Can Raspberry Pi Boot From USB?

Raspberry Pi computers are easy to use and very simple in their design. This is partly thanks to their small size, with just a basic motherboard and the most essential elements that any good computer needs.

Pi computers have earned themselves a very healthy reputation thanks to just how much they manage to condense into that rather adorable package.

Raspberry Pis are commonly used in educational contexts in order to teach all manner of people how they can build computers and get to coding on them to access awesome programs.

Pi computers are easy to boot up and operate, but offer a wealth of customization options that make them perfect as modern learning platforms. 

This easy operation is thanks to the use of Micro SD cards which are plugged right into the motherboard to provide it with access to the Raspberian OS. But are there other ways to boot up a Pi computer?

Can Raspberry Pi Boot From USB

Can you boot one up from a USB? Is it difficult to do, and is it even worth doing in the first place? 

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to boot your Pi from a USB device, read on below to find out whether you can, and how you can go about doing it!

Can A Raspberry Pi Boot From USB?

Yes. The default setting for all Pi devices is to automatically boot from the Micro SD card that contains the Raspberian OS. However, it is possible to set your Raspberry Pi to boot up from an entirely separate source. 

Now you’re probably wondering how you can try it for yourself, right? Well, you’re definitely in the right place, as we’re about to show you how you can boot your Pi from just a simple USB! Read on!

Step 1 – Make The Right Preparations

The first thing you should always make sure to do when endeavoring to play about with the settings of your Raspberry Pi is to make a backup of all of your important data. 

Save all of your data onto a USB stick or Micro SD drive, so that you can reaccess it should you lose it. It is very unlikely that booting your Pi from a USB stick would cause corruption to your data, but it is better to be safe than sorry!

After you have made a backup of your data, all you need to do is update the Raspberian OS on your Raspberry Pi. The updated version of Raspberian OS will be stored on your Micro SD card.

Step 2 – Enable USB Booting

Now that your Pi is fully updated to the latest version of the operating system, you will need to go into the terminal to play around with some of the code. Don’t worry, this isn’t quite as daunting or difficult as it may sound! 

Open up the terminal of your Pi and type in this command on a new line towards the bottom:

echo program_usb_boot_mode=1 | sudo tee -a /boot/config.txt 

Once you have entered this command into the terminal, save all of your changes and restart your Raspberry Pi.

Step 3 – Restart Your Raspberry Pi

Once your Pi has restarted, it should now be ready to boot from an external device like a USB stick. In order to check that the command you entered before the restart has worked, type in:

vcgencmd otp_dump | grep 17

Once you type in this command, you should be met with the value of 3020000a. If you don’t have this value show up, make doubly sure that you have typed in all commands correctly. Don’t worry, it is quite easy to mistype these commands, and we all do it at one point! 

Step 4 – Prepare Your USB

Now that your Pi has been set to respond to external booting, you will need to ensure that your USB device has the Raspberian OS installed onto it. 

Head to the Raspberry Pi website, where you can get free access to the Raspberian OS, so that you can use it on any device. Download the OS.

The OS may take some time to download, as it is quite hefty, so kick your feet up for a bit!

Once it has been downloaded, you will need to unzip the OS file before you can get to using it. 

Once unzipped, insert the USB device into your PC and write the Raspberian OS onto it. You may need to use an external program such as Win32 Disk Imager to be able to do this effectively. 

Once the OS has been written to your USB device, of course, eject it, and then remove the USB. 

Step 5 – Boot From USB

Now that you have the Raspberian OS installed on your USB device, and the Pi is set to boot from an external device, plug the USB into your Pi and boot it up. When it boots up you should see that the Raspberian OS opens as normal, except now it will have booted from your USB drive! 

Why Should You Boot Raspberry Pi From a USB?

Being able to boot your Pi from a USB can be very convenient. Say you lose access to the original Micro SD card from your Pi, you can simply use your USB device to boot instead, provided you have some kind of Micro SD backup with the Raspberian OS installed. 

And if you were to lose that USB device, then you could just as easily install the Raspberian OS onto any other storage device and boot from there! It makes it very easy to be able to access your Pi anytime you need it, even if you have lost your storage device with the OS saved to it! 

Conclusion

Learning to boot your Pi from an external USB device is very useful.

It makes it much easier to access your Pi any time, whenever you need it, and also teaches you how you can develop boot partitions for other computers so that you can run multiple operating systems on just one device such as a flash drive.

It takes a little bit of work, and a little bit of experimentation with the terminal, but ultimately learning to boot your Pi from a USB is very easy, and very, very rewarding.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Boot My Raspberry Pi 4 From Usb?

Yes. The Raspberry Pi 4 is very receptive to booting from an external USB device. As the most powerful model of Pi, the Pi 4 is very capable of booting from all sorts of external booting sources. Follow our guide to find out how you can boot your Pi 4 from a USB!

Will A Raspberry Pi Boot Without SD?

Unfortunately, you cannot boot a Pi without an SD card, as the SD card is what contains the operating system, which allows the Pi to boot up fully in the first place.

How Do I Open Terminal On Raspberry Pi Without Mouse?

If you wanted to make your Pi even more convenient and lightweight, you can easily access the terminal by pressing ctrl+alt+f1. From here, you can then type in any commands you want to control your Raspberry Pi.

Melanie Nilsen
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