The CanaKit Raspberry Pi 4: A $100 Office PC and More!

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $100
The Raspberry Pi 4 sitting in its box and KanaKit accessories.
Ted Needleman

Could you use another computer in your home or office? Even a low-end PC can easily run $300 or more without a monitor. If you have a spare screen, though, you can put together a very capable PC for around $100!

Here's What We Like

  • Inexpensive PC with great features
  • About the size of a deck of playing cards
  • Two HDMI ports make it easy to use a double monitor setup
  • Multiple programming languages make it perfect for learning to code
  • CanaKit provides all you need to get started

And What We Don't

  • Doesn't run Windows
  • microSD card storage is much smaller than a hard drive or SSD
  • Keyboard and mouse are somewhat flimsy

The secret is to use a tiny, one-board computer called Raspberry Pi, along with a complete Starter Kit from CanaKit. You can assemble it and have it up and running in just 15 to 20 minutes.

It’s in There!

The Starter Kit has everything you need for your $100 Office PC except a display. It includes all of the following:

  • The 4 GB RAM model of the Raspberry PI 4B computer
  • An “official” Raspberry Pi keyboard and mouse in white and red
  • A 15-watt power supply with an On/Off switch
  • A 32 GB MicroSD Card that contains the New Out Of the Box Software (NOOBS) installer
  • Multiple operating systems, programming languages, LibreOffice, and a host of other software
  • A case for the Pi
  • An SD Card reader dongle (which I didn’t use)
  • A cable with a Micro HDMI connector on one side (to plug into the board), and a standard HDMI connector on the other (to plug into your monitor)
  • Three stick-on heat sinks, and a small fan

When you run the Raspberry Pi for hours, it gets pretty hot. The stick-on heat sink and fan keep things cool. The included booklet shows you how to put everything together and how to install the software, as well as some minor troubleshooting notes in case things go off the rails.

While we reviewed the package from CanaKit, it’s not the only supplier of these kits. Some other vendors include Vilros, Micro Center, and PiShop.US. You can also buy the individual pieces, but it will cost you about the same as the CanaKit package—possibly more when you add in shipping costs from multiple suppliers. However, if you do go the assemble-your-own route, you can purchase the microSD card with the NOOBS software already on it. This saves you the bother of creating your own boot card.

The ports on a Raspberry Pi 4B labeled.
The Raspberry Pi 4B ports. Raspberrypi.org

The Raspberry Pi includes basically everything you’d get from a full-size computer, including multiple USB ports and support for dual monitors.

Here’s a look at the board’s full specs:

  • Broadcom BCM2711, Quad-core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.5 GHz
  • Depending on the model, a 1 GB, 2 GB or 4 GB LPDDR4-3200 SDRAM
  • Bluetooth 5.0, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz IEEE 802.11 ac wireless
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports.
  • Raspberry Pi standard 40 pin GPIO header (fully backward compatible with previous boards)
  • Two × micro HDMI ports (up to 4kp60 supported)
  • Two-lane MIPI CSI camera port
  • Four-pole stereo audio and composite video port
  • H.265 (4kp60 decode), H264 (1080p60 decode, 1080p30 encode)
  • OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics
  • Micro-SD card slot for loading operating system and data storage
  • A 5 V DC via USB-C connector (minimum 3 A)
  • A 5 V DC via GPIO header (minimum 3 A)

One thing you get on the Raspberry Pi that you don’t on most PCs is a GPIO header. This allows you to connect the Pi to a variety of peripheral boards, as well as control and sense the outside world. These features are what make the Raspberry Pi an experimenter’s dream. There are literally thousands of projects available online if you want to use the board for something other than just an office PC.

The Raspberry Pi sitting on top of a deck of cards.
The Raspberry Pi is about the same size as a deck of playing cards. Ted Needleman

Putting It Together

When you buy the $100 kit, you don’t need anything else except a monitor with an HDMI output. You can use an older model monitor, but you’ll have to buy an additional video cable that has an HDMI plug on the computer side, and whichever input (DVI or VGA) the monitor requires.

This is truly a plug-and-play kit—assembly only takes about five minutes. The first step is to place the microSD card in the socket on the bottom of the board. This contains the operating system and additional software and serves as the computer’s storage. The microSD included with the CanaKit has 32 GB of space. If you want more, you can add a USB hard disk or plug a USB flash drive into one of the available USB ports.

Next, you stick the self-adhesive heat sinks on the three components that generate the most heat: the CPU, RAM, and USB chip. The instruction booklet shows you which heat sink to put on each component.

The Raspberry Pi board with the heat sinks installed.
The Raspberry Pi with its heat sinks installed. Ted Needleman

Your next step is to press-fit the fan into the top of the case, and then connect the two fan wires to the appropriate pins on the GPIO header (the instruction booklet shows you where these go). Make sure you install the fan with its label pointed toward the outside of the case so the air flows in the right direction. Press the top on (no screws required).

The official keyboard and mouse are serviceable, but a bit flimsy compared to the much more expensive models I normally use. As a bonus, though, the keyboard does have a USB-2 hub with three ports.

The USB ports on the side of the official Raspberry Pi keyboard.
The official Raspberry Pi keyboard has three additional USB ports. Ted Needleman

All that’s left to do now is plug in the keyboard, mouse, monitor, power supply, and On/Off switch. The Raspberry Pi has onboard Wi-Fi, but if you want to go wired, you’ll also need to plug in your Ethernet cable.

