How to Install Raspbian OS on Raspberry Pi

There is no doubt that the $35 Single Board Computer(SBC) has been widely accepted and lauded as one of the best DIY and learning tools. The Raspberry Pi, now in its 3rd generation has a very broad and active community around it, if you ever have stumbled across Instructables, Hackster or any other DIY forums you can see that the Raspberry Pi is often featured in many projects. Most of the projects use the Raspbian OS as the base to build their applications.

Raspbian OS is the default and recommended operating system for Raspberry Pi. Raspbian OS is Debian with the PIXEL desktop environment built by the Raspberry Pi team and it is open source. It also comes preinstalled with tools and applications to learn programming, and for STEM education.

With the popularity of the Raspberry Pi, I wouldn’t be surprised if you picked one up out of curiosity.

Install Raspbian OS on Raspberry Pi via SD Card

Let’s go through the step by step process to install and set up Raspbian OS on your Raspberry Pi.

Step 1 : Gather all the things needed

Here is a list of all the things you need to get started with Raspberry Pi:

  • A Raspberry Pi 3 B+(older versions should work fine as well).
  • A Class 10 Micro SD Card, at least 8 GB.
  • HDMI compatible display and HDMI Cable
  • Good quality 5V 3A power supply(preferably the official power supply).
  • Keyboard and Mouse.
  • Internet Connectivity(WiFi or Ethernet).
  • Micro SD Card Reader.

For this tutorial I’m using a Raspberry Pi 3B+.

Step 2: Download the Raspbian OS ISO

The downloads section on the Raspberry Pi website has a few options.

Raspbian Variants
Raspbian Variants
  • Raspbian Stretch with desktop and recommended software : This version comes with the complete stack of Raspbian OS. Desktop environment(GUI) and also the bundled software tools and applications. This one is recommended for most people starting out with the Raspberry Pi.
  • Raspbian Stretch with desktop : This one does not come with the bundled software tools. Just the desktop environment(GUI).
  • Raspbian Stretch Lite : This version is bare-bones and does not include a desktop environment either. This is recommended for advanced users wanting to run server applications.

For this tutorial I downloaded the full fledged OS, you can also download it from the links below.

Step 3: Prepare the Micro SD Card

There are many tools you can use to prepare the Micro SD Card, you can even do it via the terminal. But Etcher is one of the best cross-platform tools to prepare SD Cards or USB drives.

Download Balena Etcher
Download Balena Etcher

Once you have opened up Etcher, insert the Micro SD card into your computer using a card reader, select the OS image you just downloaded and click flash.

Etcher Flashing
Etcher Flashing

Once the flashing process has finished the Micro SD card is ready.

Step 4 : Powering up the Raspberry Pi

Now go ahead and insert the Micro SD card into the Pi.

Insert Sd Card
Insert SD Card

Connect the HDMI cable to your display, wire up the mouse and keyboard as well. Plug in the power cable to turn on the Raspberry Pi.

If you see a golden lightning bolt on the top right of the screen, it means that there is a power supply issue (usually low voltage). Most mobile chargers are not ideal to power a Raspberry Pi, poor quality USB cables contribute to this issue as well.

This also slows down your Raspberry Pi drastically.

Voltage Issues in Raspberry Pi
Low Voltage Indicator in Raspberry Pi

Step 5: Initial Configuration of Raspbian OS

First boot can take about a minute or two, once the Pi has booted up you are taken to the welcome screen for initial setup.

Welcome Screen
Welcome Screen

Click next, set your country, language and keyboard preferences. Usually the language and keyboard changes based on the country you select, so make sure you change them if you want the language to be English.

Set Country
Set Country and Language

Set a new password, the default being ‘raspberry’.

Change Password
Change Password

Next, connect to your WiFi network if you haven’t plugged in an Ethernet cable.

Connect To Wifi
Connect To WiFi

If the UI does not fill your display completely and has black border around it, tick the box in the following window. This happens due to improper display profile selection and gets corrected once the Pi restarts after the software update.

Black Border
Black border around desktop

Update the Raspbian OS, this step will take a while depending on network speeds.

Update Software 1
Update Software

Once the Raspberry Pi has finished updating, the initial setup is done!.

Setup Complete
Setup Complete

Raspberry Pi Configuration Wizard

Before you go ahead and explore the OS, let me show the Raspberry Pi configuration wizard.

You can access the configuration wizard by navigating through the menu.

Raspberry Pi Confirguration
Raspberry Pi Confirguration

In the System tab, you can change the password, set a new hostname for your Pi, change the boot options and more. Booting to CLI(Command Line Interface) is preferable when you are running network or server applications.

Pi Config
Raspberry Pi Configuration, System

In the Interfaces tab, you can enable or disable all the different methods to interface with your Raspberry Pi.

SSH (Secure Shell) is disabled by default and needs to be enabled if you want to SSH into Raspberry Pi and access it via network. Using VNC is another popular method to access a Raspberry Pi over the network. VNC streams the whole desktop GUI of the Pi to another device and you can interact with it like you would when directly using the Pi.

You can also enable or disable the GPIO bound interfaces in this tab.

Pi Config Interfaces
Pi Config Interfaces

Explore the Raspbian OS

Now you can go ahead and explore rest of the Raspbian OS.

Under the programming subsection you can find a bunch of preinstalled tools to help you learn programming. Node-RED is one of my favorite tools. You also get the Raspberry Pi version of Wolfram Mathematica for free!

Programming Stem Tools
Programming Subsection

Under games you can also find Minecraft for Pi, which is also free.

Games
Games

At this point you should be able to navigate around the Raspbian OS on your own and also brings us to the end of the tutorial.

What made you curious about the Raspberry Pi? What do you think about the Raspbian OS compared to your daily driver?

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  • Also, make sure you run ImageWriter through terminal and as root or sudo su or you will “kill” the memory card. If you do kill the card, just format it in a camera or camcorder, that should fix it.

    The command for that is
    $>sudo imagewriter
    $> Enter password:

    Then it should start up just fine.