Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit vs 32-bit (Which One To Install?)


The Raspberry Pi Foundation currently has a 64-bit version in development for Raspberry Pi OS.
Do you wonder if you should try it? Well, you’ll see in this article’s details.

Raspberry Pi OS is available only in a 32-bit version. There is a 64-bit version in development, but it’s not stable yet.
When the CPU is compatible, a 64-bit operating system improves the program performances.

We’ll start with a short introduction of the 64-bit version, then we’ll try it, and I’ll conclude with my thoughts about it.

If you need help getting started on Raspberry Pi, I have an entire course to help you take your first steps the right way. I’ll help you use the perfect hardware, plug everything and install your first system. You’ll also do your first project with me, just to make sure you are ready for the next level. Get all the information on this page if you are interested.

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.

In short, it is straightforward. If you have a 64-bit processor, you should use a 64-bits operating system. However, the Raspberry Pi Foundation only offers a 32-bit version of Raspberry Pis OS on their website.
So, what should you do?

Raspberry Pi Bootcamp
Sale: 10% off today.
Take it to the next level.
I'm here to help you get started on Raspberry Pi.
Learn all the skills you need in the correct order.

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.

Almost one year later, at the time of writing this article, this version is still in development and doesn’t seem to be a priority for the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
We got an update in August 2020, but nothing since.

Why is 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 want to keep everything simple, for them and for us. While there are still many Raspberry Pi running with a 32-bit chip, they’ll work on the 64-bit development, but releasing it soon is not a priority.

In the next part, I’ll show you how to try it out. It’s still in beta, so expect some bugs, and don’t expect them to be fixed quickly. You can try it as an experiment, but I wouldn’t try it in a production environment.

How to Install Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit

Download Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit

On the official website and in the Raspberry Pi Imager, you’ll only find the 32-bit version. You need to go directly to this link to find the latest versions available.

Click on the folder for the latest version available and download the ZIP file in it.

Installation

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.

Master your Raspberry Pi in 30 days
Sale: 10% off today.
Download the eBook.
Uncover the secrets of the Raspberry Pi in a 30 days challenge.
Learn useful Linux skills and practice multiples projects.

Overview

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 over 6 months old during writing, there are a lot more updates for the 64-bit version. I have updated from 10.5 to 10.8 (whereas the 32-bit OS is already in 10.8).

While updating, there is no doubt we are on a 64-bit OS.

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 :).

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 🙂

Known issues

As I told you, the Raspberry Pi 64-bits system is still in beta.
It comes with a bunch of known issues, as stated on the official forum:

  • 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.

Performances

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.
Really?

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. 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.

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.

Other options

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.

Raspberry Pi Resources

Not sure where to start?
Understand everything about the Raspberry Pi, stop searching for help all the time and finally enjoy completing your projects.
Watch the Raspberry Pi Bootcamp course now

Master your Raspberry Pi in 30 days
Don’t want the basic stuff only? If you are looking for the best tips to become an expert on Raspberry Pi, this book is for you. Learn useful Linux skills and practice multiples projects with step-by-step guides.
Download the e-book

VIP Community
If you just want to hang out with me and show your support, you can also join the Patreon community. I share behind-the-scenes content there and give you early access to my content. You’ll also get a shoutout when you join.
More details here

You can also find all my recommendations for tools and hardware on this page.


This tutorial doesn't work anymore? Report the issue here, so that I can update it!


Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

Recent Posts

Raspberry Pi Bootcamp - 10% off