How To Install Multiple OSes On A Single SD Card For Raspberry Pi

Running multiple projects on your Raspberry Pi usually requires a different operating system or configuration for each, best achieved with multiple SD cards. But is there a way to “dual-boot” the OS?

The Raspberry Pi is a very flexible little PC, but this flexibility can have its downsides. Being able to dual- or multi-boot different operating systems (many OSes are available for the Raspberry Pi) can prove extremely useful, particularly with projects that have similar hardware requirements, such as a media centre and a retro gaming centre.

Fortunately, the need to do this among Pi owners has resulted in an excellent tool, Berryboot; in fact, it is such an obvious requirement that the Raspberry Pi’s developers are working on a new tool, NOOBS, to make the running of multiple operating systems on the Pi even easier.

Benefits Of Installing Multiple Operating Systems On A Single SD Card

When you dual-boot a desktop PC, you do so because it makes the job of running multiple operating systems easy. The same is true of the Raspberry Pi, but there are other benefits.

muo rpi multios sdcards   How To Install Multiple OSes On A Single SD Card For Raspberry Pi

For instance, having several SD cards with different operating systems (one for Raspbian, another for XBMC, a third for RetroPie, etc.) can prove frustrating when you misplace one of the cards.

There is also the issue of the operating system becoming corrupt, which can happen when you remove a card while the Raspberry Pi is still running. While safely shutting down the computer is easy enough, having a single multi-OS SD card is a much better way of managing several Raspberry Pi projects than using a separate card for each. The bigger the SD card, the better – and you get to use your other SD cards for other projects!

Preparing To Install Multiple Raspberry Pi Operating Systems On Your SD Card

So what to you need to make a multi-boot SD card for your Raspberry Pi?

If you’re familiar with installing operating systems to your SD card already, you may expect to use Win32 Disk Imager to write the chosen operating systems to your storage device. In fact, this isn’t necessary.

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All you need to do is download Berryboot, copy to disk and then boot it in your Raspberry Pi.

To get started, head to SourceForge and download the latest version of Berryboot. Once complete, unzip the contents and copy to a FAT-formatted SD card with plenty of space for multiple operating systems.

Before proceeding, ensure your Pi has an Internet connection!

Running BerryBoot On Your Raspberry Pi

The next stage is to boot your Pi. Once the Berryboot software is copied to your SD card, safely remove the storage media and insert it into your Raspberry Pi, and power it up.

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Shortly, the “welcome” screen will appear; configure this as necessary for your setup, or confirm the automatic settings with the OK button.

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In the next screen, you will be offered the chance to set a destination drive. This is useful if you want to use a hard disk drive or USB flash storage to run store the operating system files. The device will still boot from the SD card, however.

When you’re ready, click Format (which will delete any data on the disk already) and wait as the process completes.

muo rpi multios os   How To Install Multiple OSes On A Single SD Card For Raspberry Pi

You will then be ready to select the operating systems that you wish to install on your SD card or external storage. These might be the “official” Raspbian OS, OpenELEC or even RISC OS – or all three! More operating systems can be added later if necessary, so don’t feel that you have to make a comprehensive selection at this stage.

Currently, the following operating systems are available:

  • Raspbian
  • OpenELEC
  • Puppy Linux
  • Sugar (the OLPC OS)
  • LTSP (BerryTerminal thin client)
  • BerryWebserver
  • RaspRazor (unofficial Raspbian)
  • Old Raspbian from 2012

When you’re ready, check the Proxy Settings match your network setup and click OK to begin downloading and installing your chosen Raspberry Pi operating systems.

Post Installation Tips & Tricks For BerryBoot

After installation, there are a couple of useful tips and shortcuts you may want to use. For instance, if you’re using HDMI (although other output options are available) you can use the arrows on your remote to select an operating system, rather than the mouse/keyboard. This will, of course, prove useful if you’re using your Raspberry Pi largely as a media centre.

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Should you want to add an operating system to Berryboot, you can again use your HDMI TV remote, this time selecting the red button and using the arrow keys again.

Meanwhile, you should spend a bit of time with the Berryboot menu editor. This tool – available when the first operating system has completed installation – is equipped with the tools to Add OS, Edit the name of the selected operating system, Clone the selected operating system, and even Delete.

Better still, there is the option to Backup one or all operating systems to USB (with a Recover option), while the Default button enables you to decide which OS to boot automatically or if there is no menu interaction.

So, About NOOBS?

As mentioned earlier, Berryboot isn’t the only tool for running multiple operating systems from the same SD card on your Raspberry Pi.

Also available is NOOBS – New Out Of Box Software – but as the app is currently in beta, it’s worth sticking with Berryboot until NOOBS is ready.

If you want to push on with NOOBS, however, you can download the latest version from www.raspberrypi.org/downloads. Two options are available: an offline “lite” installer that requires a network connection to access remote servers to download the OS, and the offline version (a little over 1 GB) that has the main operating systems included.

Like Berryboot, you’ll need to unzip and copy this to your SD card using your desktop PC before inserting the card in your Pi and booting up. From there you will be able to select from the available operating systems and install them.

Make no mistake, however, the NOOBS feature-set is so wide-ranging that the software seems likely to become vital to the use of the Raspberry Pi by beginners.

Increase Raspberry Pi Project Productivity With Multiple Operating Systems!

Are you still swapping SD cards to get the most out of your Raspberry Pi? Using Berryboot or NOOBS to install multiple operating systems, you can put this rare Raspberry Pi drawback behind you and get on with enjoying your media server, NAS, web server, home security cam or whatever project you’re currently running.

Have you used Berryboot or NOOBS? Let us know what you think of them, and what your current Raspberry Pi multi-boot configuration is, in the comments below.

Image Credits: Seeweb Via Flickr

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3 Comments -

The pirate

Itried NOOBS. He wants a minimal of 1500Mb but the install only made a drive who is about 300Mb. Thats a no go.
Then I tried Berryboot. That went well. Easy setup. But can you tellme now to install something like openoffice on Debian or Puppy? If i gotthat working i can install it formany other people!

Jordi

Hey! Good article. I can’t use my wireless keyboard & mouse (Trust) with it… It runs fine in all other distributions… So, what can would be happening? Thnaks!

Jim Lewis

Hi,

I am a NOOB so thought the NOOB tool should have been fool proof, however, I’ve run into a snag. As a new user I’m not sure which OSes I’ll end up sticking with, but with an 8Gb SD card thought i’d try Pidora, Arch and Raspbian.

Arch and Raspbian will work OK, but if I set Raspbian up and retry booting to Pidora it quits booting. I guess something in the Raspian set up is causing a conflict. I assumed accepting defaults through the setup would be OK.

Is there a way to make sure these three can work on the same SD card with NOOBS?

Thanks