How to Install OSMC on a USB Stick for your Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi with USB stickInstalling OSMC to a USB stick isn't as simple as you would expect

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.

OSMC

OSMC is the decendant of RaspBMC…kind of

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.

Micro-SD USB adapter

The micro-SD card will still be a firm favourite for most

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.

OSMC installer download page

Download the Raspberry Pi option for your operating system. I’m using Windows in this example.

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:

OSMC installer step 1

Select your language and version of Raspberry Pi

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:

OSMC installer step 2

There shouldn’t be many reasons to select an older version of OSMC

6. Select installation media

For this guide we are installing to USB, so simply click the ‘on a USB stick’ option:

OSMC installer step 3

Select to install to a USB stick. Pretty straight forward so far…

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:

OSMC installer step 4

Choose your connection type – this is the connection for the Raspberry Pi

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):

OSMC installer step 5

Many of us get stuck here – even for a USB install, you still need to select the SD card entry. Confused? Yep!

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:

OSMC end user agreement

Does anyone ever read these things? Maybe we should?

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:

OSMC installer step 6

Let the installer do its thing…

11. Confirm installation

The installer will give you one last chance to change your mind. If you’re happy, click ‘Yes’:

OSMC installer step 7

Last chance to back out…

12. Let the installer run

The installer will now install the image/software on your SD card. Let it continue to do its thing:

OSMC installer step 8

The installer will continue to install to your SD card

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.

OSMC installer step 9

You’re ready to go!

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?

OSMC Pi setup

You have 60 seconds to remove your USB stick if you change your mind

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.

OSMC installation

You’re nearly done – OSMC is now installing the files to your USB stick

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:

OSMC installed successfully screen

Just leave this screen alone – eventually it will reboot itself, although it doesn’t tell you this

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.

Until next time…

19 Comments on "How to Install OSMC on a USB Stick for your Raspberry Pi"

  1. Hi

    A nice article there! Indeed, some users are sometimes tripped up by the fact they are imaging an SD card even though they want a USB setup.

    The USB installation goes back to the 2012 Raspbmc era when corruption with SD cards was rife due to a problem with the Raspberry Pi Firmware. By using a USB drive, you only had a small number of files (which could easily be restored) and therefore your chances of encountering corruption were significantly lower. This was fixed, and most people deferred to using a SD card permanently.

    The USB can give very good performance with USB 3 sticks. While Pi does not have USB 3, it will ensure that the USB 2 port speed is fully saturated. Another use case is when people want to have a large external drive to run OSMC and store media side by side.

    There is now a new SD card driver in OSMC called ‘sdhost’ which can bring significant improvements for SD cards in OSMC as well, but this is not enabled by default yet (it will be when it is more stable).

    Sam

  2. Is it possible to run it on bananapro?

    • Hi Stefan,

      Unfortunately ‘Banana Pro’ and ‘Banana Pi’ are based on AllWinner SocS. AllWinner have a less than stellar commitment to open source, to the extent that they are often in violation of the GPL. Conversely, the Raspberry Pi has an excellent commitment to open source and they are actively maintaining their kernel and userland. I only wish for OSMC to target devices where we can deliver a consistent and performant experience, and the Banana Pro in its current state does not permit this. Users have high expectations when they install OSMC on a new device, and I’d hate for those expectations to be misfounded.

      Sam

  3. Thanks for this article, that is exactly what was tripping me up with the install, nothing to tell me if I wanted to select my SD card even though I’m doing a USB install. Exactly what I was looking for.

  4. Jeff Johnson | 22/02/2016 at 20:09 | Reply

    Great writeup. IMO one improvement would be to omit plugging the USB stick into the windows machine since that isn’t required. You only need to plug the SD Card into the windows machine and image it.

  5. Prontium | 12/03/2016 at 18:57 | Reply

    Thanks. Useful, and not seen in OSMC web.

  6. Hi,

    I know this is an old post, but I’d be glad for an answer on this.

    What’s the format I should use on my USB stick? When I had OE installed I used EXT4, but it doesn’t seem to work with OSMC…

    Thanks

    • More specifically – It still runs from the SD card, even though I check “on a USB stick” in the installer.

    • Pretty sure mine was FAT32, been a while now though. In fact, the installer might even do the formatting now. I’ve since moved away from installing on a USB though, as the reliability of overclocking on an SD card has been greatly improved.

  7. Thanks alot for the information. Now it would be great if someone was to explain to me how to remove all the different languages. I don’t think people realize just how much is installed on OSMC.

    • I do find OSMC a little heavier than OpenELEC. Not sure how much impact the other languages have though – is it disk space you’re trying to save, or general running speed?

      • Sam Nazarko | 14/06/2016 at 05:36 | Reply

        The languages take up very little space, and you shouldn’t notice worse performance than OE. You will have ample space to run OSMC even on a 4GB SD card.

  8. Thanks for your article!
    I do exactly what you were written in the above article on my Raspberry Pi 3 but it is not working in my case.
    That is my Micro usb card was installed Raspbian via NOOBS installer, so i wonder that in my case is posible for setup OSMC on USB ?

  9. What exactly should the minimum size of the USB stick be?

    I’m having a hard time finding this information.

  10. Sam Nazarko | 14/06/2016 at 05:35 | Reply

    You need to install from http://www.osmc.tv (not NOOBS) at this time for a USB based boot

  11. OsirisFul | 16/09/2016 at 01:14 | Reply

    I tried severy time to install on usb but on the first boot never said “usb install” so how i can for sure check if osmc it was intall on my usb stick (16gb kingston datatraveler se9 metal), can i install “manually” way? (sorry my english im latin-man, so i hope can understand my question)

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