Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash Drives

Raspberry Pi 4 with Samsung 950 Pro NVME SSD
Raspberry Pi 4 with Samsung 950 Pro NVME SSD

The Raspberry Pi 4 is finally here and has a lot of exciting changes. One very major downside is that it doesn’t support true USB booting yet out of the box (like the 3 series did). The Raspberry Pi foundation states that it is being worked on and will be added back with a future update. No timeline has been given yet for that to happen but they state it’s one of their top priorities.

Most of my projects heavily depend on having good performing storage so sitting and waiting was not an acceptable solution. In this guide I’ll show you a workaround to use USB devices as your rootfs device and use a Micro SD card as bootloader only which gives us full SSD performance after boot! To see exactly how much of a performance difference this makes (spoiler: it’s gigantic) check out the Raspberry Pi Storage Benchmarks.

I highly recommend doing this on a completely new install. If you try to upgrade your old ones and something goes wrong there’s a good chance you might lose data. We will be modifying the boot partition, resizing partitions, etc. so don’t use a drive with any data on it unless you are positive you have all of the steps down!

Compatible USB Adapters

The Raspberry Pi 4 is proving to be picky about what SATA, M.2, etc. adapters will work in the USB 3.0 port. The USB 3.0 ports are the ones in the middle that are blue inside. The black ones are USB 2.0 and won’t give you the faster speeds the new Pi offers.

It’s very likely that some of these will be fixed via software and firmware updates and the Raspberry Pi Foundation has several open known issues related to USB 3. Until that happens though I will maintain a list here of known working ones and known problematic ones. It’s still very early in the release of the Pi 4 so we still have a lot to learn about which adapters work / don’t work. If you have working and nonworking adapters leave a comment and I’ll add it in this list.

If the adapters worked before on older Pis then one thing you can try is putting them in the black USB 2.0 ports. Obviously this is stupid because we all want the Pi 4 performance gains but if you end up needing to buy a new adapter this will give you a workaround until a replacement arrives!

Find USB adapter chipset

There are certain chipsets used in adapters that are known to be working/not working.

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ lsusb
Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
Bus 002 Device 002: ID 174c:55aa ASMedia Technology Inc. Name: ASM1051E SATA 6Gb/s bridge, ASM1053E SATA 6Gb/s bridge, ASM1153 SATA 3Gb/s bridge, ASM1153E SATA 6Gb/s bridge
Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub
Bus 001 Device 002: ID 2109:3431 VIA Labs, Inc. Hub
Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub

This is a lsusb dump of all my connected USB devices. I have bolded the line with the USB bridge device. We can see that the chipset is ASM1153E

Known Good Chipsets

  • ASMedia ASM115X (StarTech 2.5″ SATA, UGREEN USB Enclosure, several others)

Known Working Adapters

Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesStarTech 2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0 Adapter2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0Verified working great by myself and others on Pi 4
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesOrico Transparent 2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0 Enclosure2.5″ SATA to USB 3.1Confirmed working by Ashjas in comments
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesELUTENG 2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0 Adapter2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0The ELUTENG is one of the known working 2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0 adapters for the Pi 4
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesCSL 2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0 Adapter2.5″ SATA to USB 3.0The CSL SL adapter is confirmed to be working by Krikitt in the comments. Available in Europe. Not available in US.
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesShinestar NVME to USB 3.0 AdapterM.2 NVME to USB 3.0This is the adapter I’m using in the picture at the top of the article. It is for NVME M.2 drives only (need different one for M.2 SATA).
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesQNINE M.2 SATA to USB 3.0 EnclosureM.2 SATA to USB 3.0I used this enclosure to benchmark M.2 SATA Lite-On and SanDisk drives — working great in 3.0 ports.
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesUGreen M.2 SATA to USB 3.1 EnclosureUGreen M.2 SATA to USB 3.1 EnclosureReported as working well in the comments by John H. Reinhardt with a ASM1051E chipset
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesTanbin mSATA to USB AdaptermSATA to USB 3.0I used this mSATA to USB adapter for my Crucial M550 benchmark — working in 3.0 ports.
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesGeneric mSATA to USB 3.0 Adapter (fe2008)mSATA to USB 3.1Confirmed working in comments by Nico
Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesRaspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash DrivesCanakit Raspberry Pi 4 Power Supply (USB-C)USB-C Power SupplyCanakit has been making very reliable power supplies for several Pi generations now

Known Problematic Adapters (VERY COMMON)

Fix (some) USB Adapter Problems Using Quirks

Some of the very common adapters on the naughty list above (such as the Sabrent) can be made to work by using USB quirks to disable UAS mode on the drive. This lowers performance, but it’s still much faster than a SD card and your adapter won’t go to waste.

