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I bought the original Raspberry Pi model B (512 MB memory with 26-pin connector) many many years ago. I have just loaded up the latest Raspberry Pi OS and found that it is way too slow. I mean when I click on the console button, it takes about 30 seconds to show up. The web browser button takes about a minute to show up.

I am looking for a Lightweight OS for the sole purpose of learning how to code in Python and interact with the hardware (GPIO, serial interface, etc.). I think an window based IDE would be better for learning Python compare to just a command line.

What's the recommended OS for this? Thanks, James

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  • It has been awhile since I have used the older pi's, but from my memory, even the most trimmed down OS was pretty rough to work with. I personally disagree with you about the GUI being a better environment to work in. However, even if you really want to work in a full IDE, you can do this on "fully sized" computer, and then just execute the code on the pi.
    – Chad G
    Apr 11, 2022 at 23:10
  • A lightweight OS won't make a jot of difference. Buy a RPi4 it's going to be at least ten times faster than an old RPi1B.
    – Dougie
    Apr 12, 2022 at 1:16

3 Answers 3

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I don't have a working 1B anymore, and I've always used Pis mostly headless, but when I did use a GUI on the original Pi I would use FVWM with no DM. I'd boot to "multi-user" (ie., a text console), then login and startx.

The full GUI stack (really, just X + FVWM) took about 150 MB of RAM, leaving enough room for apps. Mind you, I did not use it for serious programming or web browsing, and TBH I think the default LXDE was not much heavier.1 I do not think the 512 MB versions have enough memory to do the latter comfortably, especially if you are running some kind of IDE as well.

I don't recommend FVWM specifically as making it really useable requires a lot of familiarity, but the general point is you can use Raspbian, either starting with the light version and installing the GUI stuff, or the full version, install an alternate window manager and just change the configuration. More about that approach, with some details of how the linux desktop stack is structured, here:

https://raspberrypi.stackexchange.com/a/57565/5538

I don't know what the current state of lightweight, potentially stand-alone window managers is today, but if you research this in relation to "linux" and not "raspberry pi" you will find more and better information. Anything along these lines that can run on a normal linux box can be installed in Raspbian (or any other distro), memory and performance permitting of course.


  1. I also tried XFCE a bit, which was okay; I preferred my customized FVWM better anyway. Note that the current default Raspbian desktop is a spin off of LXDE.
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For your RPi, I would opine that the recommended OS is one without all of the overhead of a window-ed GUI :)

I still use a Model B Plus Rev 1.2 - ~ 2 years newer than yours. This Model B Plus runs the Lite (no graphics) version of buster. It's certainly not fast, but it's very adequate for my usage. I've even re-compiled a fairly substantial package on it recently :)

Unless I'm mistaken, until just recently The Organization offered a good selection of images for other distributions on their website. I seem to recall Ubuntu being one of them. Perhaps they're still available... somewhere? The challenge is that ARM distributions are harder to find, and I suspect less uniform that the Intel-based code. Others here may be more aware of the availability.

But once again, the Model B with its hardware limitations is going to struggle with any GUI-based distro.

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All Pi models, prior to Pi2 used the same SOC so performance should be similar.

I still use a Pi B+ (running Stretch) which is has been running for several years. It is notably sluggish when starting up, but works perfectly well running most tasks, including python.

The OS will have little impact on speed, although the processes you run will.

You can run any Raspberry Pi OS release (although I would recommend against Bullseye which is still incomplete (IMO).

The Legacy OS (Buster) works well on all models, even older versions.

If you want to "learn how to code in Python and interact with the hardware (GPIO, serial interface, etc.)" you DON'T want an IDE, although Thonny is recommended. I do ALL my coding on the command line (unless specifically writing GUI code) - usually over ssh. An IDE just gets in the way if you are just starting.

I recommend you start with gpiozero which has excellent tutorials and examples.

A good editor is the main requirement for easy coding.

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