do i need sd card for raspberry pi

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

While in many aspects the Raspberry Pi is like a small computer, it has no built-in storage. No matter how you want to use it, you’ll need some kind of external storage. But do you really need an SD card? Or are there other options?

Typically, SD cards are used as the main storage for a Raspberry Pi, as it doesn’t come with any internal storage. All models have a dedicated SD card slot for this reason. However, an alternative, available on most models, is to use USB drives instead.

In this article, I’ll help you to understand why you need an SD card, what it does exactly and how to pick the right one for your project. I’ll even show you how to format it and mention the other options.

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

What Does an SD Card Do?

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.

sandisk ultra sd card

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.

The SD card slot is located on the back of the Raspberry Pi board

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.

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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).

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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.

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 accepts SD cards up to 1 TB!

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

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 :

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Products for Raspberry Pi Beginners

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 guide you through your first steps. I’ll help you use the perfect hardware, plug everything in and install your first system. You’ll also do your first projects with me, just to make sure you are ready for the next level. Get all the information on this page if you are interested.

Download Your Essential Linux Commands Guide!
It's a free PDF guide containing every Raspberry Pi Linux command you should know!
Download now

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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.

Whenever you’re ready, here are other ways I can help you:

The RaspberryTips Community: If you want to hang out with me and other Raspberry Pi fans, you can join the community. I share exclusive tutorials and behind-the-scenes content there. Premium members can also visit the website without ads.

Master your Raspberry Pi in 30 days: If you are looking for the best tips to become an expert on Raspberry Pi, this book is for you. Learn useful Linux skills and practice multiple projects with step-by-step guides.

The Raspberry Pi Bootcamp: Understand everything about the Raspberry Pi, stop searching for help all the time, and finally enjoy completing your projects.

Master Python on Raspberry Pi: Create, understand, and improve any Python script for your Raspberry Pi. Learn the essentials step-by-step without losing time understanding useless concepts.

You can also find all my recommendations for tools and hardware on this page.

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