Raspberry Pi Boot from USB (SSD or Flash Drive)

The Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer designed to teach children programming. It has become very popular in schools because it is cheap, versatile, and fun to use.

This guide will show you how to install Raspbian Lite onto a Micro SD card and then write it to a USB flash drive. Once installed, you’ll be able to boot the Raspberry Pi from either device. 

You can significantly ramp up the performance of your Pi device by booting from a separate drive, which will allow you to get even more done, and in record times that a Raspberry Pi could not achieve normally. 

Booting a Raspberry Pi from a USB device takes some effort, so we’re here to show you exactly how to do it.

Certain Pi models take better to booting from external storage devices than others, so we will make sure to show you how you can do it no matter what Raspberry Pi you are using! Read on below to find out!

How To Boot Raspberry Pi From A USB or SD card

How To Boot Raspberry Pi From A USB (SSD or Flash Drive)

The Raspberian OS has been updated recently to officially accommodate booting from an external USB drive. 

Take a look at your Raspberry Pi, and take a look at the Micro SD memory card slot. This memory card is responsible for housing and booting all of the programs you use on your Raspberry Pi! 

It’s quite an important job, so it is very impressive that such a small piece of equipment can manage so much. Today’s guide will show you how to boot and run your Pi device without the need for your Micro SD! 

A standard Micro SD can only process around a maximum of 50 megabits per second, while an SSD or Flash drive can achieve vastly higher numbers, so it is well worth trying out!

Before you start, you will want to make sure that you have access to a Micro SD card copier, as it is necessary for performing some of the steps in this guide.

Step 1 – Back Everything Up

If you have anything important on your Raspberry Pi, make a point of backing it all up. Booting your Raspberry Pi from an external drive won’t directly cause data corruption, but it is best to err on the side of caution!

You will want to make sure that you have access to an empty Micro SD card, as this process requires that a Micro SD card be erased.

Step 2 – Update Your Raspberry Pi

Next up, you will want to make sure that your Pi device is fully up to date. Simply download the latest version of the Raspberry Pi OS and install it onto your Micro SD card. In an April 2021 update, it was made much more simple to boot from an external device, so it is well worth updating your Pi!

Step 3 – Download The Raspberry Pi Imager

Now that you have updated your Pi to the latest Raspberry Pi OS, go ahead and download the Raspberry Pi Imager to your computer. The Imager allows you to access the Raspberian OS on your PC so that you can make more changes to your settings. 

Step 4 – Select Your Bootloader

Once the Raspberry Pi Imager has been installed onto your computer head to the settings and look for the ‘Operating System’ option. Once you are on the ‘Operating System’ menu scroll down until you find the next section marked ‘Misc Utility Images’.

From there, select the ‘Bootloader’ option and then ‘USB Boot’ from there. This will set your Raspberry Pi to boot from USB devices if one is inserted. If you don’t plug in a USB drive, your Raspberry Pi will simply just boot up from the Micro SD card as usual.

Step 5 – Install These Settings Into Your Raspberry Pi

Insert your Micro SD card into the computer that you are using the Raspberry Pi Imager on.

Once you have inserted it, Click on the ‘Storage’ button that can be found on the main menu page of the Raspberry Pi Imager. Once you are on the ‘Storage’ menu take a look for your Micro SD and select it. 

Once you have selected your Micro SD card then just click ‘write’ and it will install the Raspberry Pi OS to that card with your options selected. You now have a Pi-compatible Micro SD that can boot from a separate USB drive.

Step 6 – Boot Up Your Raspberry Pi

Don’t worry, we’re getting close to the finish line now! Now that you have a freshly updated Raspberry Pi OS on your Micro SD card insert it into your Pi and then power the system on.

This will then cause the Pi to update which is necessary as we move towards the end of the process.

Once the Raspberry Pi has finished updating, power it down again.

Step 7 – Reinsert Your Original MicroSD Card

Now you will want to make use of your original Micro SD card that has the Raspberian OS installed onto it. Insert it into your Pi and operate as normal. Insert your USB SSD or Flash Drive as well as your Micro SD Card copier. Activate the card copier now. 

Once the card copier opens up you should be met with the option to transmit data from one card to another.

Insert the drive that you installed the Bootloader onto in the earlier steps, and then, using the ‘Copy From Device’ and ‘Copy To Device’ menus, choose the two drives you want to transfer data from and to.

You will want to transfer the data from the Micro SD card you filled up earlier and transfer that data over to your Flash or SSD Drive.

Once you have put the right options in, set copying to begin and allow it to happen. This will generally take around 10 minutes, so pat yourself on the back in the meantime!

Step 8 – Boot From Your USB Flash or SSD Drive

Once the transfer has been completed, shut down the Pi completely, then you should remove the Micro SD Card that you transferred data from, but leave your SSD or Flash Drive still hooked up.

Then, all you need to do is boot up the Pi again and it will know to boot up from the SSD or Flash Drive that you have inserted.

How To Boot Raspberry Pi

Should You Boot Your Raspberry Pi From a USB (SSD or Flash Drive)?

Raspberry Pi devices have more than enough power to carry out the functions that they are being used for, however, sometimes they can be quite easily overloaded, and sometimes they just might not offer enough power for what you want to try out. 

In such cases, it is well worth learning how to boot a Pi from a separate USB drive. It can help to offer lots more power and helps you to make great use of any SSDs or Flash Drives that you might have lying around.

Pi devices are also commonly used in schools to teach children how to program and code, so trying to boot a separate USB drive through a Pi can be a great way to teach children about how to operate partitions on their own computers which can prove very valuable.

To Conclude

There you have it! Booting up a Raspberry Pi from a USB drive is not difficult to do, but in order to achieve the best results, there are certain steps that you should make sure to follow.

Follow our guide carefully, and make sure to take your time when learning how to do this, so that you get it right the first time!

Booting up a Pi from a separate USB drive is great if you want to inject your device with just a little more computing power to get more done, and is a great way to teach yourself about coding, programming, and how computers operate and function.

It is well worth doing and very easy with the right instructions!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can A Raspberry Pi 4 Power An SSD?

Yes. Raspberry Pi 4 microcomputers are fully equipped to power SSDs. An SSD needs around 1 amp of power in order to run efficiently. The Pi 4 has USB 3.0 specifications, which means it is able to provide plenty of power to any USB drive plugged into it.

Can I Boot Retropie From USB

RetroPie is a great platform for accessing a massive range of classic games all from the comfort of your Raspberry Pi. You can even boot RetroPie from a compatible USB drive, which is extra beneficial, as it allows you to store even more rooms, which means even more gaming time for you!

Can You Use A Raspberry Pi Without An SD Card

No. Unfortunately, the Raspberry Pi has no onboard memory installed into it as standard, so you must ensure that you insert a Micro SD card or a compatible USB Drive whenever you boot the system up, otherwise, it simply will not work at all, as there will be no Pi OS to run.

Melanie Nilsen
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