Adding Memory to the Raspberry Pi

Although the memory onboard the Single Board Computer Raspberry Pi or RBPi is sufficient for most applications, some may feel the necessity of expanding the storage capacity. The options provided on the RBPi are limited, as the USB ports often engage a keyboard, a mouse or a game controller and the SD card slot holds only a single device.

The most obvious option for expanding the storage capacity on the RBPi is through the USB ports. However, tying up ports with a USB hard disk drive or flash drive can run into difficulty if you need the port for plugging in another USB device. One way of getting around this problem is by using powered USB hubs. It is important to realize the RBPi cannot supply enough power for driving the hub.

Using a powered USB hub makes it easy to add USB devices to your RBPi, including additional storage. However, you must consider a few things when expanding storage on your RBPi. In reality, there are only two common USB storage options available – flash drive and hard disk drive. Nevertheless, you may also consider a card-expanding trick for the Raspbian operating system for your RBPi. These are the three primary options available for expanding storage on your SBC. Apart from this, you may also consider using secondary storage devices such as networked drives, USB DVD-r drives and NAS drives.

The SD card in the RBPi acts as the main storage option – use an SDHC card for best results. It is a boot device acting as the general storage and from which the operating system also runs. You may think of the SD card as a replacement for the HDD of a regular desktop computer, more like an SSD or Solid State Drive, as it has no moving parts and uses very low energy.

By default, Raspbian, the standard Operating System of the RBPi, is designed to run from a 2 GB SD card. Therefore, when you flash the Raspbian image, the SD card will have a partition of 2 GB, with the balance of the card memory remaining unused.

To get around this, you must use the expand file system feature included in the raspi-config screen in Raspbian. This enables expanding the size of the partition to the maximum capacity of the SD card.

When you insert your flash drive into a USB port of the RBPi, you may be surprised it does not have the same effect as it does in a regular Ubuntu or Windows computer. It is not enough to insert the flash drive, Raspbian expects you to mount the device manually before you can use it as an additional USB storage device. However, before you can mount it, you must know the exact device name that Raspbian has assigned to the drive.

For this, the command necessary is: sudo ls /dev/sd*. The command “sudo” gives you temporary administrative status, “ls” allows listing the devices and “/dev/sd*” lists the devices seen by Raspbian. With this command, you will know the number Raspbian has assigned for your drive.

Now, you can mount the USB flash drive and use it as an additional storage device with the command: sudo mount -t vfat /dev/[USB DEVICE NUMBER] /mnt/usb.