how to install raspberry pi os on sd card

How to Install (or Reinstall) Raspberry Pi OS on Your Pi

If you’re new to the Raspberry Pi world, installing (or reinstalling) the operating system can be a daunting challenge. Hopefully, the Raspberry Pi Foundation does its best to make it as easy as possible for you. This article will show you the easiest and safest method to do it on your own.

Raspberry Pi OS can be installed on a new SD card from any computer, by using an application named “Raspberry Pi Imager”, created by the Raspberry Pi manufacturer. It includes all versions of Raspberry Pi OS, to flash it to the SD card in a few clicks.

See this tutorial as your “quick start manual” to install Raspberry Pi OS for the first time. I will get straight to the point with a straightforward procedure. The whole RaspberryTips website will then be available for all your other questions and concerns.

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.

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Prerequisites to install Raspberry Pi OS

Before jumping into the installation steps, let’s make sure you have everything ready, in terms of hardware and software.

Required hardware

The hardware required to install Raspberry Pi OS is pretty minimal. Here is what you need:

  • A Raspberry Pi board: Raspberry Pi OS works on any model, you’ll just need to be cautious while picking a version that is compatible with yours. If you want to use the desktop interface, a Raspberry Pi 3B+, 4 or 400 is recommended.
    Currently, it can be challenging to find one at a decent price. I share my tips with you in this other article if you need to buy one.
  • A micro-SD card: The micro-SD card is the main storage of the Raspberry Pi, it’s like the hard drive on a traditional computer. You can find my benchmark of the fastest SD cards for your Pi here.

    If you already have a system installed on your Pi, you can use another SD card, so you don’t lose any data on it, and you can always plug it back if you need to get back to your current installation later. Nothing is stored on the main board directly, so when you switch SD cards, you switch everything.

    Side note: On recent models, it’s possible to use a USB drive instead. I’ll only mention SD cards in this article to keep things simple, but you can replace SD cards with USB drives everywhere if you want to use a USB drive instead.
  • A good power supply: A Raspberry Pi will start as soon as it’s plugged into a USB cable, but it might not get the best performance using a random USB cable or phone charger. If you can afford it, try to use the official power supply (this is for the Pi 4, make sure to pick one compatible with your model). You can read this other article about power supply for more details.
  • (Recommended) A monitor and display cable: It’s not mandatory, but I highly recommend plugging your Pi into a monitor (or even your TV), at least while doing the installation. You probably need a cable, with standard HDMI on one side (for the monitor), and a compatible display port on the Pi side (depending on the model you use).

    Avoid adapters if possible. They cause more issues than they solve. A decent micro-HDMI to HDMI cable is not expensive and always works best for me than an adapter + a standard HDMI/HDMI cable.
  • (Recommended) A keyboard and mouse: Same thing, for beginners, I highly recommend plugging a keyboard and mouse for the installation (at least). I tested a few Raspberry Pi keyboards here if you need one, but I’m sure you already have a PC keyboard somewhere.

And that’s it! So basically, a Raspberry Pi, a micro-SD card and a power supply, and you’re ready to go. A keyboard, mouse and monitor are recommended, but you can start the installation without them if you have another computer.

Install Raspberry Pi Imager

The only tool you need on your computer to install Raspberry Pi OS on your SD card is Raspberry Pi Imager. It has been developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to make this process easier. No manual downloads or random apps are required anymore.

Download the Pi Glossary!
If you are lost in all these new words and abbreviations, request my free Raspberry Pi glossary here (PDF format)!
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Here is how to get it on your computer:

  • Go to the official Raspberry Pi website.
  • Visit the “Software” page.
  • Download Raspberry Pi Imager for your system:

    It’s available for Windows, macOS and Ubuntu. It’s even possible to install it on an existing Raspberry Pi OS system if you already have one. It’s even included in some RPI OS editions, so you may already have it.
  • Once downloaded, follow the installation steps you’d use for any application on your computer.
    On Windows, it’s a double click on the file, and the next, next, next.

Hardware ready, software installed, you’re ready to move to the installation procedure.

Flashing Raspberry Pi OS to an SD card

Insert the SD card into your computer

Most of you will use your computer to copy the system files onto your SD card. To do this, you need an SD card slot, or a USB to micro-SD adapter if you don’t have a slot available on your computer (or want to use your Pi directly).

Find the port on your computer, it looks like:

Put the micro-SD card into an SD card adapter (generally included when you buy the micro-SD card) and insert it into the reader. Your computer will detect it, you can ignore any message popping up, just close everything, no formatting required.

