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How to Set Up a Raspberry Pi for the First Time

So you’ve just gotten a new Raspberry Pi and taken it out of the box. Now what? There are a million things you can do with your mini computer, but first you need to get it up and running.

If you bought your Pi as part of a kit, you probably got everything you need right in the box, but if you just have the board, you’ll need the following:

  • A power source
  • A microSD card (at least 8GB)

And, unless you plan to do a headless install and use the Raspberry Pi via remote desktop only, you’ll need:

  • A keyboard (wired or wireless)
  • A mouse or other pointing device
  • A monitor or TV to connect to (via HDMI)

Powering Your Pi

The Raspberry Pi is powered via a micro USB port, which means that you can give it juice by connecting it to any of the many different third-party chargers or even by attaching it to one of your computer’s USB ports. While you can get away with giving the board a lot less electricity (the Pi Zero W runs perfectly off of my laptop’s USB port), the optimal power source for a Raspberry Pi 3 should have 2.5 amps, which also provides plenty of power for attachments.

There are a number of power supplies that are made specifically for the Raspberry Pi, including this Canakit model that comes with an on / off button. The Pi doesn’t have a built-in power switch, so the default way to turn it on is to plug it in. However, to avoid data loss, you’ll want to use the shutdown feature in your operating system (OS) before unplugging or switching it off.

An OS on a microSD Card

There are over a dozen different OSes for Raspberry Pi, and there’s even a way to run full Windows 10 on it. However, Raspbian, a special version of Debian Linux that’s optimized for the Pi, is the best platform for most use cases.

The Raspberry Pi has no internal storage, but instead boots off of a a microSD memory card that you provide. Be sure to get a card that’s at least 8GB and has class 10 speed. It almost goes without saying, but you’ll need some kind of card reader to write the OS to it from your PC.

Headless Install?

If you just want to experiment with the Pi or use it to control physical objects like lights, motors and sensors, you don’t need to give it its own screen and keyboard. Follow our separate instructions for doing a headless install on the Raspberry Pi, and you can control the device from the desktop of your PC or Mac, using VNC or SSH remote access software.

Downloading and Installing Raspbian

Once you have all the components you need, use the following steps to set up your Raspberry Pi using a Windows PC.

1. Download Raspbian OS. You can get the latest version of Raspbian at raspberrypi.org. Choose among a lite version (command prompt only), a desktop version (full windowed GUI) and a version with the desktop and recommended software. First time users should download the desktop with recommended software.

2. Download, install and launch Etcher on your computer. This free software will “burn” the OS to your microSD card.

3. Click the select button, and indicate the location of the Raspbian .zip file you downloaded.

If your microSD card is in your computer’s reader, Etcher will detect it automatically. If not, make sure it is inserted.

4. Click Flash. The system will take several minutes to write Raspbian to the microSD card.

5. Insert the microSD card into the Raspberry Pi, and plug it in. Unless you did a headless install, you’ll need it to be connected to a screen and keyboard / mouse before you turn it on. The Raspberry Pi will take a minute or two to boot up and will take you straight to a GUI.

Configuring Raspbian

If you are prompted for a username and password, the default username is “pi”, and the password is “raspberry”. If you’re concerned about security, you’ll want to change these. On first boot, you will probably be given a “Welcome to the Raspberry Pi” dialog box, which takes you through the process of choosing important settings.

1. Click Next on the dialog box and then select your country, language and keyboard type.

2. Change your default password on the next screen or leave it blank for it remain as “raspberry.”

3. Select the appropriate Wi-Fi network on the screen after, provided that you are connecting via Wi-Fi. If you don’t have Wi-Fi or are using Ethernet, you can skip this.

4. Click Next when prompted to Update Software. This will only work when you are connected to the Internet, and it can take several minutes. If you are not connected to the Internet, click Skip.

5. Click Done or Reboot (if prompted to reboot).

If you are not shown a “Welcome to Raspberry Pi” dialog box or you wish to change these settings later, you can find the region and password settings, along with many other options, by clicking on the Pi icon in the upper left corner of the screen and navigating to Preferences -> Raspberry Pi Configuration. You can configure Wi-Fi by clicking on the Wi-Fi / network icon on the taskbar.

Changing Your Screen Resolution on Raspberry Pi

If you don’t have enough desktop real estate, you may want to change your screen resolution to ensure that it matches what your display is capable of. If you are using a headless Pi and accessing it via VNC, you still probably want at least a 720p screen.

To change the Raspberry Pi resolution:

1. Open the configuration menu by clicking on the Pi icon then selecting Preferences -> Raspberry Pi Configuration.

2. Click the Set Resolution button on the System tab.

3. Select your new resolution, and click Ok.

4. Click Yes to reboot.

For more information, including several helpful tutorials, check out our Raspberry Pi channel.

Photo Credits: Tom’s Hardware





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