To find out the quirks we need to find the device ID string for your adapter and then add an entry to cmdline.txt telling the kernel to apply them on boot.

Find Your Adapter

To apply the quirks we first need to get the adapter id. We will use the sudo lsusb command:

$ sudo lsusb
 Bus 003 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub
 Bus 002 Device 002: ID 174c:55aa ASMedia Technology Inc. Name: ASM1051E SATA 6Gb/s bridge, ASM1053E SATA 6Gb/s bridge, ASM1153 SATA 3Gb/s bridge, ASM1153E SATA 6Gb/s bridge
 Bus 002 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0003 Linux Foundation 3.0 root hub
 Bus 001 Device 002: ID 2109:3431 VIA Labs, Inc. Hub
 Bus 001 Device 001: ID 1d6b:0002 Linux Foundation 2.0 root hub

On line 2 we can see my ASM1051E SATA 6Gb/s bridge adapter (it’s the known working StarTech.com 2.5″ SATA to USB adapter). You will see something very similar to mine when you run the command and it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which device it is. If you need more information add a -v switch to make the command sudo lsusb -v. This can sometimes add some additional details to make it easier to figure out which one is your adapter.

If you’re still not sure, we have another command that between the two that can narrow things down. Type / paste the following:

sudo dmesg | grep usb

 [    0.828535] usb usb3: New USB device found, idVendor=1d6b, idProduct=0002, bcdDevice= 4.19
 [    0.828568] usb usb3: New USB device strings: Mfr=3, Product=2, SerialNumber=1
 [    0.828597] usb usb3: Product: DWC OTG Controller
 [    0.828620] usb usb3: Manufacturer: Linux 4.19.75-v7l+ dwc_otg_hcd
 [    0.828644] usb usb3: SerialNumber: fe980000.usb
 [    0.830051] usbcore: registered new interface driver uas
 [    0.830182] usbcore: registered new interface driver usb-storage
 [    0.836488] usbcore: registered new interface driver usbhid
 [    0.836511] usbhid: USB HID core driver
 [    0.971598] usb 1-1: new high-speed USB device number 2 using xhci_hcd
 [    1.154217] usb 1-1: New USB device found, idVendor=2109, idProduct=3431, bcdDevice= 4.20
 [    1.154254] usb 1-1: New USB device strings: Mfr=0, Product=1, SerialNumber=0
 [    1.154281] usb 1-1: Product: USB2.0 Hub
 [    1.301989] usb 2-1: new SuperSpeed Gen 1 USB device number 2 using xhci_hcd
 [    1.332965] usb 2-1: New USB device found, idVendor=174c, idProduct=55aa, bcdDevice= 1.00
 [    1.332999] usb 2-1: New USB device strings: Mfr=2, Product=3, SerialNumber=1
 [    1.333026] usb 2-1: Product: ASM105x
 [    1.333048] usb 2-1: Manufacturer: ASMT
 [    1.333071] usb 2-1: SerialNumber: 123456789B79F

This is the dmesg log showing the hardware detection as hardware is activated on the Pi. If your log is really long you can generate fresh entries by just unplugging a device and plugging it back in and running the command again. Here we can clearly see that the ASM105x is what our StarTech adapter is being detected as.

Now we can go back to our first lsusb command and we want the 8 characters from the ID field that comes right after the Device:

Bus 002 Device 002: ID 174c:55aa ASMedia Technology Inc. Name: ASM1051E SATA 6Gb/s bridge

Our adapter’s ID is: 174c:55aa

Applying Quirks

To apply the quirks to our USB adapter we are going to edit /boot/cmdline.txt. Type:

sudo nano /boot/cmdline.txt

We are going to add the following entry into the very front of cmdline.txt:

usb-storage.quirks=XXXX:XXXX:u

In place of the X’s above you will put in your adapter’s ID that we got before. With the example commands I gave above mine would look like this: usb-storage.quirks=174c:55aa:u. After this my cmdline.txt looks like this (everything should be one continuous line, no line breaks!):

usb-storage.quirks=174c:55aa:u console=serial0,115200 console=tty1 root=PARTUUID=d34db33f-02 rootfstype=ext4 elevator=deadline fsck.repair=yes rootwait

Now reboot the Pi. If the Pi fails to boot you can plug the SD card into the computer and go to /boot/cmdline.txt and undo the change we did so you can boot back in with your SD card.

