I’ve been working with the Raspberry Pi pretty much since the day it came out. I’ve used the RPi in all kinds of projects and have several more in the works. Due to my day job keeping me so busy, I haven’t had time to write any articles about those projects, but I will as time permits. Until then, I thought I’d start a series of articles about the Raspberry Pi and this will be the first of those articles. In this article, I will walk you thru imaging an SD card with Raspbian Wheezy and using it to boot your Raspberry Pi for the first time. In this article, I will be discussing software that is available for Windows. You can also find similar software for other operating systems. But, for the purposes of this article, I will assume you are using a Windows powered computer for creating your RPi’s SD card. In order for you to image your SD card, you will also obviously need an SD card writer. Once you have your SD card imaged, you will no longer need Windows as everything else you do will be done directly on the Raspberry Pi unless otherwise specified. So, let’s get started.
The first thing you will need when working with the Raspberry Pi is the Raspberry Pi itself. There are lots of places you can get the Raspberry Pi (RPi for short). The starting rate for RPi’s is $35.00, but some places charge a little extra due to the high demand. In this article, we will be working with the Raspberry Pi Model B Revision 2.0 (512MB) that you can pick up from Amazon for around $43.00 as of the writing of this article. You can find the A Model version a little cheaper than the B Model, but I prefer to spend the extra few dollars for the B Model since, unlike the A Model, the B Model includes a built-in ethernet port, 2 USB ports unlike Model A’s single USB port, and 512MB of RAM as opposed to Model A’s 256MB of RAM. Other than that, both models are identical.
Once you have your RPi, the next thing you will need is an SD card. Since the RPi doesn’t include any moving parts (such as a harddrive), the operating system gets installed on an inexpensive SD card instead. This also makes swapping between operating systems extremely simple as all you have to do is decide which operating system you want to run, insert the corresponding SD card in the RPi, and turn it on. For the RPi, you can use pretty much any SD card you want as long as it has at least 4GB of storage. Personally, I prefer using 32GB SD cards so that I get more space for storage. I also prefer using SD cards that have a Class rating of 10. Class 10 SD cards have faster throughput than other SD cards such as Class 4, etc… For this project, I will be working with a 32GB Class 10 SD card from Transcend that I picked up from Amazon for about $24.00.
To power your RPi, you will need at least 5 volts which you can get from a standard USB port on your computer. If you don’t want to spend any more money than you absolutely have to right now and have an existing micro-USB cable laying around, you can plug one end of it into your computer and the other end into the micro-USB power slot of your RPi. However, I would recommend going and ahead purchasing an extra power supply for your RPi now as you never know what kinds of things you’ll find yourself getting into with the RPi in the near future. I chose to grab the Motorola USB wall charger with Micro USB data cable from Amazon for about $6.00.
The next thing you will need for your Raspberry Pi is a monitor or a standard TV that has inputs for RCA or HDMI. I’m not going to make any recommendations for what kind of TV or monitor you use. However, if you decide you want to use your RPi with something like XBMC for running a full multi-media center, I would recommend that you get something that works with HDMI. At home, I have used RPi’s with several TV’s that support HDMI. But, for development purposes, I connect my RPi to my desktop monitor via an HDMI-DVI cable. Since my desktop monitor allows for switching between multiple inputs, this makes it extremely easy when I need to jump over to the RPi for some reason. But, most of the time I connect to my RPi’s remotely. So, aside from the initial installation & setup or for running a media center, you probably won’t need a TV or monitor. I’ll explain more on that in another article.
The last things you will need for working with the Raspberry Pi are a mouse and keyboard. Both need to work with USB or you will need something to convert the output of your mouse and keyboard to USB for the RPi to support. If you already have an extra USB mouse and keyboard laying around, feel free to use those. Otherwise, I would recommend getting something that includes both and is wireless if possible. For example, I have a mini wireless keyboard from Gear Head that includes a touchpad that I picked up from Amazon for about $30.00. It includes a Bluetooth dongle that plugs into a USB port on the RPi and runs off of 2 included AA batteries.
If you prefer something a little more compact, but with a lot more buttons, I also use and recommend the mini wireless Bluetooth keyboard with touchpad from QQ-Tech which can be snagged on Amazon for about $22.00. Whereas the mini keyboard from Gear Head requires 2 AA batteries, the mini keyboard from QQ-Tech runs off of a USB powered rechargeable battery.
Now that you have all of the parts needed for running the Raspberry Pi, it’s time to get some software. The first piece of software you will need for the RPi is called “Win32DiskImager“. Win32 Disk Imager is a Windows utility that allows you to read and write raw disk images to removable devices such as flash drives and, in our case, SD cards. You can download Win32 Disk Imager from SourceForge by clicking here.
The next piece of software you will need is the RPi operating system image. You can find the latest releases at http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using the latest Raspbian “wheezy” image which you can find at the top of the list on the downloads page. In fact, almost every article I plan on writing in regards to the Raspberry Pi will be based on the Raspbian “wheezy” operating system. However, I do plan on throwing in a few other articles that use Fedora Remix. But, for now, go ahead and download the latest Raspbian “wheezy” image and extract it somewhere on your filesystem.
Once you have downloaded the RPi OS image & Win32DiskImager and have both of them unzipped on your filesystem, go ahead and launch the Win32DiskImager utility. Make sure you insert your SD card into your card writer before launching the utility. If you launch the utility first, don’t worry. With the utility running, it will recognize your SD card once you insert it into your computer’s card writer. If it does recognize your card, its drive letter should appear in the “Device” dropdown box.
After you have selected the Device that contains your SD card, click on the folder icon to browse for and select the OS image you downloaded and extracted earlier.
WARNING: Make sure you double check that the drive letter you have selected under “Device” is in fact the correct drive letter for your SD card. Otherwise, you could do some serious damage to your computer as this utility will begin by formatting the device and removing all files from it. I take no responsibility for any damages that may occur during this process. Follow the rest of this article at your own risk!!!
With your SD card selected in the Device dropdown and your image selected in the “Image File” text box, click the “Write” button to begin writing the image to your SD card. This is what the Win32 Disk Imager utility should look like before you begin the imaging process. Keep in mind that your Image File and Device probably won’t look the same as mine.
When the utility has completed, you will be presented with a message indicating that the imaging process completed successfully. If you see this message, click “OK” and close the Win32 Disk Imager utility.
If everything went accordingly, you are now ready to insert your SD card into your Raspberry Pi and start it up for the first time. To do that, connect your RPi to your TV or monitor, connect your mouse and keyboard, insert your SD card into the card slot on the bottom of the RPi, and plugin the power cable. Once you plugin the micro-USB power cable, your Raspberry Pi should start right up and you should begin seeing some output on your TV or monitor.
In my next article, I will walk you through configuring your Raspberry Pi for the first time.
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