Three Methods to Boot A number of OSes on a Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is usually set up with a single operating system that starts from the SD card. However, this can be restrictive for some users. For example, you may want to install multiple versions of the Raspberry Pi operating system for different projects. Or you want to multiboot your Raspberry Pi 4 with Kodi, RetroPie and Ubuntu MATE.

Depending on the model and preferred storage media, various options for multibooting a Raspberry Pi are available. Here's how to install multiple Raspberry Pi operating systems for dual boot and multiboot applications.

Why you need multiple operating systems on the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi has so many strengths. It is flexible and is suitable both as a desktop computer and as a development environment for children. Its versatility and portability outperform the competition

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Thanks to an imaginative community and the support of the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

But the Raspberry Pi has one major shortcoming. Booting the operating system from the SD card means that the Pi is bound to a specific configuration. This can be problematic if you are working on a camera project, for example, and want to switch to a Bluetooth speaker.

You usually have two options here:

  1. Save the operating system

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    , reformat the SD card and write a new version,

  2. Buy a new SD card

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    and write down what is on which SD card

However, there is a third option that is usually overlooked: installing multiple operating systems on your Pi. Let's see how that works.

SD card, USB storage or network multiboot?

In the early days of the Raspberry Pi, there was only one choice for the operating system's startup medium: the SD card.

However, as the platform progressed, more options were added. Since the release of the Raspberry Pi 3, it has been possible to program the board to start from USB

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This has resulted in USB flash drives, USB hard drives (HDDs) and USB solid-state drives (SSDs) replacing SD cards. USB sticks are devices with low power consumption that are suitable for the Raspberry Pi. However, most USB hard drives and SSDs require independent power supplies, albeit with a few exceptions.

For example, the Western Digital Labs team (WD Labs) has released a (now discontinued) line of “PiDrive” -D hard drives that share the Raspberry Pi’s power connector.

The Raspberry Pi 3 also introduced booting the network on the platform. With PXE (Pre eXecution Environment) the models Pi 3 and higher can be started from images hosted by the server.

1. Multiple Pi operating systems with NOOBS

With NOOBS, multiple operating systems can be easily installed on your Raspberry Pi SD card.

You have the choice between two NOOBS versions. One is an online installer that downloads the operating systems you choose. The other is an offline installer that comes with all of the operating systems you can choose from. Use the version that suits your internet connection.

How to install a Raspberry Pi operating system with NOOBS:

  1. Download the installer
  2. Unzip the content
  3. Copy them to your formatted SD card
  4. Insert the card into your Raspberry Pi
  5. Boot the Pi
  6. Navigate in the NOOBS menu

Select one or more operating systems to install from the menu. Various operating systems are available, from the Raspberry Pi operating system to media center options such as OpenElec.

When you're done, you can choose which operating system you want to run each time you start the Pi.

NOOBS can be used with any model of Raspberry Pi.

2. Multi-boot your Raspberry Pi with BerryBoot

Use BerryBoot to run multiple Raspberry Pi operating systems

Before NOOBS there was BerryBoot. It's more of a boot loader than an installer. This slight difference means that it is optimized to run multiple operating systems.

As with NOOBS, you have to download a file from BerryBoot, unzip it and copy the content to a formatted SD card. Unlike NOOBS, BerryBoot does not have an offline installer. You need to make sure your Raspberry Pi is online to download the operating systems you have selected.

BerryBoot supports installation on SD cards, USB devices and even network drives. How to install multiple Raspberry Pi operating systems with BerryBoot:

  1. Download BerryBoot
  2. Extract the ZIP file to a formatted SD card
  3. Insert the card into your Raspberry Pi
  4. Turn on the Raspberry Pi
  5. Select and install one or more operating systems
  6. Each time you start your Raspberry Pi, select the operating system you want to use

Our complete guide to multibooting a Raspberry Pi with BerryBoot

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describes these steps in more detail.

Like NOOBS, BerryBoot runs on every version of the Raspberry Pi board.

3. Network start of several Raspberry Pi operating systems with PiServer

Finally, there is the option to boot the network. This is built into the Raspberry Pi OS desktop, but requires that all devices are connected via Ethernet. Wi-Fi is not supported.

However, it is ideal if the regular replacement of your Pi s SD card has become a problem. The SD card is not required when starting the network. The Pi starts from an image stored on a network drive. On the Raspberry Pi website you will find detailed explanations for setting up PXE booting with PiServer.

This method allows you to manage multiple Raspberry Pi OS environments, one for development and one for desktop productivity. Simply restart the Raspberry Pi to select a different operating system. The server also backs up the operating system so you are not vulnerable to damaged SD cards.

This option is best suited for Raspberry Pi 3 and higher.

Multiboot: the future of Raspberry Pi computing!

Gone are the days when you had to reformat your Raspberry Pi's SD card repeatedly to start a new project. All you need is a multi-start tool! Once you're done, you can use any Raspberry Pi operating system that's limited only by the size of your storage device.

While NOOBS and BerryBoot make good use of your physical storage, the PiServer option may be the biggest game changer. Still, NOOBS is definitely the easiest Raspberry Pi multiboot installer.

Now all you have to do is choose which Raspberry Pi operating systems to install

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