Playing old DOS games on the Raspberry Pi

Retro Gamer

© Lead Image © lightwise,

© Lead Image © lightwise,

Article from Issue 261/2022

Play old DOS games on the Dosbian operating system, which turns the Raspberry Pi into an 80486 PC.

Many users still hold old DOS games dear despite, or maybe precisely because of, their blocky graphics, beeping sounds, and chiptune music. Of course, state-of-the-art PCs are not much use for installing games for the old 16-bit operating system. The installation will typically fail, the hardware is far too fast, and the systems no longer support numerous components such as Soundblaster 16 sound cards or floppy drives. DOS runtime environments and DOS emulators such as DOSEMU and DOSBox often require a complex setup on Linux to run old DOS games.

Because older computer systems that are still suitable for the 16-bit operating system from the 1980s and early 1990s are becoming increasingly rare, the Raspberry Pi is a great alternative platform for the old games. Paired with Dosbian [1], a development by Italian programmer Carmelo Maiolino, you get a mature and easy-to-deploy solution.


Dosbian on the Raspberry Pi does not take much in terms of resources. The operating system can be used on a Raspberry Pi 2B, although some modifications of the configuration are required to run games smoothly. All of the more recent generations of the small-board computer (SBC) will support Dosbian without problem. However, for old Windows games to run well on Dosbian, a Raspberry Pi 4 with added RAM is recommended because the software for these games requires fairly extensive memory capacities.

The Dosbian developers do not list any further requirements. The operating system automatically emulates the required legacy hardware, such as sound cards and network and graphics cards, and it allocates memory resources to match. Moreover, the current version of Dosbian lets you generate floppy disks and hard disk storage designed for a capacity of up to 2GB.


Dosbian is based on Raspberry Pi OS and DOSBox. Because the distribution is specially adapted for use with DOS software, its use as a conventional desktop system is not intended. You can pick up the operating system image from the project's website as a 7Z archive weighing in at 1.1GB, unpacking to 3.6GB. You can then transfer the image to a microSD card in the usual way (e.g., with the Raspberry Pi Imager or the Linux dd command).

Unlike Raspberry Pi OS, Dosbian takes you to a DOS prompt rather than a graphical user interface. Dosbian emulates a 80486DX2 CPU running at 66MHz with 16MB of RAM. The operating system launches the preconfigured DOSBox [2] in the background at boot time. To work with it, you need to be familiar with the basic command syntax of the 16-bit operating system.


Although many very old DOS games and numerous applications under DOS do not support mouse control, you should have a mouse connected to the system to adjust some settings. If you want to use Dosbian with an older Raspberry Pi that does not yet have hardware for wireless network access, you will need to connect the SBC to the Internet with the Ethernet socket; then, boot the system and enter the exit command at the DOS prompt. Dosbian now opens a special configuration menu (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Dosbian configuration menu removes the need to work at the prompt.

In the menu, first open the Raspberry Pi software configuration tool by pressing C and OK to confirm (Figure 2). Now select the first entry 1 System Options and then S1 Wireless LAN if you are using a current fourth generation Raspberry Pi. In the next two dialogs, you have to enter the service set identifier (SSID, or WiFi network name) and the passphrase for your WiFi installation. After that, you are taken back to the main menu. When you get there, select 6 Advanced Options and A1 Expand Filesystem. Dosbian then expands the filesystem to the entire size of the microSD card and displays a message on completion.

Figure 2: Use the configuration tool to set up the Raspberry Pi.

To access the Raspberry Pi over SSH, start the SSH server by selecting 3 Interface Options from the main menu and P2 SSH from the next menu. After that, reboot to enable all the new settings.

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