Using the Raspberry Pi to Turn an iPad into a Real Computer, part 3: Pi OS install

In my last post, I talked about setting up the iPad for access to the Raspberry Pi. Now the work on the Pi begins. Before you can do anything with the Pi, you need to install the basic OS. I tried a bunch of things, and in the end, I chose to go with a fully headless install. The Pi is going to be headless for the rest of its life, so it might as well start that way.

Imaging
Most Pi tutorials recommend Balena Etcher or Win32DiskImager to burn your image to an SD card. I have used both tool tons of times and they are both great. In fact, I have been using Win32DiskImager to read my SD cards back to an image file to make incremental backups of this project. Making backups when you hit a major milestone is super important. Also, SD cards fail all the time, so it pays to have good backups.

For this project, I went with Raspberry Pi Imager because you can configure a bunch of stuff during the imaging process. You do this by clicking the little gear icon to the lower right of the “Write” button.

Also, carefully note in the picture above that I chose the “Raspberry Pi Os Lite (32-Bit) option. You may be saying to yourself “Nah son, I’m 64bit for life.” and I am here to tell you that for this project, 64bit is a grave mistake. The RaspAP installer shits itself on 64bit Raspberry Pi OS, and you will catch hell trying to make it work. Don’t be like me. Just run the 32bit version.

Most of the initial config is going to happen with SSH, so scroll down to enable it:

Obviously the Pi needs to connect to the Internet for the initial setup, so you will want to enable Wifi, and program it to connect to your wireless network:

The next item is also important. Configuring the location sets the radio properties for the WiFi adapter, as well as the UTF-8 character set which can affect scripts running later:

At this point, you are ready to boot the Pi. You will need a way to find the IP for the Pi. You can look it up in the DHCP lease table on your router (or other DCHP server). You could run NMAP to scan your wireless subnet and look for an IP running SSHD. If you know the IP of the Pi’s wireless card in advance, you could set up a DHCP reservation. Since I am recycling this Raspberry Pi, I already had a reservation set up from it’s previous life as an amateur radio workstation.

What you don’t want to do is set a static IP just yet. In the next step, we will be setting a static IP, so that you never have to determine the IP of the Pi again.

One thing that I add to Raspberry Pi servers is to reboot them on a regular basis. This step probably isn’t necessary on newer model Pi’s, but between the small amount of memory and the unreliable nature of SD card storage, the 2b would lock up from time to time. To get around this problem I just set up a cron job to reboot the Pi every morning at 4am:
sudo crontab -e

At first you will be prompted to choose an editor. Personally, I prefer nano. Once the file is open in your editor, scroll to the bottom of the file and enter:
0 4 * * * /sbin/shutdown -r now

In my next post, I will cover installing RaspAP, which requires a full update and reboot:
sudo apt update
sudo apt full-upgrade
sudo shutdown -r now

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