Verifying Quirks

Once you have rebooted after changing cmdline.txt we can verify the quirks have been applied by doing another dmesg | grep usb command:

sudo dmesg | grep usb
 [    1.332924] usb 2-1: New USB device found, idVendor=174c, idProduct=55aa, bcdDevice= 1.00
 [    1.332957] usb 2-1: New USB device strings: Mfr=2, Product=3, SerialNumber=1
 [    1.332983] usb 2-1: Product: ASM105x
 [    1.333006] usb 2-1: Manufacturer: ASMT
 [    1.333028] usb 2-1: SerialNumber: 123456789B79F
 [    1.335967] usb 2-1: UAS is blacklisted for this device, using usb-storage instead
 [    1.336071] usb 2-1: UAS is blacklisted for this device, using usb-storage instead
 [    1.336103] usb-storage 2-1:1.0: USB Mass Storage device detected
 [    1.336479] usb-storage 2-1:1.0: Quirks match for vid 174c pid 55aa: c00000
 [    1.336611] scsi host0: usb-storage 2-1:1.0

This time we can see in dmesg that UAS was blacklisted for the device and it has loaded with the usb-storage driver instead. This driver tends to be more compatible with the “problematic adapters” but the performance is usually significantly lower. It’s definitely worth a try though as some adapters do better with the quirks performance-wise. The only way to know for sure is to run a benchmark (see storage benchmark section near the end).

USB Boot Instructions

There are a lot of steps to follow to set everything up properly. If you make a mistake the first time don’t spend too much time trying to correct it or figure out what you did wrong. It’s usually faster to burn the images again and reconfigure again rather than try to figure out which step you might have made a typo on. It’s much easier the second time!

Prepare SD Card

Download the latest Raspbian release from https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/raspbian/. Both Lite or Desktop versions will work. Win32DiskImager (Windows) or balenaEtcher (Linux, Mac OS X, Windows) are highly recommended to burn the images.

Note: Don’t attempt to use raw dd commands to write the images. Too many silly things can go wrong that are checked for/fixed by the recommended programs. Do yourself a big favor and use one of the recommends to avoid spending a ton of time troubleshooting basic imaging problems!

Preparing SSD

We are going to burn a second identical copy of Raspbian to the SSD. This ensures everything the Pi needs to boot is there so we can use the SD card as a bootloader but our actual system will be on our nice fast SSD drive.

Note: Make sure you create the empty file named “ssh” on the boot partition of both drives if you are headless or don’t have a mouse/keyboard attached so you can ssh in on the first boot.

First Boot (SD card only, SSD unplugged)

Insert your freshly imaged SD card into the Pi and connect the power. Sign into the Pi for the first time.

Don’t do an apt-get upgrade/dist-upgrade or any additional configuration yet. Just stick with the instructions until we have finished configuration (especially since if something goes wrong you may have to start over and any other setup you did will be lost).

Once the Pi has finished booting and you have signed in for the first time plug in your SSD to your Pi’s USB 3.0 ports. The USB 3.0 ports are the ones that have the blue plastic inside instead of the black plastic (the black ones are USB 2.0 ports).

Change PARTUUID

We need to change the PARTUUID of our SSD’s partitions so the Pi doesn’t get confused about what device to boot from. Right now the partitions on both the SD card and the SSD are an exact match and we need them to be different so we can tell the Pi to boot specifically from our SSD’s partition.

