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Run Linux for free on your USB stick drive

by Bob Crabtree on 6 October 2006, 21:23

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A little something for the weekend, sir? has a tutorial showing how you can easily set up Linux to boot from a USB stick drive. Links are provided to the only two downloads required (both free) - one a suitable Mandriva-based Linux distribution.

A nice little project for this weekend, maybe?

Three things are needed in addition to a stick drive (which has to be off 512MB or larger). The first is an X86 PC that's able to boot from stick drives. The other items are those downloads. One is a small (2MB) USB tool from HP that lets you reformat the stick drive as FAT or FAT 32, the other the full Linux installer weighing in at 306MB.

The Mandriva-based Linux version, PCLinuxOS, is described as "a beautiful Live Linux CD compilation created by Texstar of".

Once you have the three elements, you install HP's app and use it to reformat the stick drive - remembering to back up anything important on the drive beforehand!

HP formatting tool

Then you unzip the Linux installer to hard disk, copy the contents of that folder to the stick drive and, afterwards, immediately delete the folder from your hard disk.

It's safer to unzip the folder directly to the stick drive because that reduces the chance that you'll accidentally carry out the next step from the hard disk. However, unzipping to the hard disk is much quicker than unzipping to the stick drive.

That next step is to run the MakeBoot.exe from the stick drive. This installs a tiny (10KB) file - ldlinux.sys - that makes the drive bootable. Had you run MakeBoot.exe from a hard drive you'd likely find yourself unable to boot up the PC - so do take care!

Stick drive ready to boot up into Linux
Stick drive ready to boot up into Linux (click for larger image)

The final step is to restart your PC with the pre-prepared stick drive plugged in and adjust the boot-up settings in the Bios so that the stick drive comes first in the boot-up order.

And that, essentially, is job done. When the PC nexts starts, it will boot up into Linux.

One other thing to know - if you don't fancy getting your hands dirty with Linux, it's possible to carry around with you on a stick drive a whole bunch of "portable" Windows apps that are set up to run from the drive - allowing you, in effect, to take your office with you and run it on any USB-capable Windows PC (XP or 2K). Available apps include Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice and NVU. To learn more, check out our review, Go to work on a USB stick drive.

However, if the idea of having a portable version of Linux appeals, then do take a look at the tutorial (and it's better to rely on what that says than what we say!). Whether or not you give it a whirl, let us know your thoughts in this thread in the forum.

HEXUS.links :: discussion thread about this article :: Go to work on a USB stick drive

External.links :: tutorial - home page

HEXUS Forums :: 9 Comments

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nice, might come in handy ;)
I'm writing this from within the Konqueror - the browser that is built into the above mentioned Linux distribution - and which, of course, I'm running on a USB stick drive.

Two little tips:

1/ In the Bios, choose to boot from USB hard disk

2/ To logon when the OS first boots up, use root as the user name and root as the password.

It's been a longish while since I've fiddled with Linux so there's lots of stuff to figure out (again) - starting wiht, where Konqueror lives, so I can install MacroMedia Flash, which I think is needed on these forums.


Blimey, and on my Clawhammer Athlon 64 3200+, this really is very nippy, even though it's running from a USB stick drive.

I'm impressed. So far. Even though I've not yet figured out where Konqueror lives.
Its just a shame that still lots of PC's dont boot from USB. I was very
disappointed that my 6 month old laptop cant. I even searched for a hacked
bios but couldnt find anything.
Its just a shame that still lots of PC's dont boot from USB. I was very
disappointed that my 6 month old laptop cant. I even searched for a hacked
bios but couldnt find anything.

Agree - I'd be mightily hacked off.

And, in truth, it's not easy when choosing what to buy to get info about the bios as detailed as whether or not it will do this.

Food for thought, perhaps, for HEXUS motherboard and system reviews?