How to set up your Raspberry Pi in Mac OS X

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PCHF Tech News
Jan 10, 2015

Get prepared

Despite its air of point-and-click friendliness, and Apple's tendency to precede its own applications with the letter 'i', its OS X operating system is actually a lot like Linux.

Both OS X and Linux have a similar system at their core, based on an old-school multi-user operating system called UNIX, and many of the tools and utilities that make OS X useful are the same as those you'll find within Linux.

Consequently, this gives you something of an advantage when it comes to using the Raspberry Pi. If you've ever used the command line from OS X, for example, you'll find exactly the same command line, with almost all the same commands, on the Raspberry Pi.


Similar, too, are the concepts of user accounts and home directories, network printing and file sharing, and you'll find that the Raspberry Pi will work almost as well with OS X as it does with Linux.

You can easily connect to it from the command line, share a virtual desktop environment and configure your Pi remotely, all without installing a single piece of additional software on your Mac.

But before you get to that stage, you will have to first install Raspbian on to your Pi's memory card.

Download the tools

From OS X, like Linux, the standard way of installing the Raspbian operating system on to your SD card is from the command line. But there's a safer, easier option, and that's using a graphical tool developed to do exactly the same job.

This tool is called the RPi-sd card builder, Download the builder to a local folder, and also make sure you've got hold of the latest Raspbian image, as the card builder tool needs this in the first step.


Make sure you grab the version labelled 'Debian Wheezy' and not the version labelled 'soft-float'. Clicking on the download link will take you to another page where hopefully the download will automatically start.

If it doesn't, try another link listed as 'mirror' from the same page. These mirrors are different servers on the internet that host the same file so that the download burden is shared.

The download is usually around 500MB, and should only take a few minutes with a good connection, although the speed is often more limited by the mirror rather than your connection.

Run the builder

The download is actually a 'zipped' version of the image. Zipping files in this way reduces their size by cutting out the duplication within the file.

But it also means a file needs to be unzipped before it's useful. On OS X, this should happen automatically after the download has completed, leaving you with the raw file – in our case, this is called 2014-09-09-wheezy-raspbian.img, but the date element will change depending on when the Raspbian image was constructed.

If you need to unzip the file manually, just double-click it. The zip file will be replaced with the image. Now it's time to run the RPi-sd card builder.


You should find this in your Download folder, complete with a Raspberry Pi application icon. Run the application and click through the warning/disclaimer that this file was downloaded from the dangerous wilderness that is the internet.

Milliseconds later, without even a splash screen, you'll be presented with a file requester asking for the location of the image file. After successfully completing the previous step, you should have no difficulty locating this file and giving it to the requester. Press the 'Choose' button with the image file selected to progress.

Choose the card

The RPi-sd card builder will now complain that it can't detect your SD card whether it's connected or not. We use a standard USB SD card reader, and with the SD card for your Raspberry Pi inserted into the reader, connect the reader to a spare USB port – make sure your SD card is write-enabled, if it has this feature.

This is usually a small sliding switch on the side of the card to protect valuable data from being overwritten. Without wanting to state the obvious, you need to make sure there's nothing on the card you want to keep, because it will all be overwritten.


With the SD card reader connected, you'll see the device automatically mounted on to your desktop. This is an opportunity to make a final check before starting the writing procedure.

In the RPi-sd card application, click on 'Continue'. The following window lists all the storage devices connected to your system and you need to select the device that corresponds to your SD card. But first click 'Select None'.

This is important, because selecting the wrong device could be disastrous and you will lose important data. Make sure the device you choose has the same volume name (on the far right) as the name for the new removable storage on your desktop, and that the capacity column (second from the left) is the same as the capacity your card is capable of.

When you are sure, click 'OK'.

Write Raspbian

You will now be asked to enter your password. You need to make sure your current user has Administrator privileges, which is another concept that's used by Linux.

Most default OS X users are also administrators, so just enter your password. Another window will pop up saying you need to wait for the device to be unmounted.

Devices need to be inaccessible from the desktop for them to be written to at the low level Raspbian requires, so wait for the desktop icon for your SD card to disappear before clicking 'Continue'.


If you've chosen the correct device, you should see its read/write LED flicker as data is being written to the card.

You can now relax – you got the correct device, and you'll need to wait a while for the data to be written. On our machine, this took about 15 minutes.

The progress indicator is hidden behind the small rotating gear hidden within the menu at the top of the screen.

Check the installation

When the process has completed, your card should be ready for its first live test within your Raspberry Pi. But before you do, it's worth taking a look at the card's layout from your desktop.

This way you can be sure the writing procedure has worked and avoid any unnecessary troubleshooting when it comes to booting up the Pi.

Firstly, after the process has finished, you should see a new drive mounted on to your desktop. This will contain only about 18MB of data, and Finder will claim there's still only 41MB free.


But this is because you're only looking at the boot partition, as this is the only partition OS X can now read. The other partition is formatted with a Linux filesystem, and if you want to see it, launch Apple's excellent Disk Utility application.

This tool allows you to format and re-partition drives, and if you select the remote storage drive from the left panel and then select 'Partition' from the tabbed functions on the left, you'll see a vertical layout of the partitions on the drive.

There should be two – the UNTITLED boot partition, plus the other, containing Linux. There should also be some unused space, which you'll be able to take advantage of after you've booted into Raspbian and used its configuration tool for resizing Linux into any unused space.



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