We are going to use fdisk to change the SSD’s PARTUUID to the hexadecimal d34db33f to make our SSD easy to identify. Use the following:

$ sudo fdisk /dev/sda

 Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.33.1).
 Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
 Be careful before using the write command.
 Command (m for help): p
 Disk /dev/sda: 238.5 GiB, 256060514304 bytes, 500118192 sectors
 Disk model: ASM105x
 Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
 Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 Disklabel type: dos
 Disk identifier: 0x6c586e13
 Device     Boot  Start       End   Sectors   Size Id Type
 /dev/sda1         8192    532479    524288   256M  c W95 FAT32 (LBA)
 /dev/sda2       532480 500118191 499585712 238.2G 83 Linux
 Command (m for help): x
 Expert command (m for help): i
 Enter the new disk identifier: 0xd34db33f
 Disk identifier changed from 0x6c586e13 to 0xd34db33f.
 Expert command (m for help): r
 Command (m for help): w
 The partition table has been altered.
 Syncing disks.

That’s it. Let’s verify our change using blkid:

$ sudo blkid

/dev/mmcblk0p1: LABEL_FATBOOT="boot" LABEL="boot" UUID="5203-DB74" TYPE="vfat" PARTUUID="6c586e13-01"
/dev/mmcblk0p2: LABEL="rootfs" UUID="2ab3f8e1-7dc6-43f5-b0db-dd5759d51d4e" TYPE="ext4" PARTUUID="6c586e13-02"
/dev/sda1: LABEL_FATBOOT="boot" LABEL="boot" UUID="5203-DB74" TYPE="vfat" PARTUUID="d34db33f-01"
/dev/sda2: LABEL="rootfs" UUID="2ab3f8e1-7dc6-43f5-b0db-dd5759d51d4e" TYPE="ext4" PARTUUID="d34db33f-02"

Your /dev/mmcblk0 and /dev/sda devices should now be different from each other. The SD card’s ID is 6c586e13 and the SSD’s PARTUUID is now

Update /boot/cmdline.txt

We are going to change cmdline.txt to point to the SSD for booting instead of the SD card. First make a backup of your existing cmdline.txt file with the following command:

sudo cp /boot/cmdline.txt /boot/cmdline.txt.bak

We’ve now created a backup you can restore if something goes wrong. If you need to restore your backup plug the SD card into a computer/device and replace cmdline.txt with cmdline.txt.bak that we made above. Now your Pi should boot normally again.

Open up /boot/cmdline.txt using nano or your favorite text editor:

sudo nano /boot/cmdline.txt

The existing file will look like this:

console=serial0,115200 console=tty1 root=PARTUUID=6c586e13-02 rootfstype=ext4 elevator=deadline fsck.repair=yes rootwait quiet init=/usr/lib/raspi-config/init_resize.sh

We are going to change the root=PARTUUID section to point to our new d34db33f PARTUUID like the following:

console=serial0,115200 console=tty1 root=PARTUUID=d34db33f-02 rootfstype=ext4 elevator=deadline fsck.repair=yes rootwait quiet init=/usr/lib/raspi-config/init_resize.sh

Make the change and double check the line is what it should be,then press Ctrl+X to save our changes.

Note: cmdline.txt should be one long solid line with no breaks — don’t add any line breaks or the system won’t boot and you’ll need to restore the backup we made earlier!

Test SSD

We are now ready to test booting from the SSD. Restart your Pi by issuing a

sudo reboot

The first boot with your SSD can be slow due to running fsck on the drive. If you have a really large SSD it can take surprisingly long to check all that space. Once the check completes it will mark the drive clean and skip the disk check from now on. It can take over a minute or two sometimes for really big drives so give it at least that much time before assuming it didn’t work.

After signing in we can verify that the SSD is being used like this:

$ findmnt -n -o SOURCE /

 /dev/sda2

Verify that partition has switched over as shown below to /dev/sda2 (SSD) instead of /dev/mmcblk0p2 (SD card).

Update /etc/fstab

We are now ready to edit the /etc/fstab file to point to our updated drive. To edit the file type:

sudo nano /etc/fstab

Your current file will look like this:

$ cat /etc/fstab
proc            /proc           proc    defaults          0       0
PARTUUID=6c586e13-01  /boot           vfat    defaults          0       2
PARTUUID=6c586e13-02  /               ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1
sudo nano /etc/fstab

Your current file will look similar to this (PARTUUID varies based on your Raspbian image version):

cat /etc/fstab
proc            /proc           proc    defaults          0       0
PARTUUID=6c586e13-01  /boot           vfat    defaults          0       2
PARTUUID=6c586e13-02  /               ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1

We want to change the root ( / ) partition (PARTUUID ending with -02) to load our SSD’s PARTUUID instead of the SD card. Replace the 2nd partition’s PARTUUID field on the last line in the file with the d34db33f label we applied earlier with fdisk. After making the change my /etc/fstab file looks like this:

proc            /proc           proc    defaults          0       0
PARTUUID=6c586e13-01  /boot           vfat    defaults          0       2
PARTUUID=d34db33f-02  /               ext4    defaults,noatime  0       1

Press Ctrl+X to tell nano to save our changes. Now type sudo reboot to restart the Pi.

