I'm new to Linux and Raspberry Pi's (I've been doing research on the two for a couple of days now) and I was wondering:

What is the difference between running Linux a Raspberry Pi VS a regular system?

By this I mean, if I was to run Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi, what would be the difference compared to booting Linux on my regular desktop?

Any help is appreciated!

P.S. I actually intend to run Linux on my Windows laptop with a VM (I haven't researched this yet though so I may not know what I'm talking about) but I'm not sure if that'll make any difference.

  • What sort of differences are you looking for?
    – wahoozie
    Apr 24 '15 at 4:07
  • @wahoozie I've been selected to do an interview for an internship (I'm a student) and one of the requirements for the job is: "Linux programming preferably within the confines of a Pi-based system". I'm just wondering what the Pi specification means. What's the difference between running Linux on a Raspberry Pi instead of a regular machine? It seems like there would only be restrictions with the limited hardware. Apr 24 '15 at 6:31
  • 1
    None really, apart from some applications will run very slow because they need lots of memory to run efficiently. I have an old 48MB (yes MB) laptop which I used to run Linux on. I only used the lightest of Window Managers (blackbox I think). Unfortunately it has recently died, a bummer as I use that machine to program my remote controls.
    – joan
    Apr 24 '15 at 7:02

I've run Debian linux since the 1990s, and am now playing with Raspbian on my RPis which is based on Debian. Two main differences come to mind:

  1. The RPi uses a completely different bootloader process. In Debian, you use GRUB to configure booting. On Raspbian, the configuration is entirely different, with many parameters set in /boot/config.txt.

  2. The RRi uses a different architecture than Intel-based PCs. This means that .deb (installable binary) packages must be build specifically for the RPi ARM architecture. If a package is available in the Raspbian repository, it should (usually) install just like on any other Debian-based system. If not, you may have to build it yourself from source, which can be a challenge.

Once your system is up and running with the required software, administration and operation is pretty much the same. Most of the skills I've developed using Debian have transferred directly over to the RPi, with hardware differences accounting for most of the challenges.

  • Hm okay, then what do you think is the reason an employer would put something like this? Is it just to inform the candidates that they'll be working with limited hardware? When I first saw the question I was under the assumption that being confined to work with a RPi would be another skill I'd have to learn (completely different software, etc.). Apr 24 '15 at 14:16
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    I was focusing on the administration and configuration aspects. The RPi is notable for including a wealth of IO features useful for real-world interfacing. The same things can be done with other linux boxes, but require more hardware. Perhaps the lab is using these features.
    – bobstro
    Apr 24 '15 at 21:25

Most non-embedded Linux systems and Linux VMs do not have a set of user accessible (and optionally even memory-mapped) digital and analog IO pins on an exposed connector. An interviewer might want to know if someone has any experience with direct low-latency IO configuration and programming.

The binary executables that one can run on a Pi must be ARM machine code, not the more common x86 or x86-64 of "regular" systems.

The performance of running generic stuff on a Pi will be more similar to that of a "regular" desktop Linux system of circa late 1990's than anything much more recent (but the graphics performance might be better). On a Pi, one can't depend as much on many GB of real memory with large processor caches to allow bloated code to seem to run reasonably. An interviewer might want a programmer who knows how to work within processor and memory constraints far less than that of a "regular" box with a 65 Watt CPU.


The more I experiment with the Raspberry pi, the more wisdom I find in Pluggy's signature: "Don't judge Linux by the Pi":

enter image description here

That is to say that the Raspberry Pi is awesome IFF you already know Linux or have a good working knowledge of it. If you're new to Linux, embedded Linux, or embedded anything, there's going to be a lot to learn.

Compared to desktop or laptop systems, the Pi has less hardware processing power, and is made to interface to "strange" hardware (through GPIO), unlike some laptops or smaller motherboards.

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