ith the (still) ongoing chip shortage, some makers might have to compromise with cheaper or older single-board computers in order to keep their projects going. This has drawbacks: these devices often have less memory, slower processors, and possibly deprecated software supports. So, what to do?
In most cases, the answer is reducing the computer’s load by using a lightweight operative system.
As the name suggests, it’s a light installation for a wide variety of devices. It’s completely free and open source, with constant updates rolling out. This will allow you to make the most of older SBCs with even just 512 MB of RAM.
Before jumping into what makes DietPi so great, let’s recap a couple of definitions.
A single-board computer, SBC for short, is a device with every key component of a normal computer integrated into one board. Instead of being swappable, RAM, CPU, network adapters, and sometimes even storage are cramped in a small form factor unit and soldered onto the board. SBCs work like any other PC: they have an operating system (OS) to work, and they can be used in a desktop environment with a mouse or by command line with only a keyboard.
Speaking of the OS, most, if not all SBCs support Linux-based systems. Linux is a free and open-source baseline for many other OSes. These are called distributions and act as the actual operating system. Ubuntu, Debian, Raspberry Pi OS, and Armbian are some of the most popular in our case.
What Is DietPi?
DietPi is a Debian-based Linux distribution for ARM CPUs, aimed at improving the performance of SBCs. But there’s a slightly convoluted twist: DietPi is not a standalone operating system. At its core is a collection of scripts that are installed upon a basic Debian distribution.
The key components of the OS, like the kernel (which handles the talking between the hardware and operative system) and device firmware, are unchanged compared to the SBC manufacturer’s own distribution. This means that under the hood, running DietPi on a Raspberry Pi device is very close to using Raspberry Pi OS lite, with a few more tweaks.
The optimization here is given by stripping down the basic installation of unnecessary software add-ons and optimizing the remaining ones. This lowers the number of background processes, freeing up memory and CPU cycles for whatever application the user wants (like running Klipper or OctoPrint).
It’s the best of two worlds: maximum compatibility thanks to manufacturer drivers and firmware for networking, USB, and peripherals, but packaged in a light system with very little computational strain.
This all sounds great until the discussion gets to the “stripping down” part. How lite are we talking about here?
DIETPI (SBC SOFTWARE SOLUTION): ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
As we mentioned, DietPi is essentially a collection of optimization scripts and a bloatware remover. The system as a whole will still be fully functional and not inherently limited: the user can still run a desktop environment, install all the software packages and services they wish to, and use the default commands for Debian. For most users, the experience won’t differ significantly.
While the basic installation isn’t full of fancy packages, it doesn’t compromise on capabilities. Many stock system routines are swapped for their stripped-down in-house counterparts, such as DietPi-Dashboard for checking system usage, and DietPi-RAMlog to monitor RAM resources and content. This includes networking utilities, SSH servers, and File servers.
You can check out the full list with all the supported optimized software to make sure what you’re looking for is available.
If you need a specific tool, the developers have got your back. To make software installation and hardware configuration more user-friendly, DietPi incorporated a utility, DietPi-Launcher, to gain rapid access to all of their tools. This tool can be invoked from the command line but features a graphical user interface (GUI) to manage and control all of the settings.
With DietPi-Launcher the user can:
- Install the optimized software DietPi offers
- Configure system parameters like display and audio settings, network adapters, CPU overclock
- Manage partitions and drives
- Update and clean the system
- Do much more
As we mentioned before, DietPi doesn’t obstruct the normal operation of the system, meaning that you can still install, modify, update, and customize everything, as usual.