Note: We want to leave the first partition (https://origin.jamesachambers.com/boot) on the SD card. If you change this to the SSD then apt will update your SSD instead of the SD card so they won’t be used during boot! Remember that we are using the SD card as a bootloader and that is why the firmware updates (such as start.elf, etc) should go there instead of the SSD’s boot partition (which is never used).

Resizing Filesystem

By default the partition on the SSD / Flash drive will only be 1.8G. The Pi expands this automatically on micro SD drives but we will need to do it ourselves for a SSD / Flash drive. To do this we need to expand the partition and then resize the file system.

First let’s open fdisk and print the partitions:

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ sudo fdisk /dev/sda
 Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.33.1).
 Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
 Be careful before using the write command.
 Command (m for help): p
 Disk /dev/sda: 238.5 GiB, 256060514304 bytes, 500118192 sectors
 Disk model: ASM105x
 Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
 Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
 Disklabel type: dos
 Disk identifier: 0xd34db33f
 Device     Boot  Start     End Sectors  Size Id Type
 /dev/sda1         8192  532479  524288  256M  c W95 FAT32 (LBA)
 /dev/sda2       532480 4390911 3858432  1.9G 83 Linux

There is the line we need. Our start value for /dev/sda2 (rootfs) is 532480. Next we need to remove and recreate the partition as a larger size.

If you make any mistakes during this command just close fdisk by pressing q. The changes won’t be written to disk. If you mess up any of the commands the drive will no longer boot and you’ll have to start over again so be careful!

Command (m for help): d
 Partition number (1,2, default 2): 2
 Partition 2 has been deleted.
 Command (m for help): n
 Partition type
    p   primary (1 primary, 0 extended, 3 free)
    e   extended (container for logical partitions)
 Select (default p): p
 Partition number (2-4, default 2): 2
 First sector (2048-500118191, default 2048): 532480
 Last sector, +/-sectors or +/-size{K,M,G,T,P} (532480-500118191, default 500118191): 500118191 
 Created a new partition 2 of type 'Linux' and of size 238.2 GiB.
 Partition #2 contains a ext4 signature.
 Do you want to remove the signature? [Y]es/[N]o: N
 Command (m for help): w
 The partition table has been altered.
 Syncing disks.

If everything went well then type “w” and press enter. Otherwise press “q” to quit and try again. Once you enter “w” the changes will be permanently written to disk!

Now reboot the system. Type “df -h” to view the current disk:

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ df -h
 Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
 /dev/root       1.8G  1.3G  415M  76% /
 devtmpfs        1.8G     0  1.8G   0% /dev
 tmpfs           2.0G     0  2.0G   0% /dev/shm
 tmpfs           2.0G  8.5M  1.9G   1% /run
 tmpfs           5.0M  4.0K  5.0M   1% /run/lock
 tmpfs           2.0G     0  2.0G   0% /sys/fs/cgroup
 /dev/mmcblk0p1  253M   52M  201M  21% /boot
 tmpfs           391M     0  391M   0% /run/user/1000

We can see our disk is still 1.8G even after resizing the partition. That’s because we still have one more step! We need to resize the filesystem to fill our new partition space. For this we will use “sudo resize2fs /dev/sda2”:

sudo resize2fs /dev/sda2
 resize2fs 1.44.5 (15-Dec-2018)
 Filesystem at /dev/sda2 is mounted on /; on-line resizing required
 old_desc_blocks = 1, new_desc_blocks = 15
 The filesystem on /dev/sda2 is now 62448214 (4k) blocks long.

Now let’s check df -h again:

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ df -h
 Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
 /dev/root       235G  1.3G  224G   1% /
 devtmpfs        1.8G     0  1.8G   0% /dev
 tmpfs           2.0G     0  2.0G   0% /dev/shm
 tmpfs           2.0G  8.5M  1.9G   1% /run
 tmpfs           5.0M  4.0K  5.0M   1% /run/lock
 tmpfs           2.0G     0  2.0G   0% /sys/fs/cgroup
 /dev/mmcblk0p1  253M   52M  201M  21% /boot
 tmpfs           391M     0  391M   0% /run/user/1000

And that’s it! You will now be using all of your space on your drive.

