How to Boot a Raspberry Pi from an SSD for Long-Term Storage

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How to Boot a Raspberry Pi from an SSD for Long-Term Storage

SSDs (solid-state drives) and SD cards store data using essentially identical flash storage technologies. SSDs, on the other hand, have quicker controllers and greater fault tolerance, making them much more dependable than SD cards. While most Raspberry Pis still operate on microSD cards, you can also boot your Raspberry Pi from an external SSD.

In this post, you will learn how to enable USB boot on the Raspberry Pi, then utilize an external SSD as bootable media to boot the Raspberry Pi OS and use the remaining space for permanent data storage.

Things You Will Need

To enable SSD boot on the Raspberry Pi, you will need the following materials.

  • The Raspberry Pi (4, 400, 3, Zero W, or Zero 2W model)
  • MicroSD memory card (1GB minimum, 64GB maximum)
  • microSD card reader
  • Keyboard and mouse (wired or wireless)—not necessary if you wish to enable SSD boot on a Raspberry Pi 4 or Pi 400.
  • Any external SSD (including M.2, SATA, and NVMe/PCIe)

Boot Raspberry Pi 4 or 400 from SSD

To launch the Raspberry Pi 4 or Raspberry Pi 400 from an SSD, you must first enable USB boot by doing the following steps:

  1. Using a card reader, connect the microSD card to another computer.
  2. On your Windows, Linux, or Mac machine, download, install, and run the Raspberry Pi Imager application.
  3. Select Misc Utility Images > Bootloader > USB Boot from the menu that appears.
  4. Select the microSD card attached to your system by clicking the Choose Storage icon.
  5. Click Write and wait for the flash to finish. It will only take a few seconds. The microSD card is automatically discarded after the flashing procedure. Remove the microSD card from the system and place it in the microSD slot on your Raspberry Pi 4 or 400. To turn on the Raspberry Pi, connect the power supply. The Pi will read and flash the USB bootloader from the linked microSD card automatically. It just takes a few seconds. When the flash is successful, the Raspberry Pi’s green LED light begins to flicker consistently. Connect the HDMI port to a monitor to confirm. If the screen turns green, it means the flashing procedure is over.
  6. Disconnect or remove the microSD card from the Raspberry Pi. Insert a microSD card into the machine and start the Raspberry Pi Imager utility.
  7. Select Raspberry Pi OS from the Choose OS menu (32-bit).
  8. Select the microSD card from the available storage devices by clicking Choose Storage.
  9. You may also bring up the advanced settings by clicking on the gear icon, then entering your network’s Wi-Fi information and enabling SSH.
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Boot Raspberry Pi 3 or Zero from SSD

To enable SSD boot on the Raspberry Pi 3 or Zero W/2W, you must first install the regular Raspberry Pi OS on the microSD card, then boot the Raspberry Pi and make a few modifications to the configuration files to allow USB (SSD) boot.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Once the flashing is finished, plug the microSD card into the Raspberry Pi and power it on. Connect the Raspberry Pi to a keyboard and mouse.
  2. Log in with the default login pi and password raspberry when it wakes up (unless you changed these in the Raspberry Pi Imager advanced options).
  3. Launch the Terminal application and enter the following instructions. apt upgrade -y sudo apt update -y
  4. Run the following command in the Terminal window after installing and upgrading the packages. sudo tee -a /boot/config.txt | echo program usb boot mode=1 This command allows USB boot on the Raspberry Pi 3 or Zero W/2W. After executing the program, restart the Raspberry Pi and then execute the following command to see whether USB boot is enabled. grep vcgencmd otp dump 17
  5. Click the Write button.
  6. USB boot is enabled if the output is 17:3020000a. The microSD card may now be removed from the Raspberry Pi.
  7. Run the Raspberry Pi Imager utility and plug in your external SSD through a USB connection.
  8. Select the chosen operating system from the list by clicking Choose OS. If you wish to flash a downloaded OS image, pick the Custom option and then select the OS file from your system.
  9. Select the attached SSD storage media by clicking Choose Storage.
  10. After flashing the OS to the SSD, unmount the drive and attach the USB drive to one of the USB 3.0 or 2.0 ports on your Raspberry Pi 4/400 or Raspberry Pi 3 (or, with an adapter, to the Zero W/2W’s micro-USB connection). To turn on the Raspberry Pi, connect the power supply.
  11. The Raspberry Pi will boot the operating system if a bootable SSD is inserted to the USB connection.
  12. If the output shown is 17:3020000a, USB boot is enabled. You can now remove the microSD card from the Raspberry Pi.
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Prepare Bootable Raspberry Pi SSD

To boot the Raspberry Pi Zero, Raspberry Pi 3, Raspberry Pi 4, or Raspberry Pi 400 from an SSD, use Raspberry Pi Imager to install an operating system, such as Raspberry Pi OS, on the SSD (or the Balena Etcher tool). After you’ve finished creating the OS, connect the SSD to the Raspberry Pi via a USB connection and boot the OS from the SSD.

To prepare the SSD for boot, follow these steps:

  1. Launch the Raspberry Pi Imager tool and connect your external SSD to the system via a USB port.
  2. Click Choose OS to select the desired OS from the list. If you want to flash a downloaded OS image, you can use the file by clicking on the Custom option and then selecting the OS file from your system.
  3. Click Choose Storage to select the connected SSD storage media.
  4. Click the Write button.
  5. After the OS is flashed on the SSD, dismount the drive and then connect the USB drive to one of the USB 3.0 or 2.0 ports on your Raspberry Pi 4/400, Raspberry Pi 3 (or to Zero W/2W’s micro-USB port via an adapter).
  6. Connect the power supply to turn on the Raspberry Pi.
  7. The Raspberry Pi will check for a bootable SSD connected to the USB port and boot the operating system.
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Using an SSD as Permanent Storage for Raspberry Pi

After launching the operating system from the external SSD drive, you may utilize the SSD’s remaining capacity as permanent storage to store more data. Run the following command in the Terminal app to check the available storage space.

df -h

Open File Manager and go to Filesystem Root at the top of the screen if you are using the Desktop version of Raspberry Pi OS. The available storage is seen in the bottom-right corner.

With faster SSD storage, you may use it to create your own personal cloud storage that is accessible from anywhere, or you can use it to host a secure website on Raspberry Pi.

More Storage With Faster Performance

It is strongly advised to boot your Raspberry Pi with an SSD since it is significantly quicker and more dependable than a microSD card. You may utilize any external SSD that is currently available on the market. M.2, SATA, and NVMe/PCIe SSDs are all included. While the method for enabling boot on the Raspberry Pi 3 and Raspberry Pi Zero W/2W is rather complicated, it is considerably simpler on the Raspberry Pi 4 and Raspberry Pi 400.

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