Best OS for Raspberry Pi 3

The past seven years has been one of excitement for computer and electronic enthusiasts across the world. This excitement was and is due to the development of Raspberry Pi’s compact computers that have gone on the change the computing. Since its inception in 2012, Raspberry Pi has continued to grow in strength with every release of its latest model at the time. As expected, Raspberry’s growth led to the growth of other sister solutions such as the operating systems designed specifically for the Raspberry Pi.

The latest Raspberry Pi was released in November 2018 and it was called the Raspberry Pi 3. The features of the Raspberry Pi 3 were modeled against the Pi B+ albeit in a smaller package. Some differences to note between the Pi 3 and the B+ includes; the Pi 3 smaller 512MB RAM, a single USB port, no-on board USB hub, and it also lacks a wired Ethernet connection. With that out of the way, the Pi 3 costs approximately $30 which makes it a rather affordable package for enthusiasts and students.

Raspberry Pi’s popularity has led to the creation of diverse Linux kernel-based operating systems and distro suites built for it. In this post, the top 11 operating systems built specifically for the Raspberry Pi 3 will be discussed in details.

Raspberry Pi 3 Operating Systems

The operating systems that make the top 11 are options that have being stabilized and have features that Raspberry Pi 3 can leverage on. These systems provide desktop environments and diverse software applications for the Raspberry Pi 3. It is also important to note that Pi 3 is sold without a functional operating system.

The List

To make use of it, users get an SD card with New Out of The Box Software (NOOBS). NOOBS contains multiple OSes and allows you to choose your preference to run on the Pi 3. In this list, the top 11 operating systems include:


It is no surprise that Raspbian tops this list due to its importance to the Raspberry community. Raspbian is an independent distro built for Raspberry Pi 3. Its popularity is because it is one of the oldest operating systems to be used with the earlier versions of the Raspberry Pi.

Raspbian also comes highly recommended by Raspberry and it is no surprise that Raspberry maintains its own version of Raspbian which can be found in the SD card containing NOOBS. In terms of build, Raspbian is based on Debian Linux and it comes with approximately 35,000 packages in a bundle compatible with Raspberry Pi 3. The latest version of Raspbian is based on the ARM port of the Debian Stretch desktop distro. To install Raspbian, you will need an SD card of at least 8GB of space and on installation, you will have access to its pixel desktop environment. Here, you can choose from the diverse programs you require when using Raspberry Pi 3. The Raspbian community also offers a minimalistic version known as the Raspberry Stretch Lite. This option is easier to install but has fewer programs when compared to the complete suite.

Pi MusicBox

If you are a music lover, then the Pi MusicBox might just be the distro you need. With Pi MusicBox, you can easily turn your Raspberry Pi 3 into your personal jukebox. This OS gives you multiple options to access music. You can choose to stream music from Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Radio, etc. because it is based on Mopidy music streaming servers.

Pi MusicBox can also enable the playing of music files stored in SD cards or other storage hardware. To do this, you will need to configure Pi MusicBox to fetch music through shared folders. Pi MusicBox compatibility with external hardware means it can be connected to external devices that can be used to control its output. Note that the compatible device must provide support for MPD. So, you can use MPdroid on an android device to control the music player. Lastly, Pi MusicBox is supported by several Pi sound cards such as IQ Audio and JustBoom.


With RetroPie, the detail is in the name. This operating system was built to ensure retro gamers can also have some fun tinkering with Raspberry Pi 3. So, if you are a retro game enthusiast then RetroPie should be in your SD card. With this OS, you will be able to relieve long term memories by playing the early Super Mario Bros, PacMan, among other classics.

Another interesting aspect of RetroPie is its support for diverse gaming controllers which allows you to play with your favorite console configurations. All you will need to do is load the Emulation Station Software (ESS). You can then set the controller through the ESS and play retro games.

RetroPie also builds upon Raspbian, RetroArch and other projects that make it possible to play arcade games. You can also choose to install and play RetroPie in its standalone format or install it on a pre-installed Raspbian OS.


Provisioning your own dedicated smart TV is one of the many reasons to purchase the Raspberry Pi 3. But to get your Raspberry Pi 3 working as a smart TV you will need an operating system that supports the download and streaming of media content. This is where the LibreELEC comes into play. LibreELEC is an OS that is built to provide users access to the Kodi Media Centre.

Once the LibreELEC has been installed, you can stop at watching or accessing your own media file or adding the needed add-ons to make your Raspberry Pi 3 smart. Once the add-ons are in place, you can download metadata about TV shows and movies. You can also choose to pair it with the Kodi remote app on your mobile device because they are compatible. LibreELEC is has a vibrant online community and you can choose to submit your projects to its GitHub page to make use of it.


