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How to install NOOBS on the Raspberry Pi

Posted:01:46 PM December 04, 2023 writer: Roland Pelayo

 Image source: https://www.raspberrypi.com/news/introducing-noobs/

Introduction

NOOBS or New Out Of the Box Software is an application used to write an operating system (OS) for the Raspberry Pi. It was designed to simplify the process of setting up a Raspberry Pi, especially for users who may be new to the world of single-board computers. NOOBS was introduced to provide a user-friendly solution for installing different operating systems on the Raspberry Pi without the need for advanced technical skills.

NOOBS was officially introduced in June 2012 by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The Raspberry Pi, a credit-card-sized single-board computer, had gained popularity for its affordability and versatility. However, setting up the operating system on the Pi had been a somewhat complex task for beginners. NOOBS aimed to simplify this process and make it more accessible to a broader audience.

Over time, NOOBS became complemented by another tool, Raspberry Pi Imager. While NOOBS continued to offer a menu-based installation with offline capabilities, Raspberry Pi Imager focused on a streamlined process for writing a single operating system to an SD card, catering to users who preferred a quicker and more direct approach.

While the Raspberry Pi Foundation now recommends the Raspberry Pi Imager instead of NOOBS, a lot of users still prefer to use it. Here are some notable features of NOOBS.

  1. Installation Manager - With a user-friendly installation manager, users find NOOBS easy to use when installing and switching between different OS on their Raspberry Pi.
  2. Pre-loaded Operating Systems - NOOBS comes pre-loaded with a selection of popular operating systems for the Raspberry Pi, such as the Raspberry Pi OS, LibreELEC, OSMC, and others.
  3. Easy to Use - The point of using NOOBS is to make the initial setup process as simple for the user as possible. Even if you don’t have technical knowledge about OS and computers, you can easily get your Raspberry Pi up and running.
  4. Can Be Installed Offline - Since the OS images are already pre-installed, NOOBS doesn’t need an internet connection to install or download OS. Users just download the NOOBS archive, copy it to an SD card, and then use that card to install an operating system without needing to be online during the installation.
  5. Customizable - While NOOBS comes with a set of pre-loaded operating systems, users can choose which ones to install based on their preferences. This allows users to customize their Raspberry Pi according to their intended purpose.
  6. Recovery Mode - NOOBS includes a recovery mode that allows users to reinstall the operating system or update it without needing to start from scratch. This can be helpful in troubleshooting or upgrading the software on the Raspberry Pi.
  7. Periodic Updates - NOOBS is periodically updated to include the latest versions of operating systems and improvements to the installation process.

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In contrast, here are the features of Raspberry Pi Imager.

a. Streamlined OS Installation- Raspberry Pi Imager focuses on simplifying the process of installing a single operating system on the Raspberry Pi. It provides a more streamlined experience compared to NOOBS, making it an excellent choice for users who have a specific OS in mind.

b. Online OS Selection - Unlike NOOBS, Raspberry Pi Imager requires an internet connection during the installation process. It downloads the selected operating system directly from the internet, ensuring that users get the latest version.

c. Faster Installation Process - Raspberry Pi Imager tends to have a faster installation process compared to NOOBS. This is because it downloads the selected OS directly and writes it to the SD card without the need for an intermediate menu system.

d. Operating System Variety -  Raspberry Pi Imager supports a wide range of operating systems, including the official Raspberry Pi OS and various third-party distributions. Users can choose from different options based on their project requirements.

e. Cross-Platform Compatibility - Raspberry Pi Imager is available for multiple platforms, including Windows, macOS, and Linux, making it convenient for users with different operating systems on their personal computers.

The choice between NOOBS and Raspberry Pi Imager depends on the user's preferences, level of experience, and the specific needs of their project. NOOBS is well-suited for beginners who want a user-friendly interface and the flexibility to experiment with different operating systems offline. On the other hand, the Raspberry Pi Imager is ideal for users who have a specific OS in mind, prefer a faster installation process, and are comfortable with an online OS selection approach.

Downloading NOOBS for your Raspberry Pi

First off, download the latest version of NOOBS to your computer. Then, prepare an SD card of at least 16 GB. As already mentioned above, the Raspberry Pi Foundation now prefers the Raspberry Pi Imager to burn OS to the SD card rather than NOOBS. This is why you won’t find the NOOBS installer anymore on the official website. However, a number of users still support it and still provide updates for it.

Formatting the Pi’s SD Card



 

 

Before you can write NOOBS to the SD card, you must format it into the FAT filesystem. Formatting the SD card on your Windows or MacOS is not guaranteed to work. You need a third-party application to do the job. For example, you can download the SD Card Formatter application that readily formats your SD card to FAT. 

To format using an SD Card Formatter, just select the location of the SD card mounted on your computer. It will show what type of card you have and its capacity. Then choose “Quick format” under “Formatting options”. You can also write a volume label but this is optional. After that, click format to start formatting.

