The team at the Raspberry Pi foundation recently released their new PIXEL distribution of the Raspberry Pi operating system as a bootable system for x86 PCs and Macs! If you’ve got an old laptop or Mac around that you don’t really use anymore, you could use it to boot into Raspberry Pi PIXEL! Here’s how.
Any old PC or Mac should work, as long as it’s an old x86 system. 64 bit systems won’t work with this (yet)! An important note here — I did not create the PIXEL image, nor can I guarantee it will not cause harm to your PC or Mac. Please only use it on a system you don’t care too much about losing data on. Even the Raspberry Pi foundation say:
“One of the great benefits of the Raspberry Pi is that it is a low-consequence environment for messing about: if you trash your SD card you can just flash another one. This is not always true of your PC or Mac. Consider backing up your system before trying this image.” — Raspberry Pi foundation
So, before continuing on, please note that both myself and Raspberry Pi can accept no liability for any loss of data or damage to computer systems from using the image. It’s fun to do, just know that there could be risk involved in trying it out. Don’t try it on your main computer!
You’ll want to download the PIXEL .iso file. You can download that here: http://downloads.raspberrypi.org/pixel_x86/images/pixel_x86-2016-12-13/2016-12-13-pixel-x86-jessie.iso. Save that to somewhere you can find on your main computer (not the one you want to install it on!).
Etcher is a fantastic open-source program that can burn images to SD cards and USB drives. We’ll be using it to put the PIXEL ISO file onto a USB drive so that we can boot from it. To get started, head to Etcher.io and click the big download button for your OS. Throughout this, I’ll be using Windows as that’s the environment I had on both my main computer and on the laptop I planned to run PIXEL on. For this download — choose the OS (either Windows, Mac or Linux) which is your main computer you are using right now.
Once you’ve downloaded that file, open up the Etcher setup and run through it like any other install. For the Windows install, just click “Install” in the bottom right:
Then, Etcher will run through its install really quickly. Once it’s done, tick the “Start Etcher” checkbox and then click “Finish”. This way, we’ll have Etcher load up straight away ready for us to use!
Insert your USB drive that you’d like to use into your main computer (I think SD cards also work if you’d rather use one of those) and make sure that it is completely empty. I personally went and formatted mine to completely start from scratch. Keep your USB drive/SD card in your main computer for now and we’ll put Raspberry Pi’s PIXEL on there using Etcher.
Etcher’s interface is a really nice and clean one which guides you most of the way. To get started, click the “Select image” button on the left.
From there, it’ll open up your file system and you can find the ISO file that you downloaded from the Raspberry Pi website. Choose that file:
From there, Etcher very kindly detects the USB drive you’d like to use (if you’ve only got one connected to your computer). Check and DOUBLE CHECK that this is the right drive — you don’t want to end up flashing your main hard drive for your computer… or any others for that matter. A good sign of whether the drive is the right one is whether it matches the size of your USB drive or SD card. If you’ve got a 1TB hard drive appearing there and your USB is only 64GB… then that’s not the right drive! If the wrong one is showing, click the small “Change” link underneath it. If it’s all looking correct (be absolutely certain!!!), then click “Flash!”:
From there, Etcher will do its thing. Go enjoy yourself. See the outside world. Have a caffeine fix. Do a little jig. Watch some YouTube. It’ll be done usually within 5-10 minutes (depending on how big your USB drive or SD card is I assume).
If you are watching it intently wondering how to know when it’s close to ready — it’ll get to “Validating” which means it’s close! It’s just checking everything was flashed over correctly.
Next up, it safely removes (unmounts) your USB drive or SD card from your computer. Let it do this process, that’ll look like so:
Once it is done, it’ll say the wonderful words “Flash Complete!” which means it’s ready and you can remove your USB drive or SD card from your computer:
To boot into PIXEL, insert your USB drive into your old PC/Mac and set it up to boot from your USB drive. This process will be different for every laptop! For me, I had to tap F10 or F11 for this to work (I had to try a bunch of times so I can’t for the life of me remember which it was now!). If you’re not sure, try searching online for your computer’s manufacturer and “boot sequence settings” to see if you can find how to do it on your computer.
If it boots successfully from your USB drive or SD card, it’ll look like below with three options:
While it is loading, you’ll see this screen below. For those who’ve worked with Raspberry Pis and Linux before, you’ll be used to a whole stream of commands and text that flows up the screen. PIXEL hides all that to be a bit more user-friendly to the non-technical who might be a bit scared off by the technical jibberish streaming on their screen!
Once that’s done, we can see the typical Linux-based PIXEL desktop with a bunch nicer default background!
Chances are in this day and age, the main thing you’ll want for your PIXEL is an Internet connection! To get this, click on the Wi-Fi button on the top right (it’ll have two lines with Xs on alternate sides) and select your Wi-Fi:
If all goes well, you should now be able to click the globe icon on the top left and access the Internet!
My laptop didn’t quite work with sound initially, the audio icon showed a cross through it on the top right and wouldn’t let me increase or decrease the volume. To fix this, I went to the audio settings by clicking the Raspberry Pi icon on the top left and choosing Preferences > Audio Device Settings:
In “Audio Device Settings”, I changed the sound card from “HD-Audio Generic (Alsa mixer)” to “HDA ATI SB (Alsa mixer)” and clicked “Make Default” at the center, bottom of the screen. Then I clicked “OK”:
Once I’d done that, audio worked successfully!
I used a 32GB USB drive and to be honest, the operating system ran rather slowly. It could have been my laptop, or it could have been that the USB drive itself was super slow. Even still, it’s wonderful that this is now possible with what was a Raspberry Pi-centric Linux distro! It also provides a neat way of having a portable (yet modern) OS you can carry around on a portable USB drive!
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