Boot to Sonic Pi from a USB stick (no SD card) on Pi3

Recently I ran up an image on a USB stick which can be used to boot a Pi3 (NOT Pi2 or earlier) straight into Sonic Pi 2.11, without needing an SD card. This is based on excellent documentation on the Raspberry Pi website at and I claim no credit for this whatsoever other than having tried it out successfully.

Note this is still an experimental procedure to a certain extent, although with the USB drive I specify below I had no problem in getting to to work with two different Pi3. Your Pi3 will still be bootable as normal from a standard SD card after you have carried out this procedure.

In order to set this up you will need the following:
1 A Pi3 (it will not work on a Pi2 as it uses bootcode built into the Pi3)****
2 A freshSD card on which to build the image which will be transferred to your USB stick. I used a 16Gb Sandisk Ultra miscroSDHC
3 A usb stick. I used a Sandisk Cruzer SDCZ50 16GB from Amazon for £4.99 (not every usb stick will work. The article give a list of some which have been tested)
4 An internet connection for your Pi3

*** It is possible to change this to boot from a Pi2 or earlier, using just one boot file on an SD card. Thereafter the USB stick takes over. See for details.

Follow the details of the first part of the article to build up your SD card image Use the Raspbian image dated 2016-09-23 from  Before the second stage, where you transfer the image to your USB stick, install Sonic Pi 2.11 (just released) onto the SD card. You can get it from
download the file sonic-pi_1-2.11.0-2_armhf.deb
I downloaded this via the Chromium browser on the Pi3 to the Downloads folder
Then I installed it with:-

cd ~/Downloads
sudo dpkg -i sonic-pi_1-2.11.0-2_armhf.deb
sudo apt-get install -f

You may find it then lists some redundant packages which you can remove as suggested with

sudo apt-get autoremove

I also added dtoverlays for my IQaudio amp to config.txt using sudo nano /boot/config.txt


which you can do also if you have one, or else any overlays required for an alternative eg HiFiBerry card.

In order to add an auto boot into Sonic Pi you do the following.

mkdir -p ~/.config/autostart
cp /usr/share/applications/sonic-pi.desktop ~/.config/autostart

If you have an IQaudio (or alternative audio card) installed on your Pi3, you should select it as the default card in the Audio Device Settings on the Menu -> Preferences tab

Once you are happy with the SD card, you should complete the second section of the article setting up the USB stick with parted as discussed in the raspberry pi boot documentation article.

All being well, once you have finished you should be able to boot your Pi3 from the usb stick you have set up. Note it does take some time to boot, as it first checks to see if you have an SD card installed, and then switches to search for a USB card after a 5 second timeout. You will see a large rainbow coloured square on your monitor during this process.

I advise you to remove the line added to config.txt


which was added to program the One Time Programmable memory (OTP) in your Pi3 to enable USB booting. This is an irreversible process, and you may not wish to inflict it on any other Pi3 that the card is subsequently used to boot, although the Pi3 can still boot normally with an SD card even if this has been programmed.

The original github page for the procedure is at

and there is more useful information in the parent folder (bootmodes)

This project requires some care to follow the procedures accurately, and it takes a little time to transfer the card contents to the USB stick. Although the boot time is quite long, the performance thereafter is not noticeably different from that of the SD card. Apparently you can add a resistor to one of the GPIO pins to speed up the booting by getting it to ignore the SD card, but I haven’t managed to find out documentation as to which pin is involved. You can also leave a blank SD card in the Pi3 which will also speed up the boot time, by eliminating the timeout wait.


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