Raspberry Pi OS now available in 64-bit, improving app compatibility
The Raspberry Pi series of single-board computers has been a runaway success over the years, thanks to its fantastic versatility and low cost. From powering DIY electronics projects to functioning as cheap PCs for learning programming, the Raspberry Pi series can do it all, and now another significant upgrade has arrived: a 64-bit version of the default operating system.
There are a few different operating systems available for Pi boards, including a few attempts at Android, but the default operating system that most people go with is Raspberry Pi OS. Previously known as Raspbian, it’s a Debian-based Linux desktop specifically built for the Pi family. Even though some newer Pi computers have 64-bit ARM CPUs, Raspberry Pi OS has remained only 32-bit, except for beta builds.
Raspberry Pi said in a blog post (via Ars Technica), “we have continued to build our Raspberry Pi OS releases on the 32-bit Raspbian platform, aiming to maximise compatibility between devices and to avoid customer confusion. […] But we’ve come to realise that there are reasons to choose a 64-bit operating system over a 32-bit one. Compatibility is a key concern: many closed-source applications are only available for arm64, and open-source ones aren’t fully optimised for the armhf port. Beyond that there are some performance benefits intrinsic to the A64 instruction set: today, these are most visible in benchmarks, but the assumption is that these will feed through into real-world application performance in the future.”
The switch to 64-bit means more applications and services can access the higher amounts of RAM on higher-tier Raspberry Pi boards (like the 8GB Raspberry Pi 4), and most people should see a performance boost. The only catch right now is that the 64-bit of Chromium doesn’t support Widevine DRM, so websites that require DRM (like Disney+ or Netflix) don’t work — you’ll need to install 32-bit Chromium instead.
You also need a 64-bit Raspberry Pi board to use the new 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS, which currently includes the Pi Zero 2, Pi 3, and Pi 4. The Pi 2, Pi 1, and original Pi Zero have older chipsets that aren’t compatible, and those devices will remain on the 32-bit operating systems.
It seems like people on the existing 32-bit Raspberry Pi OS won’t be automatically upgraded to the 64-bit version, which is probably a good idea. If you want to try out the new build, head over to the downloads page to create a bootable USB or SD card.