Use Raspberry Pi Imager

Here are the three steps to install your system with Raspberry Pi Imager:

  • Step 1: Choose OS
    If you click on the first button (“Choose OS”), you’ll get a list of all supported operating systems.

    If it’s your first time here, I recommend starting with the default option pushed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation: “Raspberry Pi OS (32-bit)”. It comes with a graphic interface and is compatible with all Raspberry Pi models.
    If you’re more familiar with this, you can browse the list, and maybe pick a different flavor, but the easiest option is to pick the first one (the recommended one).
  • Step 2: Choose Storage
    Once done, you can now select the SD card.

  • Step 3: Write the OS on Storage
    Finally, click the third button (“Write”) to start copying the files to the SD card.

The writing process will take a few minutes, so don’t touch anything during that time. The SD card will be automatically dismounted at the end, so you have nothing else to do for now.

Optional: Advanced options

In the bottom-right corner of Raspberry Pi Imager, you may have noticed a wheel icon. It’s there to configure advanced options for your installation. Settings that will be applied directly on the first boot: custom user and password, network configuration, etc.

If you’re new to this, I would recommend just skipping it. The only reason you may want to use it as a beginner is if you don’t have a monitor and keyboard, and only have access to a Wi-Fi network.

If this is your case, here are two articles where I get into more detail about it:

But for most of you, just keep the default setup, you’ll be guided on the first boot to do the same configuration.

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

First boot with Raspberry Pi OS

Once the SD card is ready, it’s now time to plug everything into the Raspberry Pi and get started with your new system.

Hardware connections

Please plug everything into your Raspberry Pi in the correct order before the first boot:

  • Get the SD card out of your computer and insert it into the SD card slot on the Pi.
  • Plug all the accessories (monitor, keyboard, network, etc.)
  • Finally, plug in the power supply. The Pi will start directly.

Here are the details for these steps if you need more guidance.

Insert the SD card

All Raspberry Pi models have a microSD card slot on their back. Here is a picture of mine:

The micro-SD card only fits in one way, so you can’t be wrong here. Press it gently until it clicks, and this should be fine.

Plug the peripherals

You can then plug the other cables into your Raspberry Pi (but not the power supply yet).

  • Display cable to your monitor: As mentioned earlier, it’s different for each model. So, it might be a standard HDMI port, a mini-HDMI or even a micro-HDMI port depending on which model you use. Plug the cable into the Raspberry Pi and then into your screen (monitor or TV).
  • Network cable (if possible): If you can plug your Raspberry Pi into a network cable (RJ45), it’ll be easier for the initial setup, even if you switch to Wi-Fi later on. On a typical home network, wired connections are configured automatically thanks to your Internet router.
  • Mouse and keyboard: Plug them into the USB ports. If you have blue and black ports, I prefer using the black ones for this. The blue ports are faster, and so are better suited for USB storage or things that will benefit from a faster connection.

Power the Raspberry Pi

Finally, plug the power supply into the power port on the Pi. Unless you have a specific case (like the Argon One) or an official supply with a power switch, there is no button on the Raspberry Pi (unlike computers). So, as soon as you plug in the power supply, the Pi will start. That’s why it’s better to plug it last.

Anyway, the power input is on the side of the board. It’s also different depending on your Raspberry Pi model: USB-C for Raspberry Pi 4/400, Micro-USB for Raspberry Pi 3, etc. So, I hope you have a compatible power supply.

Turning on the Raspberry Pi and first boot

When you plug the power supply, the Raspberry Pi will turn on, and display many things on your screen. Don’t worry about any of them for now.

After a few minutes, and maybe some additional restarts, you should get to a welcome wizard, that will ask a few questions to complete the system configuration.

For example, you can configure your country and keyboard layout, create the main user account and connect to your wireless network if needed. The interface to do this is simple, it looks like:

Once done, you’ll finally get the full desktop experience of Raspberry Pi, with the default interface that looks like:

From there, you can already use your system. You should be connected to your network (and probably to the Internet), and have access to a minimal list of preinstalled applications to get started (web browser, code editor, etc.).

If needed, you can go to “Preferences” > “Raspberry Pi OS Configuration” to adjust the system settings. In this submenu, you’ll also find other tools to help you (like tweaking the display resolution if needed).

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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Going further with Raspberry Pi OS

Once Raspberry Pi OS is installed, you are ready to benefit from all the tutorials I have on this website to learn new things and move forward with your projects. I didn’t include everything in this article, but here is a selection of articles you may be interested in.

System configuration

Beginner’s guides for Raspberry Pi OS



Projects ideas

And at any time, if you need something specific, the search engine is always there for you. We also have a community for Raspberry Pi fans, that can help you to get personalized assistance, inspiration, and many other benefits: you can find more details here.

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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