Update Pi using apt

Now that we’ve updated fstab it is safe (and highly recommended) to update your Pi’s software. Type “sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade” to update the system and firmware.

Your system will now be running completely from your USB drive! To verify this, run the command “findmnt -n -o SOURCE” / to ensure your root partition has switched over as shown below to /dev/sda2 instead of /dev/mmcblk0p2.

Verify SSD Performance

You can make sure everything is running correctly (and as fast as it should be) by running my quick storage benchmark. You can run the benchmark with the following one-liner:

sudo curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/TheRemote/PiBenchmarks/master/Storage.sh | sudo bash

This will give you a score you can compare to the other Raspberry Pi Storage Benchmark results and make sure that you are getting an equivalent speed to your peers with the same device!

Conclusion

The Samsung 950 Pro NVME drive in the featured picture scored a 9189 on the Raspberry Pi Storage Benchmark. The previous all-time record score on a Pi 3B+ was 3561. The performance gains are very real and very dramatic.

For me getting this performance is well worth having to waste a micro SD card just to be a bootloader. I am largely after the USB 3.0 bus and gigabit ethernet performance improvements and using this method I am able to achieve the performance I was after without waiting an indeterminate amount of time for the feature to be added back in!

Although there are ongoing compatibility issues and we lack the super easy native USB booting support we had before I’m more than willing to go through the growing pains to finally get rid that ancient USB 2.0 bus! Just make sure if you are planning to build a system you plan your adapters and parts accordingly.

412 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi 4 USB Boot Config Guide for SSD / Flash Drives”

  1. Avatar for Bogdan

    Hello, I made the same steps with the only difference that I used gdisk to make 2 partitions on the SSD, first one for copy of root, second one for data.
    I also edited cmdline and fstab and apparently it worked.
    Then I upgraded and updated all the apps, tried to install docker and all of its prerequisites .
    Today it no longer works with the SSD, if I change the cmdline.txt root to the sdcard then it boots ok.
    So probably something messed up my setup when doing the updates and upgrades.
    PS: SSD is 120 GB Sandisk, USB adapter is this one: https://www.amazon.de/gp/product/B081W2CQ66/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

  2. Avatar for Sean

    First of all, can’t thank you enough for these instructions, they worked perfectly even for a total newbie like me. Getting a benchmark ~9600 using the following two components:

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07K6GPXDV/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o05_s02?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZGK3K4V/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    I do have a potentially more advanced question, that I hope you or someone may be able to help me with. I used this setup to deploy HomeAssistant on the SSD and avoid SD corruption issues with the database. One of the integrations I’d like to use relies on a dongle plugged into another USB port on the raspberry pi, however I can’t seem to identify any other ports now. If I run ‘dmesg | grep hidraw’, I can only see the single USB port that the SSD occupies, and the other three ports are not visible. Is there a way to allow these ports to become usable/visible?

  3. Avatar for DC

    Samsung T5 portable SSD seems to be working fine (my score is 8466). My mouse and keyboard stopped working until I upgraded Raspbian via SSH, but it’s all good now.

  4. Avatar for Gary Rubin

    Love this write up and it worked like a charm for me. My score is 6115 and will have to play around with my RPI4 to see if I can get higher. I suspect my NVME SSD is not the speediest.

    I have a question about the SD CARD. Is there any space that can be used on it? I guess I can clone my SSD and see what I can get away with. I am just a bit unclear on what is still accessed on the SD CARD other than the boot partition. I used a 32gb card because I was thinking there would be something here about what would be left to use, but I can easily do this again using an 8gb card. And this comment dampened my hopes a bit…

    “For me getting this performance is well worth having to waste a micro SD card just to be a bootloader.”

