Balena Etcher is still my favorite tool to create new SD cards for Raspberry Pi. It works wonders on Windows, macOS, and Linux. They claim it works on all platforms, so I tried on Raspberry Pi OS. In this article, I will share my experiencece and the solutions I have found.
Balena Etcher is available on all operating systems, but only for x64 architectures. So, there is no way to install it on a Raspberry Pi. Hopefully, other alternatives like Raspberry Pi Imager can be used to do the same thing.
Don’t worry, you can absolutely create a bootable SD card without a regular desktop or laptop – using only a Raspberry Pi 4. I will show you how to do this in this article, but first, let’s see why Etcher doesn’t work.
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.
Can you run Etcher on Raspberry Pi OS?
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There is no official installer available for Balena Etcher on Raspberry Pi. The only files available are for the x64 architecture on Windows, macOS, and Linux.
As you can see on the screenshot below, Balena does not have Raspberry Pi OS or the installer on its list.
All installers are for x86 and x64 architectures, while the Raspberry Pi is running on ARM. The architecture of a computer tells how computer hardware and software interact together. It’s always better to find software that has been developed especially for the Raspberry Pi architecture.
As Balena Etcher is an open-source project, you may find some old archives from the guys who compiled it for the Raspberry Pi. But they are obsolete versions from unofficial locations. Most of them lead to non-existent sites, and the last one was even flagged by my antivirus as a dangerous site.
Is there an alternative to Balena Etcher on Raspberry Pi OS?
The best alternative to Balena Etcher on Raspberry Pi is Raspberry Pi Imager. It is developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the company behind the Raspberry Pi, and so it works perfectly on Raspberry Pi OS.
What is the difference between Balena Etcher and Raspberry Pi Imager?
There is almost no difference between Balena Etcher and Raspberry Pi Imager. Both are used to install operating systems on an SD card or USB flash drive. It writes an image file into a storage device that you use to boot computers like the Raspberry Pi.
On Balena Etcher, you need to download the system image first, and then flash it on an SD card (or USB drive). Raspberry Pi Imager even makes your life easier by giving you a list of systems that work on Raspberry Pi. The download will be done in the background, and the file flashed directly.
So in some aspects, it may even be easier to use Raspberry Pi Imager instead of Balena Etcher. Let’s see how to do this.
Whatever the tool you use to flash an SD card on Raspberry Pi OS, you’ll need a USB adapter to connect a second SD card. You can’t remove the SD card from your operating system while doing this.
A USB adapter is a cheap accessory you can get anywhere (I like this one on Amazon, for example because there is a USB cable, and it’s a brand that sells great products). It’s plug & play, so it’s easy to use. Just make sure to choose the correct storage location in Raspberry Pi Imager, which I’ll explain in the next section).
Obviously, if you are flashing a system on a USB disk or already running Raspberry Pi OS via USB (as I explain in my course), it’s not required.
How to use Raspberry Pi Imager on Raspberry Pi
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Install Raspberry Pi Imager
You can install Raspberry Pi Imager with the graphical tool or in the command line. I will explain with the graphical tool, but if you are confident with the command line, you can skip this part and copy/paste the command I give later on.
With the Add/Remove software app
- In the main menu, go to Preferences and start “Add / Remove Software”.
- As always, start by updating the available packages:
Options > Refresh package list.
- Then type “rpi-imager” in the search engine, and install the corresponding package:
- Click on Apply, enter your password, and it’s done!
In a terminal
As always, the fastest way is often to use a terminal or install it via SSH:
- Start by updating the packages list:
sudo apt update
- Then install the corresponding package for Raspberry Pi Imager:
sudo apt install rpi-imagerHit Enter and confirm download by choosing “Yes.”
- Wait until download and installation is done.
Use Raspberry Pi Imager on Raspberry Pi
Once the download and installation are complete, check your Raspberry Pi menu.
Scroll down to Accessories, and voila!
There you should see the RPI Imager icon.
Click the Imager icon to launch it.
And you will be ready to write your bootable SD card.
One cool thing about the RPI Imager is that they have a host of recommended operating systems that are either what you are looking for or the equivalent of what you are looking for. You no longer have to go digging around looking for links to the software that you want. They probably already have it on their list.
And if they are, then you can be certain they work on Raspberry Pi.
But you can customize as well if you need to.
Flash your SD Card with Raspberry Pi Imager
Here’s how you do it:
- Choose OS – once you click the Left Button “Choose OS” a dialogue box will open several operating systems that you can use. If you pick one of those that has this “ > ” signs on the right, it will open a sub-menu that offers several other choices.
The items that will appear in the list are all recommended for Raspberry Pi, so you won’t have a problem with compatibility issues.
- Once you click to choose one of the options, your screen will look like this. Well, it will present other choices of storage devices if more than one is attached to your Raspberry Pi when do this.
- You select the storage device where you want your chosen operating system to be created.
- Then you click “Write”.
It will be the last button to the right after you have chosen the SD card or USB storage device that you want to make bootable.
- And that’s it, you are done!
Not sure which operating system to try first, I got you covered! You can find my top 15 list for the Raspberry Pi here.
I also have many detailed tutorials for most of the operating systems, if you are a bit lost when trying something special, you can probably find help on this website:
- How to Install Manjaro on Raspberry Pi?
- RetroPie step-by-step beginners guide (with pictures)
- Raspberry Pi OS vs Ubuntu: What’s the Best for Desktop Usage?
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!
Raspberry Pi Resources
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You can also find all my recommendations for tools and hardware on this page.