Methods to Emulate a Raspberry Pi on Your PC

Fancy a $ 50 computer but not sure you want to take the risk? You are not a curmudgeon, you are just wise. And getting a good preview of what you're going to buy is just common sense.

Raspberry Pi Emulate Win

Why not just run the operating system instead of buying a Raspberry Pi and risking disappointment? This can be installed in the QEMU emulator, a virtual machine or as a live CD.

Here's what you need to know.

Turn your PC into a Raspberry Pi

You've probably heard of emulation. It essentially allows you to run software on systems on which it would otherwise not be compatible. An emulation is integrated in Windows itself. You may have seen the compatibility mode that older software can run in.

Virtual machines are ideal for anyone who wants to experience a new operating system (OS) without compromising the digital balance. VMware and VirtualBox are often recommended for anyone looking to try Linux for the first time, for example. The same tools can be used to run an older version of Windows or even macOS.

Would you like to run the Raspberry Pi software on your PC?

Emulate a Raspberry Pi in QEMU

You have three options:

  1. Emulate Raspbian with QEMU

  2. Run the Raspberry Pi desktop as a live hard drive

  3. Install Raspberry Pi Desktop in a virtual machine

Let's look at each of these methods below.

Emulate a Raspberry Pi on Windows with QEMU

Virtual machine utilities such as VMware and VirtualBox create a virtualized hardware environment. However, these are almost always based on the 32-bit and 64-bit architecture (x86 / x64). This makes them ideal for most operating system virtualizations, but every operating system that runs on ARM chipsets is incompatible.

This is where QEMU comes in. Q.uick EMUlator emulates ARM chipsets such as those contained in the Raspberry Pi. As a result, a virtualized Pi can be created on any PC.

While it is possible to install QEMU and configure the Raspberry Pi operating system from scratch, it takes a while to set up. Instead, for the sake of simplicity, we'll show you how to use the QEMU Raspbian package from Sourceforge instead.

Download: QEMU Raspbian for Windows (free)

Once downloaded, you'll need to set up the package.

  1. Navigate to the download folder

  2. Unzip QEMU.zip to your hard drive (use C: / QEMU)

  3. Open the QEMU subfolder

  4. Double click bat to get started

  5. A virtualized Raspberry Pi will appear and Raspbian Wheezy will start

  6. Wait for this to finish. The process should continue as shown in this video

As soon as the process is complete, Raspbian starts directly with raspi-config, a configuration tool for the Raspberry Pi. It is not advisable to optimize too much, as this can lead to stability problems. If possible, do not use the update option or do not perform any of the usual Raspberry Pi update or upgrade instructions.

muo-rasppisetup-intro-2

Optimize the performance of your Raspberry Pi with Raspbian

As befits a man with too much tech, I recently played with my Raspberry Pi and configured the device so that it unfolds its full potential. It continues to operate as a media center, although I have no doubt that this use will be added in the near future. However, installing an operating system and adding XBMC is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using the RPi.

Note that this configuration tool can be restarted at any time via a command prompt

sudo raspi-config

When you're done, use the arrow keys to select Finished, Then tap Enter.

When the configuration is complete, the prompt is displayed. You can either try or type some basic Linux commands startx to start the Raspbian desktop.

Here you will learn about the various pre-installed tools such as Minecraft Pi and the basic building block development tool for kids, Scratch.

It's time to play!

Forget emulation: run Raspberry Pi OS on your PC as a live CD

While QEMU is good enough to use in most cases, it does have some shortcomings. The most important thing is that the process is using an old version of the Raspberry Pi operating system.

Raspbian is no longer developed in its old form; It is now known as the Raspberry Pi OS. For a more up-to-date representation of the Pi environment, the Raspberry Pi operating system for x86 / x64 computers is available as a Raspberry Pi desktop.

All you have to do is download it, burn it to a USB stick or DVD, and restart your computer. You will see the option to launch the Raspberry Pi desktop, which will give you a good overview of the Pi computing experience.

Download: Raspberry Pi Desktop (free)

If you like it, you can also install Raspberry Pi Desktop on a computer using the Live CD. Note that while most software should be running, you cannot use anything that relies on GPIO pins.

Enjoy Raspberry Pi OS in a virtual machine

If you like Raspberry Pi Desktop, it can run without the Live CD and the reboot that comes with it. All you need is a virtual machine utility such as VirtualBox or VMware Workstation.

The general process is simple:

  1. Install the virtual machine software

  2. Create a virtual machine

  3. Attach the ISO image of the Raspberry Pi desktop live disk

  4. Start the virtual machine

  5. Install the Raspberry Pi OS

  6. Have fun with your virtual Raspberry Pi

However, the specifics for each tool of the virtual machine differ. We have created instructions for installing Linux in a virtual machine. Since Raspberry Pi Desktop is based on Linux, these guides have everything you need to know:

Follow the steps outlined in the corresponding instructions to create your own virtualized Raspberry Pi.

Emulation and virtualization versus buying a Raspberry Pi

Raspberry pis are extremely affordable. Why would anyone want to spend their time with an emulator?

Raspberry Pi 4 is the most powerful so far

Well, several reasons come to mind.

  1. With a virtualized Raspberry Pi environment, you can try out the operating system with little effort. All of the messing around with writing a disc image to SD is avoided. In addition, virtualization offers a quick way to do so for anyone looking to dip a toe in the cake (!).

  2. A virtual Raspberry Pi offers the possibility to measure how the different apps are executed. This can be useful for children who use Scratch or other development tools. Taking screenshots on the Raspberry Pi is easy enough, but exporting can be difficult – virtualization bypasses this. It is also recommended to test a new operating system in a virtualized environment.

  3. Raspberry Pi fans love to play and do handicrafts. Virtualization is just another way of looking at things. It may not have a physical computer, but it can save time and change the game a little in some scenarios. If you're a Raspberry Pi owner, then it definitely pays to access a virtual Pi – you never know when you might!

It doesn't matter whether you use QEMU to run a virtualized ARM environment with Raspbian or run Raspberry Pi Desktop in a VM or as a live CD. In any case, enjoy the Raspberry Pi experience on your PC.

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About the author

Christian Cawley
(1412 articles published)

Deputy Editor for Security, Linux, DIY, Programming and Technology explains. He also produces The Really Useful Podcast and has extensive desktop and software support experience.

Christian is an employee of Linux Format Magazine and a Raspberry Pi hobbyist, Lego lover and retro gaming fan.

More from Christian Cawley

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