    Here is what I would like to recover/use…
    /dev/sda1 253M 52M 201M 21% /media/pi/boot
    /dev/mmcblk0p2 29G 5.7G 23G 21% /media/pi/rootfs <<<<—– THIS ONE

  5. Avatar for Usama

    I follow all the steps in your USB Instruction part, but when i tried to reboot from SSD my pi4 reboots, giving an error message ‘Failed to start Load Kernel Modules. See systemct1 status systemd-modules-load.service for details’ and when finally reboot it pops up the modal that it usually shows when we start the raspbian first time. Now keyboard and mouse interfaced with my pi4 not working to take any further action.

    There are some default changings at the end of my cmdline.txt file just after ‘rootwait quiet’ as mentioned below

    console=serial0,115200 console=tty1 root=PARTUUID=d34db33f-02 rootfstype=ext4 elevator=deadline fsck.repair=yes rootwait quiet splash plymouth.ignore-serial-consoles

    1. Avatar for DC

      I had the same problem with mouse and keyboard not working until I upgraded Raspbian via SSH. The problem went away after that.

  6. Avatar for manzo

    Great guide, I have got it working with a Samsung 830 SSD in an Orico 2.5 Inch External Hard Drive Enclosure USB 3.0 after a lot of faffing around, though I can’t get the file system resizing to work. I run resuze2fs, and after about ten seconds, the SSH connection to my Pi is closed. I then can’t SSH back on to it:

    PS C:\Users\manzo> ssh pi@192.168.2.33
    Connection closed by 192.168.2.33 port 22
    PS C:\Users\manzo> ssh pi@192.168.2.33
    pi@192.168.2.33‘s password:
    Connection closed by 192.168.2.33 port 22

    Strangely, one time it slightly resized it, as you can see:

    /dev/root 5.9G 2.8G 2.9G 49% /

    Partition size has updated:

    /dev/sda2 532480 500118191 499585712 238.2G 83 Linux

    Any idea as to what the problem might be, not having any luck searching on it?

    1. Avatar for manzo

      I decided to run the update anyway, and see if I could run the benchmarking, but both fail. For the update:

      Write error – write (30: Read-only file system)

      And for the benchmarking:

      -bash: /usr/bin/sudo: Input/output error

      So I’ve clearly mess something up, but I’ve no idea what!

      1. Avatar for manzo

        For the record, I gave up, couldn’t get the file system to expand, no matter what I tried, including starting from scratch with Raspbian a few times. SSD now being used as an external drive on my Xbox!

        1. Avatar for FS

          I have the same issue. expand2fs fails, SSH connection lost. nothing else works on the Pi4 afterwards… 🙁

          Hoping someone has any ideas….

  7. Avatar for Karsten Hartlieb
    Karsten Hartlieb

    I can report, that the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (USB Device ID 0781:558c SanDisk Corp) is working without any quirks.

  8. Avatar for minnix

    Just wanted to comment on what worked and what didn’t. Originally bought Wanfocyu USB Type C M.2 NVMe SSD Enclosure Adapter from Amazon. JMS583 Master Chip is the chipset. Did not work. Lots of I/O errors and would only boot into emergency mode. Next bought the Kingwin USB 3.1 Type-C to M.2 NVMe External Hard Drive Enclosure from Microcenter. Part number KM-U3NGFF-NVE. ASM1352R is the chipset. This worked great. Scored around 8600.

  9. Avatar for ZappZero

    Hi! I’ve done all things as described, works perfectly! Thank you very much!

    But there’s one huge problem: I moved all files from an existing raspi (same model, same apt status…) to this ssd with “rsync -av -x -X -A -H”, bootet, worked, nearly.

    What I found out (till now) is, that f. e. the nearly complete content of /var/log is missing. No apache folder (doesn’t start), no ntpd folder, no grafana, apt, pihole, telegraf…). I can create them, and restart the services, they will work, till the next reboot, than all folders are gone again.

    Then I rebooted from the mmcblk0p2 again, same procedure. Reinstallation of (f. e.) apache2 does also not solve the problem.
    Any ideas? (For now, 3 days of work for configuring all services are lost (ntpsec with GPS…). 🙁

  10. Avatar for Ross Hetherington
    Ross Hetherington

    Firstly, thanks for the great guide James!

