USBImager – A Lightweight Alternative to balenaEtcher

The common way to flash OS images to SD cards used to be “dd”. But you could potentially damage your system with a wrong command, it will not do verification after writing the firmware image, and it was not available in Windows, so people had to use Win32DiskImager, and last time I check it did not do verification either.

So Etcher, now called balenaEtcher, became a popular cross-operating systems tool to flash images for Raspberry Pi and other SBCs. It’s easy to use and does verification after flashing. However, the binary is rather large at around 130 MB, and the company started to show sponsors to fund the development of the program, and this was not to the liking of everyone.

During my review of CrowPi2 Raspberry Pi 4  laptop, I encountered an issue with balenaEtcher, which was quickly fixed once I updated the program to the latest version. But commenters pointed out there are now better tools including USBImager, a lightweight cross-platform tool with many of the same features as balenaEtcher.

USBImager is open source (MIT license), takes around 256KB of storage space, support verification, compressed files (gz, bz2, xz, zip), etc….

The table below compares USBImager to balenaEtcher and Win32DIskImager program.

DescriptionbalenaEtcherWIN32 Disk ImagerUSBImager
WindowsWindows 7 or greaterWindows XP or greaterWindows XP or greater
✔ (10.14+)
Available on Raspberry Pi OS
Program size

130 MB11.7 MB (Installer)256 KB
Dependencieslots, ~300 Mb

Qt, ~8 Mb✗ none
Spyware-free and ad-free
Native interface
Guarantee on data writes
Verify data written

Compressed images
Raw write time23:1623:2824:05
Compressed write time01:12:5130:47

You’ll find the source code, and binary image for Windows, Linux, Mac OS, and Raspberry Pi on Gitlab.

It looks great, so I’ve tried the latest version on Ubuntu 20.04:

The file size is indeed 256KB:

USBImagerThe total size is a bit bigger since there are other files like the manpage and icons in the Debian package, but the total is still under 300KB.

Let’s start the program. The user interface is really basic and simple with a browse file button, Write and Read buttons, a drop-down list to select a drive, and tick box to enable Verify and/or compress, buffer size selection from 1MB to 512MB, as well as a progress bar.

Let’s enlarge the window a bit, insert a MicroSD card in my PC taken from Raspberry Pi 4, and let’s try the Read function with Compress enabled.

USBImager Raspberry Pi Image Backup

This will create a bz2 compressed file save to the Desktop. I select another directory before clicking on Read, but the program ignored this meaning files will be saved to the Desktop directory by default. Nevermind I can always move the file later on, and the program did the job in about 33 minutes here.

Then I tried to flash an image compression with 7z. This won’t work USBImager only supports .gz, .bz2, .xz, and .zip compressed files. So instead, I just flashed the uncompressed image and it worked nicely.

USBImager Alternative to balenaEtcher

I have a 2TB USB 3.0 hard drive connected to my laptop, and USBImager correctly filtered it only showing smaller removable drives. You may also want to check out the user manual for more options including the ability to flash an image to a microcontroller over serial and to learn how to build the program from source.

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