How to Install an OS on a Raspberry Pi

Dave W. Shanahan

There are several Raspberry Pi models to use, but the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is the newest, fastest, and easiest to use for beginners. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth already installed, , so besides the initial setup, you don’t need to install additional drivers or Linux dependencies. The Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W are smaller and require less power, but they are better suited for portable projects. Generally, it is easier to start off using a Raspberry Pi 3 and move onto the Raspberry Pi Zero when you find more use-case scenarios for Raspberry Pi.

Items you need

Here’s all the items you need to get started with the Raspberry Pi:

  1. A Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+
  2. A micro USB power supply with at least 2.5 amps (any cell phone charger using micro USB works)
  3. A micro SD card with at least 8 GB of space. 16 GB and 32 GB micro SD cards are the perfect size as they provide enough space for the
    operating system you are installing, plus plenty of free space for other files you want to add at a later time.
  4. A USB mouse and USB keyboard for initial setup
  5. A TV or computer screen that you can connect to via HDMI

There are other optional extras, including a case for your Raspberry Pi, an ethernet cable, and headphones or speakers. A case is important for your Raspberry Pi to protect it from drops. I dropped a Raspberry Pi and managed to crack the board entirely, forcing me to purchase another one. A case is not required, but it is good to have just “in case.” Larger Raspberry Pi models, excluding the Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W, have a standard Ethernet port to directly to your router. For connecting the Raspberry Pi Zero to the internet, you need a USB-to-Ethernet adaptor. Thankfully, the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ and Pi Zero W can wirelessly connect to your Wi-Fi. I still connect the Ethernet cable from my Raspberry Pi to the router just in case there are any internet connectivity issues. I have not found a use for adding sound to my Raspberry Pi yet, but if I need to output sound there is an 3.5mm headphone jack available on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+.

Once you have all the needed components, you need to setup your microSD card. The microSD card contains the operating system and files needed to operate. Without a microSD card, your Raspberry Pi will not function.

List of Operating Systems

Here is a list of all of the operating systems that you can install and run reliably on a Raspberry Pi.

Ubuntu MATE
Snappy Ubuntu Core
Windows 10 IoT Core
Weather Station
IchigoJam RPi

The Raspberry Pi Organization prefers you use Raspbian, which is a Linux-based operating system that was built specifically for the Raspberry Pi. There is also NOOBS, which is an easier for beginners, we will use NOOBS to install on a microSD card for this example.

Download NOOBS

Here are the steps you need to follow to install and run NOOBS on a microSD card.

Go to the Raspberry Pi downloads page.
Click the NOOBS box where indicated by the red arrow.

Download the file as indicated by the green arrow.
Raspberry Pi
Save in a place where you can easily access it later. Once the microSD card is properly formatted, you will need to extract NOOBS from the zip archive and copy it to the microSD card.

Format the microSD card

Now, you need to prepare the microSD card. The best way to prepare the microSD card is to use SD Formatter. SD Formatter is the official SD card formatting tool provided by the SD Association, it is available for Windows or Mac and can be downloaded from here.

Once installed, use SD Formatter to format your SD card. If your computer has a microSD card slot, you can put the card in there to format it. Otherwise you will need to use a USB microSD card reader. Once formatted, you are ready to extract and copy the files from to your microSD card.

Here’s what you need to do to extract the files from and copy the files to your microSD card.

  1. Find the file that you downloaded.
  2. Right-click and choose extract the files.
  3. Once the files are extracted, copy all the files to your microSD card as shown.

Raspberry Pi, OS

Once the files are copied, eject the microSD card from your computer. Now, it’s time to put the microSD card, the USB keyboard, the USB mouse, the HDMI cable to a supported TV or monitor, and lastly the power source in the Raspberry Pi and power it up.

Connect everything to the Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi
Animation courtesy of the Raspberry Pi organization

As a general rule, I always connect the power source to the Raspberry Pi last because the OS is on the microSD card and there might be issues registering peripherals if they are connected after the OS boots from the microSD card. That’s another thing to keep in mind the Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a power switch. You can install a power switch and a portable battery supply too, but those are projects for another time. the only way to power the Raspberry Pi on and off is via the OS, or by disconnecting the power source.

Once you power up your Raspberry Pi, you should see two lights. Red indicates that there is power and the green light should be blinking, indicating that the Raspberry Pi is reading the NOOBS files on the microSD card and then you will be brought to the Raspian desktop to finish the setup process. You’re all done!