Setting up a new Raspberry Pi from a Mac

While I try to use my iPad for as much as possible, a Mac is still needed to setup a brand new Raspberry Pi system. This guide will run through the steps to format your MicroSDXC card, install a new version of Raspberry Pi OS, enable services like VNC and SSH and set a static IP address, ensuring long-term network access.

Choosing a compatible SD Card

Raspberry Pi systems take a small, MicroSDXC card that is much smaller than traditional CF cards or SD cards used for phones, digital cameras and other devices. They are widely available and many come with adapters to allow the card to be placed inside an SD card adapter to make it compatible with SD card slots, although newer USB-C Hubs also feature dedicated ports for SDXC cards directly.

In terms of storage, the minimum capacity to run a fully-fledged version of Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian) should be a minimum of 8GB, although larger 16GB, 32GB or 64GB sizes will allow for many more applications and files to be stored locally.

MicroSDXC cards also carry a rating that is usually printed directly on the card surrounded by a cricle to rate it’s read/write speeds and overall reliability. Class 10 SDXC cards are recommended for use in a Raspberry Pi system.

Connecting the Raspberry Pi SDXC Card to Your Mac

The main reason a Mac instead of an iPad is needed for this guide is to access Disk Utility to property format the memory card for the Raspberry Pi’s storage. Insert the MicroSDXC card into a compatible USB-C Hub and connect this to your computer.

Alternatively, if your SDXC card arrived with a SD card adapter, you can insert the card into the adapter and plug this into your SD card slot if your Mac has this dedicated port, or using a USB SD card reader.

Formatting the Memory Card

Launch Disk Utility from Spotlight and you should see the newly inserted card in the left info pane. Select the top level Mass Storage device and click Format.

In the new dialog window, change the format to MS-DOS (FAT) to ensure the Raspberry Pi can read the card. Change the partition scheme to Master Boot Record and click Erase. The operation should complete in a few seconds. Once done, the drive is now ready for you to install the Raspberry Pi operating system which can also be completed on the Mac.

Quick Steps for Formatting Your Raspberry Pi Memory Card in MacOS Disk Utility:

  1. Connect the card to your Mac and launch Disk Utility
  2. Select the top-level drive of the MicroSDCX Card and click Erase
  3. Name the drive and choose MS-DOS (FAT) as the format with Master Boot Record as the scheme
  4. Click Erase
  5. Once compete, the disk is now ready for a fresh copy of Raspberry Pi OS

Installing Raspberry Pi OS on the memory card from your Mac

There are a few ways to install the Raspberry Pi OS onto the SD card, and for this guide we’ll make use of the NOOBS (new out of the box software) wizard to make this simple.

You can download the Raspberry Pi Manger directly from the official Raspberry Pi site.

Once downloaded, open the app and you’ll be presented with simple steps to get the OS up and running. First, choose the operating system. We’ll use the first choice, Raspberry Pi OS (32-bit).

Once selected, press Command + Shift + X to preconfigured OS settings that will save time later in the process. Here are the options plus a brief description of each:

Set Hostname: Optional – how the Pi will appear as a device on your network.

Enable SSH: Strongly recommended to connect to the Pi remotely using a terminal to complete command line tasks and updates – Check this and also check to use password authentication – choose a memorable password to keep things secure.

Configure Wifi: Strongly recommended for your Pi to be able to connect to your wifi network automatically. Not setting this up will prevent network access, and prevent you from using services like VNC and SSH until the network is setup.

Set locale settings: Recommended to specify time zone, keyboard and language settings to make the OS work well.

With all of these options configured, click to save your settings and return to the main configuration screen and move on to the next step to select the SD card.

Choose and Write the SD Card

You should see the SD Card name and storage capacity for your SDXC card formatted in the first part of this guide. The app will write and verify the OS image. Once complete it’s good to plug into your Raspberry Pi!

Once you plug in the SD card to your Raspberry Pi, it’ll be ready to boot up and configure as a traditional computer with a keyboard, mouse and monitor, or you can also take a few additional steps to configure it to run as a “headless” machine.