3 Ways to Boot Multiple OSes on a Raspberry Pi

Christian Cawley 17-02-2013

The Raspberry Pi has so many strengths. It’s flexible, suitable for acting as a desktop computer just as easily as it can capture stop motion video. The Pi’s versatility and portability transcends pretty much any small form computer, thanks to an imaginative user base, and great support from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.


But it does have one weakness. Relying on the SD card means that the Pi is locked to a certain configuration. This can prove problematic if you’re working on, say, a camera project and want to switch to a Bluetooth speaker.

Usually, you have two options here: you can back up the OS Easily Clone Your SD Card For Trouble-free Raspberry Pi Computing Whether you have one SD card or several, one thing that you will need is the ability to back up your cards to avoid the problems that occur when your Raspberry Pi fails to boot. Read More , reformat the SD card, and write a fresh new version, or just buy a new SD card 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a MicroSD Card Buying MicroSD cards may seem simple, but here are a few critical mistakes to avoid if you don't want to regret your purchase. Read More . The problem here, of course, is keeping an index of what is on which card, not to mention the cost of buying new cards.

A third option is available, but it’s usually overlooked: installing multiple operating systems on your Pi. Let’s look at how that works.

1. Multiple Pi Operating Systems with NOOBS

Perhaps the most widely-used tool for anyone wanting to install more than one operating system on a Raspberry Pi, NOOBS is available free from the Raspberry Pi website.

Ostensibly an installation tool, NOOBS can be used to simply install one or more operating systems on your Raspberry Pi SD card. The official limit of the Raspberry Pi 3’s microSD card support is 32 GB, so there should be plenty of space here for multiple OSs to be installed and booted.

3 Ways to Boot Multiple OSes on a Raspberry Pi muo rpi noobs sdformat noobsui

To use NOOBS, all you need to do is download the installer, unzip the contents, and copy them to your SD card. You can then insert the card in your Raspberry Pi, boot up, and use the NOOBS menu to select one or more operating systems to be installed. Several operating systems are available, from the standard Raspbian to media center options like OpenElec. You have a choice of two NOOBS versions: an online installer that download the OSs you choose, and an offline installer with all of the operating systems pre-loaded for you to select from.

Our guide to installing Raspberry Pi operating systems with NOOBS How NOOBS For Raspberry Pi Can Help First Time Users There is something about the Raspberry Pi that might just put people off: until now, setting it up has not been particularly user friendly. NOOBS aims to change that! Read More will illustrate this in more detail.

When you’re done, each time you boot the Pi you can choose which OS you want to run. It’s a really simple way to run multiple operating systems on your Raspberry Pi, and is the best place to start.

2. Multi-boot Your Raspberry Pi with BerryBoot

Before NOOBS there was BerryBoot. It’s a bootloader, as opposed to an installer. This slight difference means that it is optimized to run multiple operating systems.

3 Ways to Boot Multiple OSes on a Raspberry Pi muo rpi multios berryboot format

Like NOOBS, BerryBoot requires you to download a file, unzip, and copy the contents to a formatted SD card. Unlike NOOBS, however, BerryBoot has no offline installer. You’ll need to ensure your Raspberry Pi is connected to the internet to download your preferred operating systems.

From this point on, you’ll need to configure the BerryBoot installation. BerryBoot supports installation to SD card, USB devices, and even network drives. Our BerryBoot tutorial 3 Ways to Boot Multiple OSes on a 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? Read More will guide you through the required steps.

Once you’re done, you’ll have a multiboot Raspberry Pi, restricted only by the size of your SD card.

3. Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your Pi with a HDD

We already know that the maximum microSD card storage space on a Pi is 32 GB. What if you need more space? Fortunately, there is no such limit for USB disks. Several such HDDs are available, but we’re particularly impressed by Western Digital’s PiDrive.

