How to cleanly install the latest version of pi-topOS - without removing the SD card!

Do you need a sure-fire way of getting back up and running with pi-topOS? Or perhaps you don't have an SD card reader? Find out how you can install the latest version of pi-topOS using just a USB memory storage device.

This article is a work in progress, and does not yet represent a working solution for all users. Please read through carefully before starting! 

In this article, we will be going through how anyone with pi-topOS Sirius can fully upgrade their system - as though they had reinstalled pi-topOS by removing the SD card, connecting it to another computer, and installing from there.

All you will need is a USB memory storage device with about 8GB of free space.

💡 Time-saving tips:

  • Format your USB device as FAT32 for guaranteed compatibility with your Raspberry Pi
  • Start downloading pi-topOS onto your USB memory storage while you go through the rest of this article
  • Save the file directly onto your device - do not save into a folder


Now, if you do happen to have an SD card reader (and are therefore able to access the files on your SD card from another machine), follow the "I have an SD card reader and another computer" steps below.

Otherwise, scroll down to "I do not have an SD card reader".

I have an SD card reader and another computer

(We know that isn't what we promised in the title of this article - sorry! Don't worry - it's not essential, but it is a lot faster for SD cards that have not yet been set up.)

Great! This will save you a lot of time. Take the SD card from the Raspberry Pi inside of your pi-top device and insert it into another computer.

Manually updating pi-topOS Recovery

This may not always be necessary, but it is recommended - particularly if you are not sure if your copy of pi-topOS Recovery is at the latest version.

You should see some folders appear on your machine - 'boot' and 'recovery'.

Delete all of the files in the 'recovery' folder, and replace them with these (TODO: provide link to latest recovery files), put the SD card back into your pi-top device and boot.

Keeping the existing pi-topOS Recovery

To boot into pi-topOS Recovery without manually updating, delete the autoboot.txt file in the recovery folder that appeared when the SD card was connected.


Once you have downloaded pi-topOS to your USB device, insert your USB device into your pi-top and boot. For next steps, go to the "Using pi-topOS Recovery" section below.

I do not have an SD card reader

That's okay - but you will need to be able to access the desktop, which means that you will need to have completed the pi-top setup process.

Completing pi-top setup

If you are intending to perform a full clean update, then you will likely want to avoid the update page of the setup application. To skip this section, ensure that any networking cables are disconnected and ensure that your system does not know about any nearby wireless networks during this part of this setup process.

Once you have completed the setup process, you will have access to the desktop. You will now need to connect to a network - use the Wi-Fi icon in the bottom right of the start menu to connect.

You will soon get a notification that your system should be updated. You should ignore this, as we do not want to upgrade the entire system - we are about to overwrite it!

Updating pi-topOS Recovery

We now need to ensure that we have the latest version of pi-topOS Recovery running. Open a terminal window, and run the following:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install -y pt-recovery

At this stage, you will need your USB memory storage with a fully downloaded version of pi-topOS on it.

Now go to the bottom left of the screen, select Shutdown Options in the start menu and choose "Reboot into pi-topOS Recovery". If you do not see this, then open a terminal and run:

sudo rm /recovery/autoboot.txt
sudo reboot

Using pi-topOS Recovery

Assuming that you followed the steps above for your given situation, your system will now reboot into pi-topOS Recovery and - after a short time - begin automatically looking for a zip file containing pi-topOS on your USB device.

Assuming that everything went well here, you shouldn't need to do anything else.

In our testing, the speed of this is comparable to writing to the SD card from another computer using Raspberry Pi Imager, balenaEtcher, etc. - so you shouldn't need to wait long!