[Guide] pi-top USB boot Install (RPi4)

These are the steps to getting pi-topOS to USB boot on the Raspberry Pi 4. This can take some time due to the lack of up to date pi-top image. We can only hope for one to be released and save all these steps and time

What You Need
1x pi-top[4] or Raspberry Pi 4
1x Micro SD card
1x External Hard Drive/SSD in a compatible enclosure/adapter

pi-topOS ISO dated 2020-12-22
Raspberry Pi Imager (works on Windows Mac and Linux)

For known compatible SSD enclosures/adapters you can check here which has a list of known enclosures and adapters for 2.5" SSD and m.2 SATA SSD. If you can, use one that is UASP compatible to get the fastest speed/results. Also NVMe drive are not compatible at this time.

EEPROM update
This is an important step if you have not updated the EEPROM before, In order for the RPi to boot from USB you need to have a compatible EEPROM firmware. Keeping these steps here in case people need to do this

If you know your EEPROM has the latest update of at least 3rd Sept 2020 (not 3rd Sept 2019) or after then you can skip this whole part right to pi-topOS for USB Boot

  1. Boot into any operating system to check the eeprom firmware version
  • In terminal enter vcgencmd bootloader_version and if the date is Sept 3rd 2020 (Please read the date carefully) then you can skip these steps and move to the next step “pi-topOS for USB Boot”
  1. Download, install and run, also insert your Micro SD card into your PC
    Raspberry Pi Imager
  2. Select “Choose OS”
  3. Scroll to the bottom and select “Misc utility images”
  4. Select “Raspberry Pi 4 EEPROM boot Recovery”
  5. Select your SD card and select write
  6. Insert your Micro SD card into your RPi4 or pi-top[4] and power it on
  7. once the Activity light is flashing fast, the eeprom is updated

Alternative way with Raspberry Pi OS

  1. Start your RPi 4 or pi-top[4] using Raspberry Pi OS
  2. Run a full update with the following terminal commands
  • sudo apt update
  • sudo apt full-upgrade
  • sudo reboot
  1. check that the EEPROM has been updated with vcgencmd bootloader_version

pi-topOS for USB Boot

  1. Insert your Ecternal HDD/SSD into your PC and load up Raspberry Pi Imager
  2. Select “Choose OS”
  3. Scroll to the very bottom and select “Use Custom”
  4. Navigate to your image file (Latest Version: 2020-12-22-pi-topOS-sirius.img) and select and open it
  5. Select your USB SSD/HDD by clicking Choose SD Card and then click Write
  6. Once complete, plug the USB SSD/HDD into the pi-top[4] USB3 and power it on
    • The first boot up will expand the File System for to the whole drive, then reboot
  7. Go though the initial setup, connect to network, install updates etc.
  8. Once rebooted, leave the system idle for a few mins, you may get a firmware update pop up. If you do, allow it to update and reboot

Once done, you will have a fully up to date and USB bootable pi-topOS

This has been update to reflect the 22nd Dec 2020 image file which eliminates the need to use an SD card to update the OS then to use SD Card Copier and image the SD Card to the USB drive, shutdown and remove the SD card. This now saves a good 2-3 hours to be able to boot from USB.

Thanks pi-top team :slight_smile:


Hmmm - thanks for this … still working on it. …

Could I point out helpfully to those following along, a tiny critical mistake that my eyes skipped twice. … my pi-top bootloader_version response is Sep 10 2019 … not Sep 3 2020 as required. … Very similar - but 51 weeks older than required, not one week newer … grrrr! Back to the imager!

@CAProjects awesome guide, thanks a lot! I will try this out this weekend.

We’ve got a new OS release going out in the next few days, so look out for that :+1:

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@duwudi will a new image become available? also any idea if you guys will be supporting 64bit when Raspberry Pi OS 64bit is released as stable and not beta? would be nice for my 8GB ram board swap

Painful to do, but way faster to boot / update / upgrade etc. from the SSD - I used a 1T Samsung Portable SSD T5.

In the end I used the balenaEtcher on a Mac to write the new image. … easy


Now, If only we could find a ULN 30x30x7 case fan to replace the OEM one!

@CAProjects yeah a new image will be on the website in the next few days, I’ll try to remember to update you here once it’s live.

64-bit has been on our radar for a while, and yes whenever Raspberry Pi OS 64-bit becomes stable we’ll certainly be wanting to move pi-topOS in that direction. For me personally, I’m big into ROS and 64-bit will mean I can start transitioning to ROS 2 which will be awesome :grin: so I’ll certainly be pushing hard to get it done!

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@nannerbm60 got any examples of cooling fans you’d like to add in?

@duwudi look forward to the new image as it will save some time and eliminate a lot of the steps, once available i will test and update this guide where appropriate

Also, cant wait for a 64 bit version of pi-topOS, i have been trying out RpiOS 64 bit and it runs better than the 32 bit, however, there is no hardware acceleration for chromium and VLC at this time and there is also app compatibility too issues too. The usual story with a 64 bit transition tho. just glad VS Code has an ARM64 version and works, which to me is the main thing :slight_smile:

also would like to see VS code as a default app since its a rather powerful code editor and with the right extensions it can be turned into a powerful IDE/Debugger too and also allows you to run a terminal in the UI as well as run code etc
Have not got things setup properly in VS Code but it shows a little what can be done. I normally have it setup using virtual-env , github, intellisence, icons, remote development tools (such as write and test code with a remote client) and a lot more

@CAProjects totally agree on having VS code installed as standard, I’ll see what we can do! :+1:

and yeah I can’t wait for a stable 64-bit version too, it will be SO much better!

No - ideally Noctua would have a 30x30x7 ULN fan, but they don’t … your OEM one speaks and squeals if moved and is too noisy for a desktop - the Pi-Top serves it’s time in a 19 inch rack, but it is the loudest component. … sad face

@duwudi I have tested the latest image, dated 22nd Dec 2020, and works a dream, boots of a USB drive no issues after being flashed, I did have 1 minor issue but resolved with a reboot, it was the expand file system but no issue after a reboot, it performed the task no problem.

And you have added the latest version of VS Code as a default software install :smile: you guys are awesome. Thank you very much the pi-top team :smile: i noticed version 1.50.0 was installed which has an issue with syncing settings, easy fix is to download the latest version and install over it

I have updated the guide to reflect the steps relevant to the latest image

I have updated the guide and highlighted where needed to read and check carefully. Also the guide is updated to reflect the latest image

@CAProjects awesome, good to know! And yeah we managed to sneak VS Code in at your request in the last few days before release :smiley: I’ll check the version issue with the team and try and get that updated by default.

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It’s a minor issue as vs code is constantly getting updated, some might get detected and some do not, depending on preferences and some updates are a manual install too