Raspberry Pi 4 Beta Firmware Brings True USB Boot for High-Speed Storage, No microSD Required

Now available in beta, and with general availability very soon, the latest firmware adds USB boot to microSD and network options.

The Raspberry Pi 4 can now boot directly from USB devices, thanks to a beta firmware update. (📷: Gareth Halfacree)

Owners of a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B single-board computer looking to make the most of the device's high-speed USB 3.0 connectivity by turning it into the device's primary storage can now do so — at least, if they're willing to help out with beta-testing the latest firmware.

The Raspberry Pi 4 launched last year with a range of improvements over its predecessor, including the option of up to four times as much memory and high-speed USB 3.0 connectivity for peripherals, but with a couple of regressions: The loss of the ability, present in the Raspberry Pi 3 range, to boot from a network server or USB Mass Storage device.

Since launch, updated firmware has brought network boot functionality but not USB boot — leaving those looking to use a high-speed USB 3.0 storage device as the installation point for their operating system to work around the problem by placing a boot stub on a microSD that then loads the rest of the OS via USB.

Now, though, proper USB booting is possible — though it requires some testing. Available now in public beta, with a finalized release due after a period of additional testing, the latest firmware for the Raspberry Pi 4 adds true USB boot functionality — allowing it to run without a microSD card installed at all.

Instructions for configuring the bootloader can be found on the Raspberry Pi website, while a forum thread details how to upgrade to the beta firmware and how to report any bugs that you find in the process. Thus far, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has not offered a timeline for general availability — beyond saying "it won't be very long."

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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