Question Is it possible to create a bootable USB with a FULL install of Linux

Aug 13, 2021
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I'm trying something new, I'm familiar with Linux (ish)
I'm not one of the people who's gonna preach about switching to Linux, to be honest I really don't care lol, I just wanna try something new until Win11 is a little more improved.
Anyways... I'm trying to create a bootable USB, NOT a live session USB, a fully installed Linux distro on a USB- but my boot manager in my BIOS keeps skipping the USB that I installed it on- so I'm rather confused... I hate having lost everything I do on my live sessions and I just want more versatility, or diversity in my PC via Linux- but I'm too nervous to dual boot from my larger HDD...

so to get to the question, is it possible to boot straight from a USB (not live)

if so, why would my BIOS skip my usb and boot straight into windows?
 
You can use a persistence file with a live boot linux distro, that file is used to keep any changes including anything you might install to it.
For your bios to boot from the usb you have to create it in the right way, if your bios has secure boot it will only boot from an uefi usb,
 

dwd999

Honorable
I'm trying something new, I'm familiar with Linux (ish)
I'm not one of the people who's gonna preach about switching to Linux, to be honest I really don't care lol, I just wanna try something new until Win11 is a little more improved.
Anyways... I'm trying to create a bootable USB, NOT a live session USB, a fully installed Linux distro on a USB- but my boot manager in my BIOS keeps skipping the USB that I installed it on- so I'm rather confused... I hate having lost everything I do on my live sessions and I just want more versatility, or diversity in my PC via Linux- but I'm too nervous to dual boot from my larger HDD...

so to get to the question, is it possible to boot straight from a USB (not live)

if so, why would my BIOS skip my usb and boot straight into windows?
Which distro are you using and what are its requirements for a full install. I've used Mint Mate and it requires at least 16GB on the usb. Also how are you preparing the usb? Normally I use the Gparted app included with Mint to set up the GPT partition identifier on the usb and that's it, the space on the usb is totally unallocated. With Mint the installer does the rest of the partitioning and formatting process. Note that with some distros you need to fully power down your computer after installation (and of course remove the live usb) to clear the boot options before booting up your installed version usb.
 
Aug 13, 2021
22
1
15
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Which distro are you using and what are its requirements for a full install. I've used Mint Mate and it requires at least 16GB on the usb. Also how are you preparing the usb? Normally I use the Gparted app included with Mint to set up the GPT partition identifier on the usb and that's it, the space on the usb is totally unallocated. With Mint the installer does the rest of the partitioning and formatting process. Note that with some distros you need to fully power down your computer after installation (and of course remove the live usb) to clear the boot options before booting up your installed version usb.
I'm going for installing Zorin, I've tried YUMI, as the guy above suggested, maybe it's Zorin, maybe it's my lack of experience, but it doesn't seem to want to keep all my previous data saved
I'm also preparing my simple Sandisk 32GB USB with just with Rufus, then launching the live session for installation, installing to my PNY 256GB 3.1 USB. Reboot, go into my BIOS, make sure my PNY is first to boot, and it skips and goes into Windows instead
 
Reactions: dwd999
I'm going for installing Zorin, I've tried YUMI, as the guy above suggested, maybe it's Zorin, maybe it's my lack of experience, but it doesn't seem to want to keep all my previous data saved
I'm also preparing my simple Sandisk 32GB USB with just with Rufus, then launching the live session for installation, installing to my PNY 256GB 3.1 USB. Reboot, go into my BIOS, make sure my PNY is first to boot, and it skips and goes into Windows instead
The installer may not actually be installing the bootloader or it isn't installing it correctly.

Refer to https://www.pendrivelinux.com/install-grub2-on-usb-from-ubuntu-linux/ on how to get GRUB (which is the standard Linux bootloader) onto a USB drive.
 
Reactions: dwd999
Mar 19, 2022
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If you do a full install of Linux to a USB, you will be disappointed at how rapidly the USB stick fails. This is because it doesn't have necessary features for an OS drive, such as wear-leveling.

I recommend against using dual boot, regardless of disk size. Lots of stuff can go wrong and there it can be difficult to recover from.

If your BIOS is not booting to the a live image, then it also won't boot to an installed OS. This isn't related to what is on the USB, so likely you need to go through your BIOS and configure to boot to USB as the first option. When you don't want the USB to boot, just remove it and it will select the next option, presumably the SSD/HDD in the computer.
 
Reactions: Grobe
I've actually tried this, tested with several Linux distros. I came to the conclusion that it's worthless. However - If you still want to test that for yourself, you need to disable any internal hdd before attempting to install, otherwise the grub may inadvertently be placed on the hdd.
Also, not all Linux distros will allow you to install to an usb drive adn that may be the case here.

This happens when trying to install to USB stick:
  • Booting to desktop takes forever.
  • Opening programs and doing everyday tasks just takes forever.
Edit fstab file so that file system doesn't write last read time stamp may help <info>.

If using ext4, then I assume you may gain some advantage by setting up Lazy Initialization on ext4 <info>. This is just an idea, I don't know if this will actually be of any help on a usb stick.
 
Reactions: Satan-IR

Satan-IR

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Yes things can go wrong with a dual boot as GRUB usually overrides Windows bootloader and precedes it if you install the Linux after Windows just like that and if the linux disk fails or is corrupted you'd need Windows installation or repair/rescue media to repair boot files etc. But you can add an entry to Windows bootloader with software like EasyBCD and keep Windows bootloader intact and make GRUB like a branch to Windows bootloader and that way nothing happens even if you unplug the linux drive. All you do is add an entry that points to the GRUB in the other drive. You can use EasyBCD again and totally wipe the linux bootloader (GRUB) as if it didn't exist if you have done this process of making Win bootloader the main one. You can find EasyBCD here.

I have done this last one on a 32GB USB Flash, Mint with Cinnamon which is 'the heaviest' of the 3 desktop environments (Xfce, Mate and Cinnamon) in terms of graphics and so on and I think it's is based on GNOME 3. I still have the drive somewhere around here.

It is usable and you can include the GRUB in the same USB drive (no need to unplug other storage). All you have to do is install GRUB in the home directory of the linux and don't let it override the Windows bootloader and MBR and so on. I just put GRUB in during installation from live session (another USB drive containing the live image). I prepared the USB drive for the installation with GParted from live image one and formatted it ext4. I even added a 500MB NTFS partition at the end of the main one to be able to use/move files (LibreOffice and other stuff) between this and other Windows PCs.

Now I use it occasionally to test things in linux so the drive is not constantly plugged in. When I want to use it plug it in, POST, enter BIOS, hit boot menu function key, scroll to it and enter which then loads the GRUB and select Mint and boot.

Boot time is quite short considering it's a USB 3 drive, haven't really clocked it but it's in the 15-20 seconds. System operation and load and installation times is not really different than having it on an HDD.

TL;DR

All that said yes, as Grobe said above, some distros you can't put on a USB drive and I agree with the notion that it's not a advisable, or frugal if you like, to put an OS you're going to use constantly on a USB drive. The wear and tear on the drive would ruin it very quickly. You can use things like Timeshift in linux (included in Mint) to take snapshots of the installation on other media (e.g. external storage) which can then be restored quickly and all. But it's not really the best practice to install and use an OS like linux on a storage media which is not meant as an OS/system drive but to keep files and move them between computers.

If it's just out of curiosity to see how it's done and how it would operate I say go for it. If it's a system you're going to use on a daily basis the drive would surely fail quickly and I wouldn't recommend doing it.
 

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