How to Install Linux on a USB Drive

Are you interested in harnessing the power of Linux on the go? In this USB Linux installation guide, we’ll take you through the steps that are required to install Linux on the USB drive. This remarkable endeavor brings opportunities, allowing you to take your customized Linux environment anywhere.

The benefits of a portable Linux OS are immense. In the present times, Linux has evolved; whether you’re a tech enthusiast or someone who values flexibility, having Linux on a USB drive empowers you with a safe and customizable Linux experience. 

We’ll review the requirements, help you create a bootable USB drive, select the suitable Linux distribution, and much more. Get ready to embark on a journey that grants you full Linux control in your pocket, ready to boot up and serve your needs immediately.

Prerequisites of  installing Linux on a USB drive

Before you begin installing Linux on a USB Drive, it’s important to have the following hardware and software requirements for an easy and successful process:

  • High-Quality USB Drive: Two high-quality USB drive with 3.0 certification (not USB 2.0) and at least 8GB &16GB of storage space is required. Opt for a reputable brand with fast read/write speeds to ensure reliability and performance.
  • Linux Distribution: Choose the Linux distribution that suits your needs. Popular options include Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, and Arch Linux. Download the ISO file for your chosen Linux distribution. Check out our list of the top 10 Best Linux Distributions of All Time!
  • USB Drive Preparation Software: Download and install a USB drive preparation tool like Rufus or Etcher. This allows you to create a bootable Linux USB.
  • BIOS/UEFI Configuration: Restart your computer and continuously tap on a specific key or a combination of keys during the startup process to access the BIOS/UEFI setting and configure the boot order to prioritize booting from the USB 3.0 drive.

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Downloading the Linux Distribution

For this tutorial, we will choose to install Linux Mint (a community-driven Linux distribution based on Ubuntu). Head to the official Linux Mint website (linuxmint.com) and select the edition that suits your preference, such as Cinnamon, Xfce, or MAATE. Ensure you choose the architecture (32-bit or 64-bit) that matches your system. Download the Ubuntu ISO file for your selected edition and verify the file’s integrity by using the provided checksum. For functionality and compatibility, choosing the latest Linux Mint version is important.

linux mint 21

Step 2: Preparing Your USB Drive

Select the right USB drive if you want to install Linux Mint on a USB flash drive. Follow these steps to ensure a successful Linux USB installation:

  • Choose the Right USB Drive: We recommend using a high-quality USB drive with sufficient storage capacity, preferably 16GB or more. Ensure it’s in good condition and free from errors.
  • Formatting and Backup: Before proceeding, also create a backup of any important data on the USB drive, as formatting is necessary. Use tools like Rufus or Etcher to “erase the disk and install a bootable Ubuntu USB.

By selecting the right USB drive and maintaining proper formatting and backup practices, you lay the foundation for a successful Linux installation. This ensures data persistence, and you’ll be prepared for any troubleshooting.

Step 3: Creating a Bootable USB Drive

Learn How to Dual Boot Windows 10 and Ubuntu

Several methods are available to create a bootable USB drive for installing or running Linux OS on a USB stick. One popular tool for this task is Rufus. 

Download Rufus from the official website (https://rufus.ie/en/) and start the installation.

rufus for running linux on usb drive

  • Insert a USB drive (8GB or larger) into your computer.
  • Open Rufus.
  • In Rufus, select the drive with 16GB from the “Device” dropdown menu.

rufus settings

Now, choose the Linux distribution ISO file you want to install.

rufus - partition scheme, installing linux on a usb drive

Select the appropriate partition scheme (usually MBR or GPT).

Choose the file system as FAT32.

Give your USB drive a name (Volume Label).

Optionally, allocate space for persistent storage.

Start the process.

Select the “Write in ISO Image mode”

rufus - grub

An option to download and install Grub 2.06 / Syslinux might pop up. Install the bootloader to ensure a smooth process.
Wait for Rufus to format the drive and copy the Linux distribution onto it. 

Safely eject the USB drive when the process is complete.

Step 4: Installing Linux on USB Drive

When installing Linux on a USB drive, it’s essential to consider the options of persistence versus live mode and data storage.

Persistence vs. Live Mode and Data Storage

  • Persistence: Installing Linux with persistence allows you to save and retain changes made during your sessions. This means that you can customize the system, install additional software, and save files, just like on a regular hard disk. It provides a more desktop-like experience and is easily maintainable and upgradable.
  • Live Mode: On the other hand, using Linux in live mode offers a testing experience without making permanent changes to the system. It’s not easily maintainable and upgradable, and it’s harder to keep your data in there. Live mode is more suitable for temporary usage and testing purposes.

For this tutorial, we would prioritize the portability live mode offers over the need for customization. Persistence suits those requiring a personalized environment, while live mode is ideal for on-the-go access without leaving traces on the host system.

The Live Mode Installation Process and Customization Options

In live mode, installing Linux involves configuring the bootable USB to run the operating system seamlessly. You should navigate BIOS/UEFI settings, configuring the boot order to prioritize the external USB drive. Customization options abound, from selecting the live distribution to tweaking preferences. You can tailor the experience to your needs, ensuring a user-friendly and efficient Linux setup on the USB disk.

