[updated April 2015] Although the BBB is supplied with a Linux distribution already on its eMMC, one of the first steps you may carry out is updating your BBB to have the latest Linux distribution.

The beagleboard.org website has very clear instructions on writing a new system image to the BBB, so this section only details observations and additional steps that may be useful in achieving a successful upgrade.

Downloading a Flasher Image

The latest BeagleBone Black Debian distribution images are available from BeagleBoard.org/latest-images. There are two versions to choose from: a version that runs directly from the micro-SD Card; or a version that writes to the BBB’s on-board eMMC, called a “flasher” image. The advantage of the eMMC version is that once it is written to the eMMC (which takes about 5–25 minutes) the BBB will boot in about 10 seconds from then on, and the micro-SD card slot will remain available for additional removable storage. For the remaining steps, the eMMC flasher image is chosen and Windows is used as the desktop operating system.

If you are planning to flash the eMMC with a new image, please ensure that you download a “flasher” image. The latest flasher images are available at: http://elinux.org/Beagleboard:BeagleBoneBlack_Debian and the latest image that is currently supported in this book is: BBB-eMMC-flasher-debian-7.8-lxde-4gb-armhf-2015-03-01-4gb.img.xz

Creating an SD Card Image

  • Using a web browser, download the image file to the desktop computer. You should end up with a file of the form BBB-eMMC-flasher-distro-YYYY.MM.DD.img.xz.
  • Check whether your desktop computer can open the .xz format file. If it cannot, then please see www.7-zip.org for an open-source file archiving tool, which is capable of extracting the .xz format—a lossless data compression format that uses the Lempel-Ziv-Markov Algorithm (LZMA).
  • If the archive extraction is successful, the result will be a single file with the .img extension (SD image file) of the form BBB-eMMC-flasher-distro-YYYY.MM.DD.img.
  • Under Windows, install “Win32 Disk Imager” from the Sourceforge.net website: sourceforge.net/projects/win32diskimager/files/latest/download. Extract the download to a folder that you can find again in the future, and execute Win32DiskImager.exe directly from within that folder. You will have to “elevate it” by right-clicking and choosing “Run as administrator”. The tool is displayed in Figure 1. Please note that there is a similar tool for Mac OS X called “Pi Filler”.
  • Place a micro-SD card that has sufficient capacity (ideally 4GB+) into your computer’s SD card reader/writer and then start the Disk Imager tool. Once the disk imager software has started, it will not detect the SD card when it is inserted into the computer, so please insert the SD card first. A Class 10 Micro-SD card or greater is preferable.
  • Using Win32 Disk Imager, write the .img file to your SD card (using its drive letter for the SD reader on your desktop). This will take some time (about 5–15 minutes), which varies according to card speed, writer speed, and the distribution used. See Figure 2.A1 below for a screen capture of Win32 Disk Imager in action. When you are done, you will have a micro-SD card that you can use to flash your BBB’s eMMC.

Figure 1: The Win32 Disk Imager writing to the micro-SD card.

Desktop Linux Alternative

If you are not familiar with Linux then please ignore this section—it is here for reference. Here are the steps required to create the SD card image under Linux:

  1. Find the micro-SD Card device (for example, mine is sdd). Type the following:

  1. Download the flasher image file (get the URL from BeagleBoard.org/latest-images). For example:

  1. Decompress the .xz file:

This gives you the image file: BBB*.img. Write the image to the memory card (please check that you have the correct SD card device—in my case it is /dev/sdd)

where BBB*.img is the full name of the image file—use the Tab key to autocomplete. /dev/sdX is your specific SD card reader device. It should take 5 to 10 minutes for this write to complete.

Flashing the BBB with the SD Card Image

At this point you should have a micro-SD card containing a “flasher” Linux image. Here are the steps to flash the eMMC:

  1. You should perform this process with only a single 5V 2A power supply plugged into the DC jack. Alternatively, you can use a USB adapter for power. Disconnect the Ethernet cable and remove any shields and USB peripherals.
  2. Power off your BBB by physically disconnecting the USB/power cable.
  3. Plug the micro-SD card into the BBB’s micro-SD card slot.
  4. Hold the Boot Button (S2) on the top right (near the SD card slot) and, while holding this button, insert the USB/power lead to connect the power. Keep holding the button until the LEDs start to flash. The blue on-board LEDs should light in sequence and then continue to flash for the next 5–25 minutes (depending on the distribution used and the speed of the SD card). The latest distribution flashes in a Cylon/Knightrider pattern.
  5. Wait until the LEDs stop blinking and all 4 LEDs are fully lit as in Figure 2 (the latest image then powers the board down). This process can take 5-25 minutes depending on the image used. If the flashing procedure fails—for example, no LEDs flash, or it keeps running for more than 45 minutes —then disconnect the power and try restarting the BBB with the S2 button pressed.
  6. Remove the micro-SD card. This is important, as you could end up flashing the eMMC again by accident.
  7. Finally, press the Power button (S3) to power up the board and you should have the latest image installed.

 Figure 2. Success! And the all of the LEDs turn off and the board shuts down.

Some notes:

  • On point 9. above, on one board that I have I must press the Reset button (S1) after I apply the power or nothing seems to happen. In this case (while the board is powered) I press the Reset button (S1) and the Boot button (S2) at the same time and this seems to work.

I will modify this post with any other advice that you may have.