3 Ways to Boot Multiple OSes on a Raspberry Pi muo diy raspberrypi pidrive pi

Shipping with a 4 GB microSD card, the WDLabs PiDrive is compatible with a Raspberry Pi 2, 3, or even a Pi Zero Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Zero Whether you bought a magazine with one glued to the front, or found a kit online, the chances are you're now the proud owner of a $5 computer: the Raspberry Pi Zero. Read More . Note that you’ll need a USB hub for additional devices on the Pi Zero. A dedicated cable is also included, designed to provide enough power to the Pi, the PiDrive, and any connected peripherals. You’ll need to provide your own mains adaptor and cable, however.

We’ve tried out the PiDrive, and the results are impressive. On the included microSD card you’ll find a customized version of NOOBS. You can use this to install your preferred OS, including the option to install various Raspbian Lite partitions.

3 Ways to Boot Multiple OSes on a Raspberry Pi muo diy raspberrypi pidrive setup

Using the PiDrive requires a display, keyboard and mouse for initial setup, but once this is done and you’ve got the PiDrive online, it makes a great solution. It’s purposely designed to let you to run multiple Pi operating systems, each for a different task or project. No more SD card formatting — simply boot an OS from the HDD!

Uses for this device might go beyond maintaining various Pi images. The vast 375 GB of storage make it ideal for retro video game emulation projects, photographic projects and anything else you can think of requiring such large data capacity.

Multiboot – the Future of Raspberry Pi Computing!

The days of having to repeatedly reformat your Raspberry Pi’s SD card to start a new project are now over. All you need is a multiple boot tool!

While NOOBS and BerryBoot are particularly useful and make good use out of your existing SD card, the Western Digital USB HDD solution is probably our favorite. It’s one of the top accessories to buy to get more out of your Raspberry Pi.

How many Raspberry Pi operating systems 23 Operating Systems That Run on Your Raspberry Pi Whatever your Raspberry Pi project, there's an operating system for it. Here are the best Raspberry Pi operating systems! Read More do you use concurrently? Do you prefer to multiboot or use multiple SD cards? Tell us in the comments.

Explore more about: Linux Distro, Memory Card, Raspberry Pi.

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  1. mukhi
    January 18, 2020 at 10:08 am

    3 questions:
    Does Pi 4 allow the use of exFAT? Or you must use FAT32 (that doesn't allow storing files with sizes > 4 GB)?
    What's the SD card size limit now with Pi 4?
    Is a dual boot with Ubuntu possible?
    Thanks in advance.

  2. PiPhi
    July 10, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    Thank you for the interesting article!
    Regards the PiDrive, I read the following in a Lifehacker article by Thorin Klosowski:

    “Sadly, only Raspbian and Raspbian Lite are included as installation options here, leaving a hole where the OSMC media center software or RetroPie game emulator software would have made a heck of a lot of sense as options. Of course, you can install those manually once Project Spaces sets up each partition, but it’s not totally the one-click installer I was hoping for.”

    I would really appreciate any advice you might provide for achieving this.

    I am running Foundation Edition on the WD 64GB USB Flash PiDrive on my Pi-Top [3]/V2 and, amongst other Project Spaces, set up a couple of 16GB partitions currently occupied by Raspbian Lite OS.

    I have downloaded PolarisOS as a zip file on my Pi-Top and would really like to be able to extract the contents to one of the aforementioned 16GB Project Spaces but I am not sure to which file I should extract them.

    I presume one of the root files? I have root, root0 and root1, which would seem to correspond to the number or Project Spaces I setup on the 64GB USB Flash PiDrive but how do I tell from which one of these I remove the Raspbian .img file to replace with the PolarisOS .img file?

    Regards BerryBoot, from what I’ve read, this partitioning software for multiple OSes doesn’t seem to be easily updated from within the OS in use on your Raspberry Pi; you have to wait ‘til the individual who runs BerryBoot provides updates for their software?

  3. Bob
    December 28, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    Is there any way to select a default operating system that automatically boots after some period of time so the RP can be used in headless mode when configured to run Kodi?

  4. Hugh
    October 10, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Seems that it is on purpose to publish empty ans useless articles.

  5. James
    May 14, 2018 at 1:02 am

    Your link to the Berryboot tutorial just reloads this page :(