Build a Tiny DOS Gaming PC With Raspberry Pi and Dosbian

Long before VR gaming and microtransactions and downloadable content, games came on disks. Floppy disks and optical discs, they were installed on a PC’s hard disk drive before playing.

You may recall this from using Windows XP through to Windows 8. But what about the days before that, when games were all designed for MS-DOS? What happened to those games, and how do you run them today?

One option is to emulate MS-DOS with software called DOSbox. But for a more authentic experience, you need an operating system that boots straight into a DOS-like environment.

For that, you need Dosbian.

What Is Dosbian?

Developed by Carmelo Maiolino, Dosbian is a Debian-based Raspberry Pi distro that boots straight into an MS-DOS-like environment. It is based on DOSBox and features various improvements introduced by the community around that software.

Dosbian can handle DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and Windows 98 software, has network bridging with a virtual LAN to the Pi’s networking hardware, and can support the creation of floppy and hard disk drives. Floppies, HDDs, and CD-ROMs can be mounted using a special utility. Meanwhile, Dosbian also has sound card emulation, video output emulation for different IBM-compatible PC types (such as Tandy), is regularly updated with new features and fixes.

Of course, you could simply install DOSBox on your Raspberry Pi OS.

But that isn’t quite what we’re after.

Inspiration: The weeCee Tiny DOS Gaming PC

What this project is all about is building a tiny gaming PC running DOS – just like the weeCee.

This is an open-source PCB that is compatible with Vortex86, a System-on-Chip (SoC) with x86 architecture (rather than the usual ARM architecture found on such devices). Because it is x86-compatible, that means it can run classic IBM-PC compatible software, without emulation.

Since the weeCee can’t actually be bought (it exists mainly as a series of components that you source and assemble yourself), it’s pretty difficult to get hold of one.

That’s where the Raspberry Pi comes in. This project is a trade-off: the compact size of the weeCee and the necessary compatibility, but relying on emulation rather than compatible hardware.

What You’ll Need to Build a Raspberry Pi DOS Gaming PC

While you could easily grab some old PC hardware from eBay for very little outlay, it’s going to be comparatively expensive to run. The weeCee is a great solution, but it’s not easy to get hold of.

That’s what makes a Raspberry Pi running Dosbian a particularly good alternative.

To build a weeCee-like mini DOS PC you will need:

  • Raspberry Pi 3 or later (we used a Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB of RAM)
  • A case (for the mini-PC look, I used a DeskPi Pro, above, but any will do)
  • HDMI display (you might opt to rely on an HDMI to VGA adapter for the classic feel)
  • Keyboard and mouse (and joystick for arcade games)
  • At least 8GB microSD card

You will also need to download:

  • Dosbian — free, but the developer accepts donations via PayPal if you find it useful
  • Balena Etcher — free flash storage disk writing software

Grab your hardware and download the software before proceeding.

Sadly, we can’t tell you where to find old DOS games to run on Dosbian. Our explanation of abandonware should help you understand why.

Install Dosbian on the Raspberry Pi

Installation of Dosbian is straightforward.

First, download the 7z file and extract the compressed IMG file.

Then, using a tool like Etcher (download link above), write the IMG file to your Raspberry Pi’s microSD card.

Our guide to installing an operating system on the Raspberry Pi explains this in greater detail. It also outlines other installation options.

Boot Your DOS-Powered Raspberry Pi

With the Dosbian operating system installed on the microSD card, and the media safely ejected from your PC, insert it into your Raspberry Pi and boot it up.

You’ll see the Dosbian splash screen, which displays classic-style PC boot details such as processor speed and RAM. The screen wil also confirm whether any additional USB storage is attached.

Once this passes, you’ll see a standard DOSBox interface, and a C: prompt. You’ll notice the message, “Drive C is mounted as local directory /home/pi/dosbian/” – this is where you will find relevant directories for adding new games to your DOS gaming PC.

Dosbian Configuration Options

Before you get your hands dirty in the command line interface of Dosbian, however, there is another screen to visit. To reach it, type and enter


This will prompt the Dosbian menu, where a wealth of configuration options can be found.

Most of these are beyond the scope of this guide, but you should definitely hit C to access the raspi-config tool and configure your Raspberry Pi. This will let you connect the device to your local wireless network (if you’re not using Ethernet) as well as enable SSH.

Another option to consider here is Launchbox, enabled by pressing 8 and rebooting the Raspberry Pi. Launchbox is a mouse- or keyboard-driven DOS interface for easily selecting and launching software. If you don’t want to use the MS-DOS commands (see below) this is the easiest way to use Dosbian.

You can also use the Dosbian menu to update the OS, change the boot/splash screen, switch the mount point, and shutdown or reboot the Raspberry Pi.

Copy MS-DOS Games to Dosbian

The easiest way to copy games to Dosbian is via USB and the Midnight Commander app, which is pre-installed.

Start by copying your collection of DOS games to the USB stick and connecting it to the Raspberry Pi. With the Dosbian menu running, hit M to open Midnight Commander. Then, simply drag and drop the files onto the Pi’s microSD card, within the Dosbian file structure.

Meanwhile, if you enabled SSH, you should be able to use the scp command or an FTP client with SFTP support to move data from a PC to the Dosbian Raspberry Pi. Our guide to copying data from a PC to a Raspberry Pi explains this in detail.

Install and Launch a Game in Dosbian

With the files copied to the Raspberry Pi, it’s time to run them.

This is as easy as switching to the directory using the cd command and initiating the EXE. For example, to run the preinstalled Wolfenstein 3D, I used dir to check the contents of the directory, then

cd games/wolf3d

After spotting the wolf3d.exe file, I entered


To start the game. It’s as simple as that, and once you get to grips with what the EXE files are called, you probably won’t need to bother with the dir command in most cases.

How to Get Around in Dosbian

As Dosbian creates an MS-DOS emulation environment, you’ll need to be familiar with the commands you need to use it. If you’re already familiar with the Windows Command Prompt, or PowerShell, or the Windows Terminal, you should be able to get to grips with MS-DOS pretty quickly.

While you can get by with cd and dir, it’s easier if you know a few more. To learn these, type


And hit enter. This will provide an overview of the supported MS-DOS commands in Dosbian.

To quit Dosbian, enter


Then, in the Dosbian menu, hit S to shut down the computer.

Your Own DOS Gaming PC Thanks to Raspberry Pi

That’s all there is to it. Thanks to a Debian-based operating system that boots into a special build of DOSBox, Dosbian will let you treat your Raspberry Pi like a tiny DOS gaming PC, much like the weeCee. While the hardware is emulated, unless you’re interested in a hardcore 80s and 90s PC gaming experience but with lower power requirements, Dosbian should be all you need.

If you have enjoyed the experience of running Dosbian on your Raspberry Pi, don’t forget that the weeCee is an open source design. You can buy a Vortex86 module and Rasteri’s host board for around $200 and assemble your own system.

The Raspberry Pi is capable of emulating many retro computing platforms. Once you’re done with MS-DOS games, why not revisit the Amiga?

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