don’t have a build available for the 64-bit operating system.
Except for that, the feedback you’ll have will highly depend on the apps you use on a daily basis. Some of them will be faster, others bugged and for most of them, you won’t notice any change.
So, the best thing to do is to try and see how it goes for you :).
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Should you use Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit?
Your Raspberry Pi Model
There is no point in installing a 64-bit operating system on a 32-bit processor.
So, the first thing to do is to check if your Raspberry Pi model is compatible.
If you have a Raspberry Pi 3, 4 or 400, it should be ok.
For older versions, you probably have a 32-bit processor, so it’s not worth the effort to switch to the beta version.
Get a Raspberry Pi 4 on Amazon at the best price, you won’t regret it. Older models will be limited for many projects, it’s time for an update 🙂
Warning: current prices are all over the place for a new Raspberry Pi. Make sure to check this article to pay the right price when buying a Raspberry Pi. I also give a few tips to find one in stock (which currently isn’t that easy).
As I told you, the Raspberry Pi 64-bits system has still a few bugs.
It comes with a bunch of known issues, as stated on the official forum (check the link for an updated overview):
- There is no hardware video acceleration in VLC or Chromium
- libraspberrypi0, libraspberrypi-dev and libraspberrypi-doc have been moved out of /opt/vc/* and into /usr/* instead (making it more standard). Any code built against these libraries will require changing to refer to a more standard location (/usr/lib/ rather than /opt/vc/lib)
- In consequence, many packages that expect libGLESv2.so libEGL etc will require rebuilding.
- raspberrypi-bootloader and raspberrypi-kernel contain useless non-64bit binaries and is missing the work done to minimize the delay between files being deleted and installed to /boot
- There is no Wolfram Mathematica built for AArch64
- Minecraft shim layer requires rebuilding
- VLC needs a rebuild (not available)
- VNC server not rebuilt yet for 64bit
You can also expect other bugs depending on the apps you use.
Depending on what you intend to do with your installation, you’ll need to make a choice between stability and potential performances.
To be honest, I haven’t seen any issue with YouTube on the 64-bit version. I got no drop in 1080p. So, I don’t know if this list of bugs is really up-to-date or not.
If you find any other issue not listed here, you can check if it has already been reported on GitHub. If an issue hasn’t been reported, post a new one – it will help the developers improve the system.
If you have a recent Raspberry Pi model and don’t mind the known issues and other bugs, the main advantage of this version is the performances you can expect.
The issue is that most apps on Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit are still built for a 32-bit system. So even with a 64-bit processor on a recent Raspberry Pi model you might not see a major improvement in performances.
In theory, performances should be slightly better on a 64-bit operating system, even with 32-bit apps (link to the best apps for Raspberry Pi). But don’t expect a major boost.
You’ll see better results for apps that require many calculations to run, but it won’t change anything if the limiter is the available RAM or the SD card speed (link to my benchmark).
The time to boot was 10% faster on the 64-bit version – it’s only a few seconds saved, so it’s not a big deal.
As you may have noticed by now, I’m currently not excited about this Raspberry Pi OS version. I hope they improve it soon, so we can use the full potential of the recent Raspberry Pi models. However, it doesn’t seem to be a priority for the developers.
If you are looking for a 64-bit operating system, you should probably try one of these great options:
All the links go to my tutorials for these systems. You’ll find a stable 64-bit version of each on their official websites, and truly experience better performances with it.
By the way, I also compared Manjaro, Ubuntu, Raspberry Pi OS and Twister OS in this YouTube video if you want a quick overview:
Twister OS is based on Raspberry Pi OS, so not yet available in 64-bit.
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