The Raspberry Pi is a popular single-board computer that is very versatile for DIY electronics projects. By default, most Raspberry Pi models ship with a 32-bit operating system. However, with recent models like the Raspberry Pi 3 and 4, you can upgrade and run a 64-bit OS to take advantage of added performance and memory capacity.
Benefits of Running a 64-bit OS
There are a few key advantages to running a 64-bit operating system on a Raspberry Pi:
Access to More RAM
- 64-bit CPUs can access more memory over 4GB. Even if your model has less RAM, a 64-bit OS can better utilize available memory.
- 64-bit software and applications can better leverage the CPU and registers for faster performance.
- More applications and Linux software distributions are moving to 64-bit only support.
Steps to Install a 64-bit OS
Installing a 64-bit operating system on a Raspberry Pi involves imaging the OS onto a microSD card. Here are the steps:
- Download the 64-bit OS image – Operating systems like Ubuntu, Debian, and Gentoo have 64-bit Pi images.
- Flash image to microSD card – Use an imaging tool like Etcher to flash the .img file.
- Enable 64-bit kernel – Append arm_64bit=1 to /boot/config.txt.
- Expand filesystem – Use raspi-config to resize the root filesystem to fill the SD card.
- Reboot device – Reboot the Pi and confirm 64-bit kernel is running with uname -m.
Here are some tips for improving performance when running a 64-bit OS:
Overclock Raspberry Pi 4
- Edit config.txt to set overvoltage and arm boost options for safely increasing clock speeds.
Enable Hardware Video Acceleration
- For applications using the video core like Kodi, enable MMAL/OpenMAX IL for better video playback.
Test Different MicroSD Cards
- Faster memory cards yield better real-world speeds – aim for A2/U3 rated cards.
Assign GPU Memory
- For the Raspberry Pi 4, adjust gpu_mem to get best use of video memory up to 1GB.
Use Fast Storage via USB 3.0/PCIe
- SSD storage over USB 3.0 or PCIe provides lower latency and better IOPS.
Add Heat Sinks
- Affix heat sink shims onto major chips to prevent thermal throttling under load.
Common 64-bit Operating Systems
Here are some popular 64-bit OS choices to use with the 64-bit enabled Raspberry Pi:
Ubuntu Server 64-bit
Ubuntu Server includes LTS releases tuned for 64-bit ARM chips. It works well for building network servers and appliaces.
Gentoo is a rolling release distribution focused on compile optimizations. It allows finely tuning the system but compilations take time.
Debian is focused on stability and supports many ARM devices. The 64-bit port works well for general computing uses.
Fedora provides cutting edge updates and packages. It requires frequent updating so aimed more for intermediate Linux users.
openSUSE Leap strives to offer polished releases for easy of use and reliability. It includes newer community packages.
Pros and Cons of 64-bit OS on 32-bit RPi
Trying to installing a 64-bit OS like Ubuntu Server on an older 32-bit Raspberry Pi will not work by default. However, there are some approaches to run 64-bit ARM software on a 32-bit RPi using emulation:
- Learn about using 64-bit before getting 64-bit hardware
- Test builds for newer applications
- Utilize newer software packages
- Very slow performance using emulation/virtualization
- Higher memory usage overhead
- Some platforms too slow even for basic use
- Advanced configuration requiring custom kernels
For any practical use case, it still makes most sense to run the native 32-bit OS optimized for those models. Upgrading to a 64-bit Raspberry Pi makes transitioning to the 64-bit OS much easier.
- Recent Raspberry Pi devices like the Pi 3B+ and Pi 4 B support 64-bit operating systems.
- 64-bit OSes unlock access to more memory and better performance.
- Flashing a 64-bit OS image involves formatting the SD card.
- Common 64-bit distributions include Ubuntu Server, Gentoo, and Debian.
- Tweaks like overclocking, assigned GPU memory, and fast storage optimize real-world speeds.
Upgrading to a 64-bit operating system squeezes more power from recent Raspberry Pi models. While flashing a new OS image is straightforward, optimizing the full performance takes applying communities recommended tweaks to avoid throttleing under load. Overall, the 64-bit kernel combines well with the existing Raspbian ecosystem while providing added headroom useful for running web servers, media centers, and other network appliances.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What models of Raspberry Pi support 64-bit?
The Raspberry Pi 3B+, Pi 4B, Pi 400,and newer boards can run 64-bit operating systems. The Pi 3, 2, 1 and Zero are 32-bit only.
- Why run a 64-bit OS if my Pi has less than 4GB of RAM?
You take advantage of some performance gains from the 64-bit userspace and applications, even if total memory is under the 4GB addressable limit.
- Can I use Raspbian with a 64-bit kernel?
Currently the official Raspbian release remains 32-bit only. But Debian which Raspbian pulls from has 64-bit ARM port that works well.
- Which SD cards work best for 64-bit RPi distros?
Faster A2 or A1 rated microSD cards provide better real-world performance. Cards with higher random IOPS handle multitasking better.
- Can I migrate my RPi 4 from 32-bit to 64-bit easily?
It is usually easiest to start fresh with a newly imaged 64-bit OS on the SD card rather than trying to convert an existing Raspbian Lite install in-place.
- Is Gentoo difficult to work with on the Pi?
Gentoo supports the Raspberry Pi 4 very well but can involve longer compile times during install. It provides deep customization though for optimizing performance.
- Can I use multiple USB cameras with a 64bit OS on RPi 4?
Yes, connecting multiple USB camera modules works fine. With a Raspberry Pi 4 you can leverage the faster USB 3.0 bandwidth for higher resolution video streams.
- Do programming languages like Python run faster with 64-bit?
It depends. If linking against multi-architecture optimized libraries, you may see some performance gains. Otherwise the differences are not major versus 32-bit for most workloads.
- What model Pi should I buy to use a 64-bit operating system?
The Raspberry Pi 4 B with 4GB+ RAM is recommended. The 8GB model works very well for running heavier server, media, and application workloads under a 64-bit OS.
- Why does my Pi 4 run hot with Ubuntu Server?
The 64-bit OS may consume hardware resources differently. Add copper heat sinks onto major ICs and ensure the case has ventilation or a small fan to prevent overheating issues.
- Can I run multiple 64-bit OSes using BerryBoot?
Yes, BerryBoot supports multi-booting and is handy for switching between 64-bit Ubuntu, Gentoo, and other operating systems on the same Raspberry Pi.
- Is EXSi resource intensive for virtualizing Pis?
ESXi works but virtualizing Pis consumes more resources. For lightweight dockers, try Hyper-V or USB booting toolchains to avoid as much overhead.
- Does overclocking improve 64-bit performance?
Yes, moderately overclocking the ARM cores, GPU, and video memory can provide performance improvements under 64-bit. But it also generates more heat so cooling is important.
- How do I switch from 32-bit Kernel to 64-bit?
In /boot/config.txt, add the arm_64bit=1 parameter. Then reboot the Pi. Confirm it is running 64-bit with uname -m showing aarch64.
- What are the best benchmarks for testing 64-bit vs 32-bit?
Try Sy bench CPU tests, video encoding/decoding benchmarks, and disk I/O tools like FIO. Compare metrics like completion times, CPU utilization, bandwidth, and power draw.