As any experienced Raspberry Pi user can tell you, the popular single board computer does not come with an operating system preloaded. Unless you buy a third-party kit/card that came with a Raspberry Pi OS on it, you have to download the operating system to a PC or Mac and write it to a microSD card or USB storage device for the Pi. We have articles about How to set up a Raspberry Pi and how Create a headless Raspberry Pi that shows you how to do it.
But what if you don’t have access to a computer (or don’t have a card reader)? A new version of the Raspberry Pi bootloader, which is now available in beta, allows you to download the operating system and write it to a microSD card, using BIOS and an Ethernet connection.
This new bootloader is designed for the Raspberry Pi 4 and 400 and we ran three tests to determine if this new tool was worth your time. The short answer: Yes, it is. When we used the network installer to install Raspberry Pi OS 32-bit and 64-bit on a Raspberry Pi 4 8GB, we had no problems at all. Then we used the tool to install the 32-bit operating system on a Raspberry Pi 4 with 1GB of RAM. We expected this to fail because the downloaded OS image was 1.2GB – more RAM – but everything works as expected, albeit slightly slower than in the previous two tests.
There is only one catch. For now, you still need a computer to update the firmware on the Raspberry Pi so that it can install online. However, after the firmware becomes a release version, the newly manufactured Pis will come with it.
Below, we explain how to upgrade your Raspberry Pi 4 or 400 firmware and how to perform an online installation of Raspberry Pi OS.
For this project you will need
- Raspberry Pi 4 or 400
- Micro SD card of 16 GB or larger
- PC or Mac (but for firmware update only)
Update to Beta Bootloader on Raspberry Pi
The new beta bootloader that brings network booting to the Raspberry Pi must be installed on the Raspberry Pi. This is only for the current Raspberry Pis as this feature will be installed by default on future models.
Updating the bootloader is not difficult, thanks to the Raspberry Pi Imager which provides an automated process that makes it as easy as inserting a micro SD card and turning on our Pi.
1. Download and install Raspberry Pi Imager on your computer. From version 1.7.1 onwards, there is a special entry for the Beta firmware.
2. Insert a 16GB micro SD card. This card will be erased, so be sure to back up any files before using it.
3. Open Raspberry Pi Imager and click on CHOOSE OS.
4. Scroll down and select Various utility images.
5. Select Beta Test Bootloader.
6. Select Network Boot.
7. Click Choose Storage.
8. Select your microSD card.
9. write the picture on a microSD card.
10. Upon completion, Put the card in your Raspberry Pi.
11. Connect your Raspberry Pi to a screen, and then power up And wait for the screen to turn green.
12. Turn off the Raspberry Pi. The bootloader is now updated.
13. Format the microSD card as FAT32 Drive it into your computer, then put it back into your Raspberry Pi.
Network Boot for Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is now ready to download and write microSD cards without the need for any further action on our computer.
1. Turn on the Raspberry Pi With all peripherals connected, including monitor and Ethernet.
2. Wait for the BIOS to load in eBay. It may take about 30 seconds.
3. When prompted, press and hold the Shift key And the Then press the spacebar. This will trigger the Pi to download a special boot image version of the Raspberry Pi Imager which is copied to the RAM.
4. Click CHOOSE OS and select the operating system you wish to install. We chose the latest 32-bit image, but you can also install the new 64-bit operating system, or another operating system from the list.
5. Click on Choose Storage and select your microSD card. You can also select the USB drive as the intended boot device.
6. Click WRITE to download the operating system and write it to your drive. This may take about 10 minutes to complete.
Once the download and installation is complete, the Pi will restart several times and within a few moments you will be presented with the Raspberry Pi OS desktop.
If you need to reinstall an operating system, repeat steps 1-6 using a blank microSD card/USB flash drive. You no longer need to use your computer to download and write photos to SD/USB.
Although it is not necessary for the installation process, we can customize the installation of our Raspberry Pi OS using the gear settings.
This will open a new menu where we can modify our installation language, set up Wi-Fi and SSH, and change the password.