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What does pi-topOS do differently to Raspbian?

pi-topOS builds on Raspbian, so a lot of things are identical. However there are some differences.

pi-topOS changes some of the theming provided by Raspbian, and adds out-of-the-box device support for pi-top hardware.

The focus of development in pi-topOS is primarily around device support for pi-top hardware, and usability improvements. Raspbian handles much of the backbone functionality that pi-topOS depends on - things like the way that software stays up-to-date, the general desktop environment, etc.

This means that pi-top developers are not directly involved in the development of these core features, even though pi-topOS directly benefits from this work done by the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

If you'd like to use pi-top products but with Raspberry Pi OS. Take a look at this article.


With all of our pi-top products, pi-top OS sets up communication between the Raspberry Pi and the pi-top Hub. That means when you want to turn off your device, the hub cuts power to itself and the Raspberry Pi. If you're not using pi-top OS, you'll no longer be able to initiate a soft shutdown by holding the power button for a short time. Instead, the device will hard shutdown and will likely corrupt your OS, overtime.

If you're using a different OS, when shutting down your device from the Start Menu on the desktop, the Raspberry Pi will shut down, but you'll still see the gree power light on your Hub and the red power light from your Raspberry Pi. You'll have to hold the power button for 5 seconds in order to turn off these lights.

With the pi-top [1], [3] and [4] you can also see the remaining battery level of your device and get prompted to plug in your device when the battery level drops too low.

With the pi-top [4], you'll not be able to use the OLED screen and it will constantly display a flashing SD Card image.

What are the main things that are different in pi-topOS?

We install multiple extra bits of software (known as packages) on top of Raspbian. These packages are responsible for such things as:

  • Plug-and-Play functionality with pi-top hardware
  • Modifying the user interface
  • Notification system
  • Automatic software updater
  • Onboarding/tour
  • Additional settings for pi-top hardware
  • About page to show key information about the OS that is installed

These are installed by a “parent” package: pt-os.

Other changes, performed during the creation of the OS, include:

  • Changing the default pi user password to pi-top
  • Enabling VNC Server by default
  • Adding pi-top software repository
  • Installing pi-top software (via pt-os package)
  • Modifying SSH text interface
  • Changing /boot/config.txt
    • Force HDMI out of HDMI1 on Raspberry Pi 4 to allow for VNC without a connected display
      • hdmi_force_hotplug:1=1
      • hdmi_blanking=1
    • Enable SPI0 to detect possible original pi-top/pi-topCEED
      • dtparam=spi=on
    • Enable SPI1 to use pi-top [4] OLED - default on
      • dtoverlay=spi1-1cs
    • Enable I2C to communicate with all pi-top hardware
      • dtparam=i2c_arm=on
    • Enable extra video codecs in Raspberry Pi GPU firmware; adds native support for Raspberry Pi Camera
      • start_x=1
    • Set GPU memory allocation to 128MB
      • gpu_mem=128
    • Configuring DHCP server on pi-top [4]’s USB-OTG port
    • Setting up screen blanking
    • Setting up dynamic swap for better performance
    • Changing hostname from 'raspberrypi' to 'pi-top'
    • Setting default locale and keyboard layout to US
    • Modifying system logging settings to persist (to aid with debugging)
    • Add build information into /etc/pt-issue
    • Clean up unwanted leftover directories and packages from Raspbian