The Raspberry Pi is a great computer, even if it doesn’t have SATA. For those of us who have lost a few SD cards to the inevitable corruption that comes from not shutting a Pi down properly, here’s something for you: USB Mass Storage Booting for the Raspberry Pi 3.
For the Raspberry Pi 1, 2, Compute Module, and Zero, there are two boot modes – SD boot, and USB Device boot, with USB Device boot only found on the Compute Module. [Gordon] over at the Raspberry Pi foundation spent a lot of time working on the Broadcom 2837 used in the Raspberry Pi 3, and found enough space in 32 kB to include SD boot, eMMC boot, SPI boot, NAND flash, FAT filesystem, GUID and MBR partitions, USB device, USB host, Ethernet device, and mass storage device support. You can now boot the Raspberry Pi 3 from just about anything.
The documentation for these new boot modes goes over the process of how to put an image on a USB thumb drive. It’s not too terribly different from the process of putting an image on an SD card, and the process will be streamlined somewhat in the next release of
rpi-update. Some USB thumb drives do not work, but as long as you stick with a Sandisk or Samsung, you should be okay.
More interesting than USB booting is the ability for the Pi 3 to boot over the network. Booting over a network is nothing new – the Apple II could do it uphill both ways in the snow, but the most common use for the Pi is a dumb media player that connects to all your movies on network storage. With network booting, you can easily throw a Pi on a second TV and play all that media in a second room. Check out the network booting tutorial here.