The Raspberry Pi completely assembled with all cables plugged in.
All plugged in and ready to go! Ted Needleman

The first time you power up your Raspberry Pi, the screen flickers for a few seconds, and then shows the NOOBS installation screen. On this screen, choose your language, and the keyboard layout you prefer (U.K. is the default, so you’ll want to change this if you’re in the U.S.).

You can also select your Wi-Fi network, and the type of operating system you want to install. In most cases, you’ll want the first choice in the list, “Raspbian Full.” This installs the OS and a host of other software, including programming languages and editors, and, for our purposes, LibreOffice, a freeware alternative to the Microsoft Office Suite.

The NOOBS v3.1 installation menu on Raspberry Pi.
The initial installation and configuration menu on Raspberry Pi.

If you want to experiment, other operating systems are available (most from the Install menu), but others have to be directly downloaded and moved to a microSD card. For our office PC replacement, we can disregard these, but they’re there if, at some point, you want to use the Raspberry Pi for a different purpose.

The logos of all the operating systems available on the Raspberry Pi.
The Raspberry Pi supports a variety of operating systems besides Raspbian.

The complete installation takes about 10 to 15 minutes. If any updates are available, they are also downloaded. A message appears to let you know when the installation is complete. The default desktop wallpaper is attractive, but you can change it if you like (just like you can in Windows).

Initially, you only see a trash, globe (which launches the Chromium browser), file folder (which launches the file manager), and raspberry icon. The latter displays a drop-down menu of the classes of installed software, along with submenus for each of those. You can drag and drop any application icon to the desktop to create a shortcut. There’s also an icon to open the Terminal mode for Linux commands.

The Raspbian desktop wallpaper of mountains and a sunset behind domed buildings.
The Raspbian desktop is attractive, but you can change the wallpaper.

The default web browser is Chromium, which will be familiar to anyone who’s used Google Chrome. However, there are other browsers available if you don’t care for Chromium.

The raspberrypi.org web page.
The Chromium browser looks very familiar.

Tons of Software

When you choose the full install, the Raspbian OS provides a large variety of productivity, education, and language software. When you click the raspberry icon, a drop-down menu displays the different categories of installed software. Click any of these options to see the applications under that submenu. LibreOffice is installed automatically and good to go from the start.

An image inserted into a LibreOffice Write document.
LibreOffice Write looks a lot like MS Word.

It’s easy to add applications. Click the Preferences submenu, and select the installation method you prefer. The Add/Remove option opens a window in which you can search for applications or display those available in different categories. At the bottom of the Preferences menu, click Recommended Software to see a short list of applications. Many of those listed, such as LibreOffice, Scratch, and Mathematica, are already installed.

After you click the application you want, it either installs automatically or directions to install it will appear.

The "Internet" submenu of the "Add/Remove Software" menu.
Adding new applications is easy as Pi.

No Windows

Again, the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is a terrific base for an inexpensive office PC, especially if you already have a monitor.

The one downside is, at the moment, Raspberry Pi doesn’t run Windows. Some people have installed versions of it, and some hobbyists have kludged an installation, but there isn’t a stable, supported version. If you have to run Windows applications, this PC isn’t for you.

However, the latest version of the Raspberry Pi OS is very similar to Windows. Zoho offers numerous business applications you can run in your browser for a reasonable monthly price.

LibreOffice, the included office suite, is also very well documented and supported. One final thing you need to do is install your printer with the CUPs utility developed for Linux and its derivatives (including Raspbian). After that, you’re all set to use the LibreOffice components and get some work done.

More Than Just a Cheap PC

If all you need is a compact PC replacement (and you don’t need Windows), the CanaKit Starter Max Kit is a great way to go. At just over $100, it’s a terrific buy.

As we mentioned above, CanaKit is not the only supplier of the Raspberry Pi and its peripherals. However, the company did a great job packing everything you need (except a monitor) into this easy-to-assemble kit.

CanaKit offers a variety of other kits if, for example, you just want a Raspberry Pi to experiment with or learn code. You can also buy the parts separately from a large number of vendors. Either way, you not only get a terrific PC that runs the LibreOffice Suite, but also a Linux computer that’s an experimenter’s and coder’s dream.

That’s the real beauty of using a Raspberry Pi as the foundation of your build. It’s perfect as an office PC replacement, but even better if you want to explore the capabilities of the included software, such as Mathematica (a Student Copy costs $165 a year, but it’s free for personal use with the Raspberry Pi). The Raspberry Pi is also perfect if you want to learn to program—the Python and Scratch programming languages are included in the software collection.

Finally, the GPIO header makes it easy to experiment with literally thousands of projects. The Raspberry Pi Foundation also publishes a free monthly magazine that’s a terrific resource to get the most out of your Raspberry Pi.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $100

Here’s What We Like

  • Inexpensive PC with great features
  • About the size of a deck of playing cards
  • Two HDMI ports make it easy to use a double monitor setup
  • Multiple programming languages make it perfect for learning to code
  • CanaKit provides all you need to get started

And What We Don't

  • Doesn't run Windows
  • microSD card storage is much smaller than a hard drive or SSD
  • Keyboard and mouse are somewhat flimsy

Ted Needleman Ted Needleman
Ted Needleman has written over 4,000 software and hardware reviews over his decades as a writer and editor. In addition to his work for Review Geek, you can find him at PCMag, Digital Trends, and AccountingToday. Read Full Bio »

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