Your Raspberry Pi does not come with an operating system preinstalled.

This means you can choose from a variety of operating systems, all of which can be written to your Raspberry Pi’s SD card. Here’s how to install and run a new OS on your Raspberry Pi using Windows, macOS, or Linux.

Selecting the Raspberry Pi operating system

There are so many operating systems available on your Raspberry Pi. From the recommended Raspbian Stretch (and its Lite alternative) to Ubuntu MATE, through the OS for Kodi, RetroPie and many other projects, through several alternatives for Linux and non-Linux the choice is huge. If you need Windows functionality, you can set up your Raspberry Pi as a Windows thin client.

Our list of operating systems for Raspberry Pi operating systems will give you an idea of ​​what is available. Whichever OS you choose, be sure to download it on your PC beforehand. This will be an ISO or IMG file ready to be written to your Raspberry Pi’s SD card.

Flashing the operating system on the Raspberry Pi

To install an OS on your Raspberry Pi, you will need Etcher. It is a tool for burning disc images to flash memory, be it an SD card or a USB flash drive. It’s a simple mouse-driven app available for Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Download: Etcher (Free)

Use Etcher to Write Data to Your SD Card

When Etcher is installed and running, you will notice three buttons.

All you have to do is click each one in turn. Start with image selection then navigate to your operating system’s .iso file or .img file. Next click » Select Disk», to select an SD card. Etcher is smart enough to detect any SD card plugged into or inserted into your computer, but it’s worth checking that the correct one is detected.

Finally click flash, to start recording data. You don’t need to format your SD card as Etcher will handle it.

When you’re done, click OK, to finish, then exit Etcher. Remove the SD card and insert it into the turned off Raspberry Pi. Connect the power cable and wait while the computer loads the operating system.

If using Etcher to install an operating system seems difficult, why not buy an SD card with Raspbian preinstalled? This uses the NOOBS installation system, which we’ll cover below.

Downloading Raspbian for the first time

After installing Raspbian, you need to login with the following credentials:

Username: pi
Password: raspberry

For other operating systems, check the documentation to find the default credentials.

Remember that the password will not be displayed as you type; no windows style characters * representing letters. Instead, it will appear that you did not enter a password. This is a Linux security feature to prevent people from guessing the length of your passphrase. Just enter the password regardless.

After downloading Raspbian, change your password by running:

 sudo raspi-config 

Select the option » Change password» and follow the instructions on the screen.

Installing operating systems with NOOBS

For an easier and more streamlined installation of more popular Raspberry Pi distributions, you can use NOOBS.

The abbreviation for the new «Out Of Box» software installation system includes Arch Linux, OpenELEC Kodi, RISC OS and more along with Raspbian.

Install one or more Raspberry Pi operating systems with NOOBS

NOOBS is available at and does not require «writing» to an SD card as Raspbian and other Raspberry Pi operating systems do.

You will need a formatted SD card larger than 4 GB. When downloading NOOBS, note that offline and online installers are available, varying in size; the smaller download will require your Raspberry Pi to be connected to the internet via ethernet.

A keyboard and/or mouse and an HDMI display are required to access the menu for OS installation with NOOBS.

By booting your Raspberry Pi into the NOOBS interface, you can choose your operating system(s). However, NOOBS is not the only option here, so check out our comparison of NOOBS, Berryboot, and PINN installation systems. for Raspberry Pi.

Improving Your Raspberry Pi OS

Different Raspberry Pi projects require different amounts of software; it all depends on what you plan to do.

For example, you can use your Raspberry Pi as a media center. If so, you can use NOOBS to install one of the Kodi options.

Install OSMC for Raspberry Pi 3

After that, you will need to install all available updates. You may need other apps or add-ons like Vimeo or YouTube, maybe a TED Talk channel, etc.

As with any computer system, installing an operating system is only the first step. Updates, additional software, and other tools also need to be added before you’re happy that your Raspberry Pi is ready for its intended use. The same process will apply for any Raspberry Pi projects you have in mind.

Disaster Management: OS Cloning

The point at which you are happy with the installed OS is exactly the moment when you should make a clone of it. It’s like backing up your PC and saving the data to your hard drive. Cheaper SD cards often get damaged when the power goes out, so a backup is a smart option.

There are several tools available to create a complete SD card backup of your Raspberry Pi. Once a backup is created, it can be easily transferred to another SD card after a system error.

Installing an OS on your Raspberry Pi is easy

One thing is clear about the Raspberry Pi: it relies on the SD card to varying degrees. Therefore, understanding how to use this type of media with a small computer is vital.

Writing an operating system to an SD card is the equivalent of installing a Raspberry Pi operating system. As you can see, it’s much faster than installing Windows on your hard drive, and with NOOBS, doing the hard work is even easier!

Don’t want to rely on an SD card? Try booting Raspberry Pi from USB boot Raspberry Pi 3 from USB boot

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