Step 5: Configuring BIOS/UEFI to Boot from USB

To access BIOS/UEFI settings and set the boot order for booting from the USB drive, follow these steps:

Accessing BIOS/UEFI Settings

  • Start by restarting or shutting down your computer.

Enter BIOS/UEFI: During the initial boot process, a message will appear on the screen indicating which key to press to enter the BIOS/UEFI settings. Common keys include F2, F10, F12, or Del. Press the specified key to enter the BIOS/UEFI settings.

bios 1

Setting the Boot Order

 Locate the Boot Order settings: Once inside the BIOS/UEFI settings, navigate to the “Boot Order” or “Boot Device Priority” option. The exact location may vary depending on the motherboard manufacturer.

bios boot option

  • Select the USB drive: In the boot order settings, select the option to prioritize booting from a USB. This may involve using the arrow keys to select your USB and move the Ubuntu on USB to the top of the boot order list.

bios boots option 2

  • Save and Exit: After setting the boot order to prioritize the USB drive, save the changes and exit the BIOS/UEFI settings. This action will prompt the computer to restart with the new boot order configuration.

By following these steps, you can access the BIOS/UEFI settings and set the boot order to boot from a USB storage, allowing you to install Ubuntu on an external drive.

Step 6: Booting into Linux from USB

Congratulations on successfully installing Linux on your USB drive! Now, let’s delve into the exciting world of booting into a portable Linux operating system. Follow these straightforward instructions and troubleshooting tips to ensure a seamless booting process.

  • Connect Your USB Drive: Insert your Linux-loaded USB drive into an available USB port on your computer.
  • Power Up Your System: Power on or restart your computer.
  • Access the Boot Menu: During the boot process, you need to access the boot menu. This is usually done by pressing a specific key, such as  F2, F10, F12, or Del, depending on your computer’s manufacturer. Refer to your device’s manual or look for an on-screen prompt.
  • Select USB Drive: In the boot menu, navigate to the option that corresponds to your USB drive. Use the arrow keys to highlight it and press Enter.

bios boot device

  • Initiate Linux Boot: Once selected, your system will initiate the Linux boot process. Be patient, as this may take a moment.
  • Login to Linux: You’ll be greeted by the Linux desktop. Enter your username and password (If required) to access your Linux system.

bios mint

Benefits of a Portable Linux OS

In the fast-paced digital landscape, the benefits of a portable Linux Operating System are manifold. Whether you’re a student, developer, or frequent traveler, harnessing the power of Linux installed on a USB drive offers unparalleled advantages.

  • On-the-Go Learning for Students: A portable Linux OS empowers students with a flexible learning environment. They can carry their customized Ubuntu on a USB drive, allowing exploration and practical application of programming languages and Linux tools anywhere, without the constraints of a fixed computer.
  • Flexibility for Developers: Developers benefit from the adaptability of a portable Linux OS. It facilitates a seamless transition between multiple development environments, ensuring consistency in coding practices. With tools like Git and integrated development environments (IDEs) readily available on the go, developers enhance productivity and collaboration.
  • Traveling Light for Jet-setting Professionals: For avid travelers, a portable Linux OS becomes a digital companion. It allows professionals to access their development environment and essential tools on any compatible computer, ensuring work continuity while on the move. This flexibility is crucial for those who balance work with a nomadic lifestyle.

Incorporating a portable Linux OS into your tech arsenal is a game-changer, providing unmatched versatility and accessibility for various user scenarios

Troubleshooting Common Issues

In a situation where you encounter any of the common issues below, we have provided tips on resolving these issues quickly.

  1. Boot Failure:
  • If the system fails to boot, double-check the Ubuntu installation steps to ensure you followed them accurately.
  • Verify that your pen drive is properly inserted and hasn’t been corrupted.
  1. Incorrect Boot Menu Key:
  • Ensure you’re pressing the correct key to access the boot menu. Refer to your device’s documentation for the accurate Windows key.
  1. USB Drive Not Recognized:
  • Try using a different USB port.
  • If the issue persists, use a reliable tool like Rufus or Etcher to create the Linux USB drive again.
  1. Slow Boot Time:
  • If booting takes longer than expected, it could be due to the USB drive’s read/write speed. Consider using a higher-speed USB drive for a faster experience. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, diving into the world of installing Linux on a USB drive opens up a realm of possibilities for tech enthusiasts. To recap the key points:

  • Portability is Power: The beauty of a portable Linux OS lies in its mobility. Take your operating system, applications, and personalized settings wherever you go on a simple USB drive.
  • Versatility for Every User: Whether you’re a student seeking a dynamic learning environment, a developer needing coding flexibility, or a traveler requiring a consistent digital workspace, a portable Linux OS caters to diverse needs.
  • Ease of Installation: The step-by-step guide provided ensures a smooth installation process, even for beginners. Embrace the simplicity and efficiency of having Linux at your fingertips.

Now, don’t just read about it; experience the power of a portable Linux OS firsthand! Grab a USB drive, follow the guide, and unleash the potential of Linux on your terms.

Silas Akagwu
Silas Akagwu
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