Copying NOOBS to the Raspberry Pi’s SD Card

Once you have the formatted SD card, the next step is to just copy and paste the downloaded NOOBS to your SD card. The NOOBS folder should look like this:

Copying and pasting in Windows and Linux should be straightforward. Just highlight all files using CTRL+A, copy using CTRL+C then paste to the SD card root location using CTRL+V.

For MacOS users, select all files using Command+A, copy using Command+C, and then paste to the SD card root location using CTRL+V.

If you are a Linux user, who likes to use the terminal, just do the following command:

cp -a /source/. /dest/

Replace /source/ here with the location of the NOOBS folder in your computer and the /dest/ with the location of the mounted SD card. For example:

cp -a /home/noobs/ /media/roland/disk

It may take some time to copy the NOOBS files to your SD card as it is quite large. 

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Put your SD card into your Raspberry Pi and boot it up

After saving the NOOBs content into the SD card, remove it from your host computer and plug it into your Raspberry Pi. Plugging the SD card backwards won’t fit so you don’t have to worry if you mounted it incorrectly. 

First start NOOBS on your Raspberry Pi

Now that you inserted your SD card into your Raspberry Pi, apply power to it, then connect it to a monitor. Don’t forget to attach a USB mouse and keyboard. Although the touchscreen may work, it may not be properly calibrated yet and is hard to use. 

If after powering up there is nothing on the screen, check the LEDs on the Raspberry Pi board. A blinking red LED means the power supply is not providing enough voltage. A blinking green LED means there is something wrong with reading the data from the SD card.

Once the Raspberry Pi boots up, you will come across the select OS screen. Depending on the NOOBS version you downloaded, the OS options will be Raspberry Pi OS or LibreElec. Then the writing process starts. After the OS is written successfully, you’ll need to configure the Raspberry Pi for first use.

First, NOOBS will ask you to set your country, language, and time zone. This will help automatically set the clock according to your location. 

Next, you will need to provide your username and password. These will be your login credentials every time you start using the Raspberry Pi either through GUI or SSH. Make sure to use a secure password! As a rule of thumb, never use a password that can be found in a dictionary. This is because hackers often use the dictionary in brute-force attacks. I recommend using a password generator and then storing your password somewhere where only you know where.

After that, you will be asked to adjust your screen. Then you need to select a WiFi connection. 

Finally, the Raspberry Pi is now ready to use with your preferred OS.

Once the OS boots and you are on the desktop, I recommend opening the terminal (that’s the third icon from the Raspberry Pi logo on the upper left), and then running the following commands:

sudo apt update

sudo apt upgrade

This will update the Raspberry Pi package index and provide the system with the most recent information about available packages from the repositories. This means the system will download all the necessary updates it needs.

Using Recovery Mode

One of the many features of NOOBS is a recovery mode that allows users to reinstall or update the operating system on their Raspberry Pi without starting the installation process from scratch. The recovery mode is a helpful feature in troubleshooting issues or updating the software on your Raspberry Pi. Here are the steps to use NOOBS recovery mode:

You'll need a display connected to your Raspberry Pi via HDMI, as well as a USB keyboard and mouse for navigation.

Steps to Use NOOBS Recovery Mode:

  1. Power Off Your Raspberry Pi - Turn off your Raspberry Pi by safely shutting it down.
  2. Remove Power Source - Disconnect the power source from your Raspberry Pi.
  3. Reconnect Power - Reconnect the power source to your Raspberry Pi.
  4. Press and Hold Shift - As soon as you reconnect the power, immediately press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard. Keep holding it until the NOOBS recovery interface appears.
  5. Access Recovery Mode - If successful, you should see the NOOBS recovery interface on your display. This interface allows you to reinstall or update the operating system without going through the initial installation steps.
  6. Select Recovery Option - Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate through the options in the recovery interface. Select the option that suits your needs. For example, you may choose to reinstall the existing operating system or update to a newer version.
  7. Follow On-Screen Instructions - Once you've selected the recovery option, follow the on-screen instructions to complete the recovery process. This may involve confirming your selection and waiting for the reinstall or update to finish.
  8. Restart Your Raspberry Pi - After the recovery process is complete, you can restart your Raspberry Pi. The updated or reinstalled operating system should now be in effect.

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Additional Tips:

  1. Backup Important Data - Before performing recovery operations, ensure that you have backed up any important data on your Raspberry Pi. The recovery process involves reinstalling the operating system, which can result in data loss.
  2. Internet Connection - Depending on the recovery option you choose, an internet connection may be required to download the latest version of the operating system. Ensure that your Raspberry Pi has internet access if needed.

Conclusion

NOOBS has its own highs and lows. On the plus side, NOOBS makes installation easy especially for beginners. In addition, the customization options and installation without the need for an internet connection provide flexibility to users with specific needs. The recovery mode feature is another advantage as it allows users to update the existing OS without starting from scratch.

On the minus side, NOOBS consumes a huge amount of storage space on the SD card. Also,  some advanced users may find NOOBS limiting, as there are things during installation that they might prefer to control manually. 

Again the choice to use NOOBS depend on the type of user. Beginners might prefer to use it because it is user-friendly while advanced users might not like it due to the limitations it imposes.

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