If you are interested in turning your Raspberry Pi 3 into a dedicated Network Attached Storage (NAS) device, then the OpenMediaVault (OMV) is just the solution for you. OMV is based on Debian Linux and it contains diverse services such as SSH, SMB, DAAB, Bit Torrent client, etc. You can also choose to enhance your OMV by taking advantage of its modular build. Installing plugins will enhance or customize the NAS according to your needs.

According to the OMV community, it was designed to be used as a NAS device in small offices. This is because it is easily installed without any prior knowledge about administrating a NAS. Once you have gotten it to run, you can choose to manage the distro remotely through its browser-based admin interface. Installed USB devices will also be detected by the OMV which makes it possible to integrate self-powered removable disks.

Windows IoT Core

Building IoT devices is possible on the Raspberry Pi 3 with the Windows IoT Core. The IoT Core is the operating system that powers the entire Windows IoT platform on the Pi 3. It also leverages the Windows 10 common core architecture used for larger devices although it is a minimalistic version of the desktop version. This operating system can be used to develop or turn your Raspberry Pi 3 into an interface for connected devices.

The type of projects you can accomplish using the Windows IoT Core on Raspberry Pi 3 includes the building of automated systems and smart devices. It is a powerful OS for your IoT designs and it can be used to develop a temperature sensor or other smart features. To use the Windows IoT Core, you will need to set up Visual Studio on your Raspberry Pi 3 before running the IoT Core.


The popularity of Raspbian has relegated other innovative operating systems to the background but if you’re in search of something different, the RISC OS may just be it. RISC is not built on Debian Linux like most of the operating systems commonly used on the Raspberry Pi 3. It is based on BBC Microcomputer Systems which is a bit simpler.

RISC OS is a complete desktop system with a wide array of applications you can use. RISC OS can be found in NOOBS or you can choose to purchase the official RISC SD card. Regardless of your choice, your installation comes with a full operating system that helps you accomplish complex tasks with the Pi 3. RISC OS is also backed by a supportive team and you can register to be part of its community to receive regular updates.


Open Source Media Centre (OSMC) is a colorful media center software built for use with Raspberry Pi 3. Its easy installation makes it one of the easiest software applications to use with the Pi 3. OSMC is based on the Kodi media center and integrates some of its features. Once installed, OSMC’s clean interface makes it easy to use for playing various media content and checking other TV series or movie content.

OSMC is compatible with various Debian-based Kodi plugins that provide support for your personal projects. Computing enthusiasts can also choose to tinker with diverse services such as SSH, Bit Torrent, FTP and many more. If you are just starting out with a media center software, the ease of use attached to OSMC makes it the best option to use. OSMC also supports Apple TV and Vero alongside Raspberry Pi 3. The software is totally free and open-source which adds to its attractiveness.

New Linutop OS

The Linutop OS is another option you can use with your Raspberry Pi 3 with ease. It comes as a ready to use software which is stored in an SD card or can be downloaded online. On installation, you see an XFCE classic graphical environment that is minimalistic and easy to use. The OS can be used professionally in embedded systems, digital signage, and internet kiosks, etc.

Linutop OS comes with a variety of packages and to install it you need at least 512MB of RAM. Once installed, you can run the diverse applications available on Linutop OS. The Linutop community is a growing one and you can find most of the help or support you require in its documentations.

Arch Linux ARM

When used, Arch Linux ARM gives you total control over your Raspberry Pi 3 as you can shape the system any way you choose. It is a distribution of Linux by ARM computers and you can choose to update it through the small packages released by Arch Linux. The kernel and software support associated with Arch Linux ARM is targeted for hard-float which ensures it functions effectively as an operating system.

You can install Arch Linux ARM by downloading and installing it in your Raspberry Pi 3 environment. The installation process is simplistic and you have documentation that can assist you with its use.

Snappy Ubuntu

The snappy Ubuntu is a lite version of the desktop Ubuntu OS built for microcomputers such as the Raspberry Pi 3. Snappy Ubuntu is aimed at cloud-based architecture and IoT devices. It employs a transactional systems management approach which makes the Snappy a faster and more reliable OS. The OS is quite popular and this is due to its real-time updates that occur automatically every time it is used.

Snappy Ubuntu also has a vibrant ecosystem that provides updates and community support when needed. This makes it easier for students and beginners to utilize diverse applications on Raspberry Pi 3.


The diverse operating systems listed here are the best-in-class solutions you can choose to use with your Raspberry Pi 3. A couple of theses OSes comes at cost while others are completely free and open-source. Choosing any of these operating systems should depend on your immediate need and what you tend to accomplish with the Raspberry Pi 3.

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