    I copied a combination from another comment on here, combining this rather nice aluminium ‘UGREEN M.2 SSD Enclosure USB C to M2 SATA 3’ enclosure: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07NPG5H83
    with this ‘Kingston SSD A400 M.2 Solid State Drive, 120 GB’ SSD: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07P22T3VD

    Since I didn’t want to setup my Pi from scratch again, I used the SD card copy tool built into the accessory menu in the Raspbian desktop. First I backed up the SD card to a 2nd spare SD card (just in case). Then I copied it again onto the the Kingston SSD. The tool handles different drives sizes, and includes an option to assign a new (different) UUID. So, this skips quite a few steps in the original instructions. Performance seems pretty nippy – I uploaded it under the name ‘rossh’ if anyone’s interested.

  11. Avatar for WMS

    I’m having a bit of difficulty getting this to work. I successfully changed the partition ID to d34db33f and updated cmdline.txt but after reboot the “findmnt” command is still showing the microSD mounted at /. I tried again, and then a third time with quirks applied, but still no luck.

    It’s a brand new 4B and I’m using the latest Rasbian Buster Lite. The USB drive is just a Samsung flash drive which is also new. Anyone have any ideas?

    1. Avatar for WMS

      Well I seem to have gotten it working. The problem seems more to do with my own ineptitude than anything else.

      For anyone unable to ssh back in after updating the cmdline.txt and rebooting: it seems that the “ssh” and “wpa_supplicant.conf” files in the microSD /boot directory sometimes disappear at this step and need to be recreated.

      James – thanks for this great tutorial and my apologies for muddying up your comment section!

    2. Avatar for sean

      Yep, that was making me tear my hair out for a little while. Finally popped the SD card back into my computer and re-added the ssh.txt file and was back in business. Might be a helpful tip to include in the instructions if you’re getting ‘connection refused’ errors when trying to SSH back in after that step.

  12. Avatar for BertG

    After second boot (first with SSD connected) I was not able to ssh to Pi. Using Windows I recreated ssh-file on SD-card -> reboot ok (with ssh for pi enabled). I think because Pi refuses ssh-connections for pi with default password if magic file not found.

  13. Avatar for Rob

    I’ve just followed this through – great instructions!!

    One remaining thing – both the USB boot partition and the SD rootfs partition are auto-mounted on reboot… given that these are no longer needed, how do I prevent them from auto mounting?

    Thanks!

  14. Avatar for Randy Chan

    I made my pi4 to boot from ssd successfully. However, there is no HDMI output anymore. Dose any one have idea about this problem?

  15. Avatar for Me

    Thank you very much for the guide, I managed to get it working.

    I was hoping to be able to setup a plain empty raspbian install on the sdcard and a backup of my actual image running on the SSD which was sadly not working.

    I think this was me not changing the cmdline and fstab of the sd card to the ones being used on the SSD. Maybe I will give it another try.
    For the moment I just copied the image on both the SD and SSD and this is working fine.

    Thank you very much

  16. Avatar for Neil in Oz

    Hi James

    First, thanks very much for this brilliant resource – I’m rebuilding my OpenMediaVault media server on my shiny new RPi 4 & you have made it vastly easier to maximise performance with the bits & pieces I have to hand.

    Second: even though my SSD is connected to the Pi & I have verified it is operating correctly (by connecting to an SMB share on it), your benchmark test only seems to be testing the microSD card. It and the SSD are listed in the “Drives” section of the preamble, but it looks like it is only benchmarking the SD. (I don’t think it should make any difference, but I am trying to use your script over SSH with OpenMediaVault running.)

    I know I haven’t given you much to work with, but if you’ve received similar queries, I’d be grateful if you have any tips for resolving it. (I’ll be more than happy to send script output & anything else that might help.)

    Thanks & best regards

    Neil

    1. Avatar for jamesachambers

      Hey Neil,

      Thanks for the kind words! Right now the benchmark tests your root (/) file device but selecting which drive you want to test is currently in the works. So in the current system you’d need to follow this guide to test the SSD but multiple drive testing will be coming very soon!

  17. Avatar for HBTA

    Thank you very much for this write-up.

    I was able to make my RPi4 run on Kingston SSD and got ~5k score using the Quirks for the following adapter: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M08LCXW/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    I run the benchmark and I am glad I was able to contribute the score. Perhaps you can run sum analysis on the scores you have gathered and see which adapter does how well based on various score breakdowns? Would be interesting to publish data on SSD/USB adapter level & get some more traffic on your page.

    Hope you have a good rest of your day. Initially I thought I need to get another adapter but this is sufficient for me. RP4 will mostly run HA using Decker.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Type here..