Ever since the Pi 2 came out, I’ve been a little bit unsettled with my choice of Raspberry Pi Media centre. I was originally a happy user of RaspBMC, but as the Pi 2 wasn’t initially supported by RaspBMC, I moved over to OpenELEC and have been reasonably happy ever since.
RaspBMC has since come to the end of its busy life, with OSMC (Open Source Media Centre) taking over. OSMC is a different beast all together, supporting a wide range of devices rather than just the Raspberry Pi. I decided to give it a try and install it on a USB stick.
However, one thing hasn’t changed since the RaspBMC days – the confusing process of installing to a USB stick. It’s a little bit unclear and results in many people scratching their heads , so I thought I’d share how to do this.
Why move to OSMC?
The whole ‘OpenELEC vs OSMC’ argument is a highly debated topic on many forums across the internet, and don’t forget, they’re not the only options for your Pi media needs.
Whilst I was happy with OpenELEC, I was aware that OSMC had come a long way so I wanted to give it a whirl. Considering it’s just a case of changing over the SD card/USB stick – why not?
The general impression I get from the internet is that OpenELEC gives you a simple, easy and basic media centre, whilst OSMC comes with lots of ‘extras’ such as remote support, overclocking menus, different services and all sorts of other magic.
So it depends what you want your media centre to do, and of course, your own personal preference and opinion.
Why install on a USB stick?
Back in the RaspBMC days, overclocking the Pi came with the added risk of a corrupted SD card due to some bugs in the software. One way around this at the time was to install RaspBMC on a USB stick.
OSMC owner Sam Nazarko has since fixed these issues which was very welcome news for the community, but left the question – is there any point installing on a USB stick any more?
The quick answer appears to be “No” due to the fact that the SD card no longer corrupts when overclocking, but also due to the general opinion that a decent SD card is just as fast as a USB stick.
The long answer is complicated. Some forum posters believe that using a fast USB 3.0 stick can give some minor performance gains (yes, even despite the fact that the Pi only has USB 2.0 ports). Some still believe that the USB option gives you improved stability. Some even believe that lower class SD cards can perform better than anything else.
Whatever you believe, there are still some scenarios where a USB install can be beneficial. You may already have a large capacity stick spare, you may want to try for some potential performance gains…or you may just find that USB 2.0 storage is a bit cheaper than a decent SD card.
Installing OSMC on a USB stick
OSMC (and RaspBMC) is known for its really easy installer. You download a program, tell it how you want things set up, and it does all the work for you. No images to play with, no special software, no SD card writing – just click a few buttons.
However, installing on a USB stick is still unclear. The installer simply doesn’t give you enough information at certain stages, leaving you to try and find the answer via the internet.
So, let me show you how to install OSMC to a USB stick, and where you might get tripped up along the way.
1. Hardware required
Quite simple really, you need a Raspberry Pi (plus all necessary cables/power), a USB stick and an SD card. You’ll also need a computer to run the installer (I use Windows) and an SD card reader.
If you want a fast, highly rated USB stick, I’d recommend the Sandisk Extreme USB 3.0. Yes the Pi only runs USB 2.0 ports, but it’s well documented that using a USB 3.0 stick ensures you get the fastest possible speeds.
Despite installing to a USB stick, the Pi always boots from an SD card so you’ll always need one installed. After boot it works from the USB stick – you can even remove the SD card once booted if you don’t believe me!
Plug the USB and SD card into your PC (I’ll assume Windows) and make a note of the drive letters for each.
2. Download the installer
Head over to the OSMC download page and download the option for the Raspberry Pi.
3. Run the installer
Open the installer. Simple step this one!
4. Set the language and Pi version
You’ll be greeted with this first initial page. Select your language and Pi version:
5. Set the software version
Set the version of the software you want to use. For most of us, this will simply be the latest version:
6. Select installation media
For this guide we are installing to USB, so simply click the ‘on a USB stick’ option:
7. Choose your connection type
If your Pi will have a wired ethernet connection, choose ‘wired connection’. If you will be using a WiFi adapter, choose ‘wireless connection’.
I’m using a wired connection in this example – if you choose wireless, you will see an extra step asking for your router’s information:
8. Drive selection
This is where I, and many others, get it wrong. The installer should really add more information here.
You see, despite stating that you want to install to a USB stick, in this step you have to select the SD card for install. Makes no sense right?
I don’t know exactly how it works, but my guess is that as the Pi has to boot from an SD card, it must install ‘something’ on the SD first, and then this must run the USB installation when you fire up your Pi. I’ll show you this part a bit further down.
So, select your SD card and continue (remember to check which driver letter is your SD card):
9. Read and accept the end-user license agreement
Yeah right…none of us reads these things! Have a read if you wish, then tick the box and continue:
10. Image download
The installer should now download and extract the image for you. You may see a warning box asking if you want to do this:
11. Confirm installation
The installer will give you one last chance to change your mind. If you’re happy, click ‘Yes’:
12. Let the installer run
The installer will now install the image/software on your SD card. Let it continue to do its thing:
13. Remove drives
If you see the screen below, it’s time to eject your SD card and USB stick, fit them into your Pi, and switch that little guy on. Make sure you’ve fitted your Ethernet cable or WiFi adapter, and of course the HDMI cable to your screen.
14. First boot – Last chance to back out
When you first power up your Pi with your SD and USB stick installed, it’ll give you 6o seconds to change your mind. Why would you come this far and turn back?
15. Formatting & Installation
After you’ve waited your 60 seconds and committed your USB stick to a new life as a media centre, the installation will format the USB stick and install the necessary files.
16. Install confirmation screen
Here’s another point where you might come into trouble. Once the installer is finished, you will see the screen below. Great – but now what? This screen sat for about one minute for me, and all the while I wasn’t sure whether to wait or manually reboot.
Luckily I waited as the Pi eventually reboots itself – but it’s another example where perhaps it should tell you what to do:
17. Installation completed
Once your pi automatically reboots, that’s it – you’re done. You now have OSMC installed on a USB stick!
Personally I found USB stick performance to be poor – but I’m 99% sure this was because I was using a very slow, very cheap USB 2.0 stick. If you’re going to do this, do your homework and research the different options in your price range for the best performance.
If this post helped you, add a comment below and let me know what kind of performance you’re getting and what stick you’ve used.