Do I Need an SD Card for Raspberry Pi? (and Why)


Raspberry Pi, a small computer-type device, does not have any internal storage, so if you intend on uploading or downloading anything, you will need some kind of external storage. The question is, will you be able to use an SD card for your Raspberry Pi? If yes, why should you use one instead of something else?

You need an SD card for your Raspberry Pi as it does not come with internal storage. Since all Raspberry Pi units have a dedicated SD card slot, this is the best, most compact option, and they are compatible with all versions of the Raspberry Pi, unlike flash drives or external hard drives.

Read on to discover why an SD card is the best choice for your Raspberry Pi’s external storage, what exactly your SD card does, and how to pick an SD card and format it. These steps will be crucial in using your Raspberry Pi since you can’t use your device without some form of storage.

What Does an SD Card Do?


If you are lost in all these new words and abbreviations, request my free Raspberry Pi glossary here (PDF format)!

Unfortunately, your Raspberry Pi does not come with any built-in storage, and in order to load the device’s operating system and files, you will need to have a place to store them.

Since your Raspberry Pi comes with an SD card slot, getting an SD card is the most convenient option when looking to add external storage. Be sure to purchase a good quality card (check my benchmark here), and take proper care of it as your Raspberry Pi needs it to function correctly. If your card stops working or runs out of storage, you will need to get a new one or reformat your current one to keep it working.

To run your Raspberry Pi, you will need your SD card and load the operating system onto it. This will be done from your computer or laptop, or you can purchase an SD card with the Raspberry Pi operating system already loaded. Either way works as long as you have enough storage space and can fit the SD card into your Raspberry Pi.

In addition to running your operating system, the SD card will hold any files you save and any applications you run on your Raspberry Pi that are not included in the operating system. The SD card is an essential part of your Raspberry Pi, so make sure you have enough storage if you have many files to save after you boot and run your device. The minimum you should consider is 8 GB (more details here).

Why Should I Use an SD Card and Not Something Else?

Just because you need storage for your Raspberry Pi does not mean using an SD card is mandatory. Though an SD is the best type of storage for your device, the other options include external hard drives or a USB flash drive. 

However, both of these will take up more space than an SD card, and they’re more likely to be removed accidentally, which can potentially corrupt your files. 

The Raspberry Pi Has a SD Card Slot

If you want to hook up a different type of external storage, you will need to use a USB port. This isn’t an issue until you need to add another type of device, in which case, you will be one port down.

In contrast, using an SD card in the SD card slot will leave your ports open for other uses like keyboard, mouse, game controllers, etc.

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SD Cards Are Small and Hidden

Another reason to use an SD card instead of a different type of external storage is that they are small, light, and easy to transport. Once you insert an SD card into your Raspberry Pi, you can leave it in there indefinitely without any extremities, which is also the safest way to keep your storage memory safe.

Other types of storage, such as a flash drive, will stick out of your device. Hard drives can be heavy and bulky, making it difficult to store or transport your tiny, lightweight Raspberry Pi. 
We love the compact size of this device, why should we add external storage when the SD card slot accept SD cards up to 1 TB!

Raspberry Pi Expects SD Cards

Finally, some models of the Raspberry Pi do not function properly with a USB storage device. If you do not want to use an SD card, you will need to have a specific model of external drive, and it will take longer to set up your device. Information on compatible devices and drives can be found online.

What Type of SD Card Should You Use?

There are many SD cards available, so you need to make sure to buy the right one to run your Raspberry Pi. If you are a beginner and do not want to spend a lot of time setting up an SD card, the best option is to buy a pre-formatted card with the operating system for Raspberry Pi preloaded. You will be able to insert the card and start using your Raspberry Pi right away.

The Raspberry Pi 32GB Preloaded (NOOBS) SD Card from Amazon is a great option as it has the official operating system preloaded and is known to work with all Raspberry Pi models.

If you do not use a pre-formatted SD card, you will need to buy one of the right size and storage capacity. All Raspberry Pi models have a micro-SD card slot, so make sure to choose this type of card. Then the choice will depend on the size you need, the performances you expect and the budget you have. 

Here are a few additional resources to guide you in this choice :

In short, the best SD card if you aren’t on a budget is this one. As for storage capacity, you will need to have at least 8 GB to run your Raspberry Pi, but the more storage you have, the better. Many SD cards up to 128 GB will work in your device with no problems. SD card are not so expensive, so take a little margin on the capacity.

How To Format an SD Card for Raspberry Pi

If it is brand new, or if you have previously used it for anything other than your Raspberry Pi, you will need to format your SD card for its new purpose. Be sure you have enough storage space on your card for the operating system, any startup files, and anything else you need to save while using your Raspberry Pi.

To properly format your SD card, follow these steps:

  1. Insert the SD card into your computer.
  2. Download the appropriate software (Mac or Windows).
  3. Use the tool to copy the image file to the SD card
  4. When your SD card is formatted, insert it into your Raspberry Pi and you are ready to boot!

I explain everything in details in this article, or you can watch the video below will all the steps :

Products for Raspberry Pi Beginners


Grab your free PDF file with all the commands you need to know on Raspberry Pi!

If you are a Raspberry Pi beginner looking for an SD card or a Raspberry Pi itself, here are a few great products that will help you get started. 

Raspberry Pi Kit

First, if you need a Raspberry Pi, consider buying a kit that comes with everything you need to set up and use your device, including an SD card. The Raspberry Pi Starter Kit will get you started with everything you need.

I don’t recommend buying all the elements separately if you are just getting started, you’ll probably miss something or buy something that isn’t compatible with your Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi Guide

If you need help getting started on Raspberry Pi, I have an entire course to help you take your first steps the right way. I’ll help you use the perfect hardware, plug everything in and install your first system. You’ll also do your first project with me, just to make sure you are ready for the next level. Get all the information on this page if you are interested.

If you have any comment, suggestion or just want to chat with us about this tutorial,
you can post your messages in the community on Patreon. See you there!

Final Thoughts

To use your Raspberry Pi, you will need some form of external storage to hold the device’s files. While most models of the Raspberry Pi allow for USB flash drives or external hard drives for storage, an SD card is more compact and is compatible with every model. 

Since the Raspberry Pi comes with a dedicated SD card slot, you won’t have to worry about losing the card, knocking it out by mistake, or carrying a bulky external hard drive around. Be sure to get a card that has at least 8 GB of storage for optimal use.


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Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

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