Writing an Image into an SD Card for the Raspberry Pi

By: Edgar Pisani

When you buy a Raspberry Pi, you can buy with or without an SD card. The SD card stores the operating system for the Raspberry Pi that ultimately makes it work.

An operating system is the software that lets you interact with a computer. It receives your inputs, through keyboards, mice or remote controls, controls the hardware and sends output through a screen or a network connection. Windows, OS X or Linux are examples of operating systems.

Without an operating system a computer can't do anything. In a traditional computer the operating system is stored on the hard drive. In the Raspberry Pi, the operating system is stored in the SD Card. The SD Card, like hard drives in computers,  can also be used to store documents and programs.

The minimum SD Card size you should get is 4GB, but to be comfortable is better to get 8GB SD cards, like the one below, in case you need the extra space in the future.

8GB microSDHC Memory Card with SDHC Adapter
8GB microSDHC Memory Card, Class 4. It will allow you to store any Raspberry Pi image, but it can also be used for many other applications, such as capturing and storing photos and videos on standard point-and-shoot cameras. It is also compatible with other devices that support the microSDHC or SDHC format, such as phones, laptops and tablets, making it a great way to store and share your favourite TV shows, music and movies. Can be Used as microSDHC or Standard SDHC Card.
$9.50 In stock.

To prepare an SD card for your Raspberry Pi, you will need:

A "regular" computer with a built-in SD card reader (most notebooks these days have an SD card reader), or you will have to get a USB SD card reader/writer.

The instructions here are for Windows.

Downloading an Image

The operating system that will be installed onto the SD card must be downloaded from the Internet. This will usually be a zip file that then extracts to a file of type .img an image file. Whatever image file you download, the actual installation process is the same.

Choose your Software

There are a plenty of images that you can install on your Raspberry Pi, most of them are Linux based distributions or "distros".

The Open Media Centre tutorials in this website would normally use one of the two:

There is also NOOBS which combines 6 different operating systems and let you select at the time of installation which one you would prefer to install. The only disadvantage is that is uses extra SD Card space for storing all the different operating systems.

Once you have decided which one you want to install, get the image file and download it to your desktop.

If you don't have a SD card reader, or a connection to the Internet to download one of the images, you can buy one of our pre-loaded SD cards with your preferred distribution:

NOOBS 8GB micro SD Card

8GB microSD card with an SD adaptor and NOOBS already installed. Perfect for a Raspberry Pi beginner and convenient for those with more experience. On first boot, NOOBS presents you with a choice of operating systems to install, including Raspbian, Pidora, RaspBMC and OpenELEC.

$12.50 In stock.

Making an SD Card – Using a Windows Vista / 7 / 8

There is a very useful utility that we can use to write a SD card available for Windows 7, 8 and Vista, it is called Win32DiskImager.

Step 1.

Download Win32 Disk Imager. from: http://sourceforge.net/projects/win32diskimager

Step 2.

This will download Win32DiskImager-x.x.x-install.exe file that you have to install.

Step 3.

Eject any external storage devices such as USB flash drives and backup hard disks. This makes it easier to identify the SD card. Then insert the SD card into the slot on your computer or into the reader.

Step 4.

The program will be installed in All Programs > Image Writer. Put your mouse on top of the name Win32DiskImager, right click it and select Run as Administrator.

You will get the following Windows warning:

"Do you want to allow the following program from an unknown published to make changes in your computer?"

Click on "Yes"

This will launch the following application:

Step 5.

Select the image file and device.

To do this, click the Browse button (beside the E: device in the previous image) and navigate to the .img file for the distribution that you want to install and the select the device from the drop-down. In this case the device is E: but it could have a different name in your computer. Always make sure you select the right device, otherwise you'll end up erasing a USB stick.

Double check again you have the right device, as it will be reformatted, and then click "Write".

It will take a few minutes to install

That's all there is to it. Your SD card is ready for use in your Raspberry Pi.

Test Your Card

To test if writing the card was successful, insert the card  into card slot of your Pi, then connect a keyboard, a monitor and a power adapter. Turn the monitor on.

You should see the Raspberry pi booting sequence.

Once Pi has completely booted, you will have to enter post installation settings. That will be covered in other tutorials.


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