How to configure your Raspberry Pi (4 or 400) without a PC

How to configure your Raspberry Pi (4 or 400) without a PC

The new network installation function of the Raspberry Pi 4 and 400 makes life easier for hackers, but also and above all for beginners.

You can now install a Raspberry Pi (4 or 400) without a PC, here's how

Making a retro game console, media player or miniature computer with a Raspberry Pi involves combining several hardware and software elements. For some, the pleasure lies precisely in choosing, buying, unboxing and carefully assembling the best case, the best memory card, the best software, etc., even more than in using the finished product.

Others, on the other hand, do not know where to start. It’s that you don’t install an operating system on a Raspberry Pi like you do on a PC. You have to download an “image” writing software, find its operating system (its “distribution”), download the correct image (32-bit, 64-bit, ARMv6, ARMv7, ARMv8?), then write it on a microSD card (or recently on a USB key), all from another computer.

At least that’s what we had to do until the launch of the network installation function (“network install”), which allows you to install an operating system directly from a new Raspberry Pi.

Network installation available on Raspberry Pi

From now on, when you boot a new Raspberry Pi 4 or Raspberry Pi 400 without a microSD card or USB storage medium, or with a blank microSD card or USB storage medium; you will no longer be on your own.

Instead of an obscure diagnostic screen, you will now get a screen informing you of the existence of the Raspberry Pi Imager, with a QR code pointing to a help page, and especially asking you to press the Shift key on the keyboard to start the installation process.

It will then be necessary to connect the Raspberry Pi to the internet via an Ethernet cable (it doesn’t work over Wi-Fi due to lack of space in the tiny internal memory), so that it downloads and runs Raspberry Pi Imager from RAM.

You can now install a Raspberry Pi (4 or 400) without a PC, here's how

Get started on Raspberry Pi Imager

We find ourselves after a few seconds facing Raspberry Pi Imager, the same easy-to-use installation software that we used until then on PC (often replacing balenaEtcher).

It can be used on the keyboard, with the arrows, the tabulation and enter key, but it can also be used with the mouse. If you are looking for a practical keyboard and mouse set to occasionally tinker with a Raspberry Pi, we recommend the Logitech K400+, which is regularly found on sale for 20 or 25 euros instead of 40.

The interface essentially comes down to 3 buttons: a 1st allowing you to choose the operating system to install, a 2nd allowing you to choose the storage medium on which to install it (often the only one inserted), and a 3rd allowing you to launch installation (which erases all the contents of the selected memory card or USB device).

The most difficult thing is finally to decide what you want to do with your Raspberry Pi and to choose the most appropriate operating system…

Side-by-side computer or miniature server

The Raspberry Pi 4 and 400 are still far from offering the performance of conventional computers, but they can be used as an extra computer, to browse the internet quietly for example.

Raspberry Pi OS is perfect for this purpose. On the other hand, we recommend the new 64-bit version, and not the 32-bit version still selected by default. In the menu Choose OSso we have to choose Raspberry Pi OS (other) → Raspberry Pi OS (64-bit). The “Lite” versions do not have a graphical interface and are intended for server use. There is also Ubuntu or Manjaro, but we advise you to familiarize yourself with Raspberry Pi OS first, for which you will find help more easily on the internet.

If you choose Raspberry Pi OS, a menu ⚙️ Advanced options appears on the Raspberry Pi Imager home screen. It allows you to preconfigure the main settings, including the keyboard layout (Set locale settings → Keyboard layout → en), Wi-Fi network and username. Be sure to choose Fr in the menu Keyboard of Raspberry Pi Imager before opening this menu and entering passwords.

retro gaming

The Raspberry Pi 4 and 400, on the other hand, are powerful enough to emulate many retro video game consoles, from the NES and the Game Boy to the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation 1. A Raspberry Pi can therefore replace a Nintendo Classic Mini, a Super Nintendo Classic Mini or a PlayStation Mini.

You can use an Xbox or PlayStation controller, wired or wireless, one of the many reproductions of retro controllers from specialist 8BitDo, or even one of the official Nintendo Switch Online reproductions, if you can get hold of it.

Raspberry Pi Imager offers two retro-gaming distributions for Raspberry Pi: Recalbox, simpler, especially with Bluetooth controllers, or RetroPie, less simple, but more customizable.

media center

A Raspberry Pi otherwise makes an excellent media player, for playing videos on a television, replacing or complementing the sometimes limited functions of a television, an ISP’s decoder, a Google Chromecast, an Nvidia Shield TV, an Amazon Fire TV, an Apple TV, etc.

Raspberry Pi Imager also offers the two main multimedia distributions for Raspberry Pi here, both based on the famous Kodi software: LibreELEC, the most popular, or OSMC, both simpler at first glance and more customizable.

There is also Volumio, which turns a Raspberry Pi into a music player, to be used without a screen, but via a web interface from a computer or a telephone, to make speakers “ connected “. We therefore recommend adding a DAC to the Raspberry Pi, because the integrated audio output is mediocre. HiFiBerry, for example, offers “HAT” modules and the appropriate boxes.

Retro gaming AND media center

Know that it is not necessary to choose between retro gaming and multimedia. Recalbox includes Kodi, RetroPie allows you to install it, and conversely OSMC allows you to install emulators.

How to enable network installation

This network installation function will soon be integrated into the Raspberry Pi 4 and Raspberry Pi 400. But as of March 1, 2022, it is still in the test phase and a version must be manually installed. beta from bootloaderthe software that manages the startup of the Raspberry Pi.

A beta is rarely completely risk-free, but it bootloader beta has been available since February 8 and according to testimonials and our own findings, it is reliable. Provided you are attentive during its installation and in particular take care not to disconnect the power supply or the memory card during the transfer, there is no risk of ” to brick his precious Raspberry Pi.

To install this bootloader betayou need a free microSD card (whose content will be erased, but that you can reuse immediately after for your new installation), a microSD card reader, and you must use (one last time?) Raspberry Pi Imager on another computer.

In the menu Choose OSyou have to go down to Misc utility images (“miscellaneous utility images”) and choose Beta Test Bootloader. We are finally asked to choose the priority storage medium at startup. SD Card Boot is the default setting: if a microSD card AND a USB key are inserted, the Raspberry Pi will launch the operating system installed on the microSD. This is the one we recommend if you have no good reason to choose another.

In any case, to access the network installation (network install), it will be necessary to insert a microSD card or a USB medium without an operating system, or remove it while launching Raspberry Pi Imager if you wish to reuse it.

It remains to choose the microSD and click on To write to transfer the bootloader.

To install the bootloader, disconnect the power supply from the Raspberry Pi, insert the microSD card and reconnect the power supply from the Raspberry Pi. The green LED flashes randomly during the transfer, then it flashes regularly to indicate that the installation was successful. If a TV or monitor is connected to one of the HDMI outputs, it displays a solid green screen. The operation is complete, you can cut the power to the Raspberry Pi and remove the microSD card.

Credit: Adafruit

Credit: Adafruit

There you go: once dependent on another computer, your Raspberry Pi is now more autonomous than a PC or even a Mac (which offers to restore the latest macOS via Internet) !

There remains one last challenge: to obtain a Raspberry Pi, victim of the shortages. We recommend the rpilocator site, which monitors availability at several resellers, including the main authorized French reseller, Kubii.

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