• Linux Live Session on USB?

    • This topic has 12 replies, 9 voices, and was last updated 5 years ago by anonymous.

    Hello! I am moving this discussion…


    …over to this Linux forum, as suggested in one of the replies in the Woody’s thread about Preparing for Win 7 Winter. In that discussion, it was suggested that it would be possible to run a version of Linux from a bootable USB to test a computer system set up, and also as a possible way to keep using Win 7, but have the Linux OS for the more sensitive online things such as banking or email.

    I would be interested in learning more about how to do this and what system requirements might be needed. And also which Linux would be best for a beginner – I have only used Windows – from 95 through Win 7, and have no experience with Linux.

    Thanks – all info is greatly appreciated!

    Viewing 6 reply threads
    • #317013

      There are probably many ways to do it, and many Linux distros to choose from, but here is one tutorial with a step by step procedure to create a bootable Ubuntu Linux on a usb stick:


      The advantage to trying out Ubuntu first is that it probably has the most web page content devoted to support tutorials and FAQ, with both official and unofficial community support. Just about any error message that you see in Ubuntu can be Googled for solutions on the web.

      To boot your Windows machine with a USB stick, you will have to tell your BIOS setup options to change the boot priority order from the #1 hard drive boot to make the USB stick the #1 boot priority. Here’s a tutorial for that: https://www.lifewire.com/change-the-boot-order-in-bios-2624528

      Just insert the newly created USB and reboot. Then before Windows begins booting (during the POST, or Power On Self Test), hit the key assigned on your system to go into “setup” (usually the “del” or “F2” key).

      This boot priority step happens before Windows boots, so if you see a Windows startup screen, your BIOS has already found the hard drive and the Windows boot loader. At that point you need to go back to the BIOS setup and get things sorted. This step seems to give first timers to alternate booting the most trouble, which is the only reason that I mention it here.

      Good luck!

      Windows 10 Pro 22H2

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    • #317025

      ? says:

      thank you, JohnW! i have been running ubuntu live usb on 14.04, and 16.04 (LTS) since microsoft decided i must be running winx. C.S. Cameron was the person who gave me the syslinux recipe that enabled me to run live usb with persistence. here is a recent link to run ubuntu 18.04 live persistent:


      i have currently have 3 18.04 ubuntu-unity-experience full installs on usb since my laptop won’t run gnome and may run it live presistent since it is supported for 10 years (2028).







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    • #317036

      I would be interested in learning more about how to do this and what system requirements might be needed. And also which Linux would be best for a beginner – I have only used Windows – from 95 through Win 7, and have no experience with Linux.

      For someone new to Linux I would suggest one of the Linux Mint flavours – Cinnamon, MATE or Xfce. Linux Mint is fairly similar to the WIMP environment that Windows uses so it shouldn’t take you long to become familiar with the similarities and differences.

      Another reason why Linux Mint is popular with people moving from Windows is that there is a huge amount of support material available, most of it written in non-techie speak.

      Which Linux Mint flavour is best for you? Have a look at this official documentation for more info, not only about flavours but also about bitness and how to create ‘Live’ media to take Linux Mint for a test drive.  (Note: whilst it’s possible to create a ‘Live’ optical disk, the slowness of response may turn you off Linux before you’ve even got your feet wet. If you can, create a ‘Live’ USB stick instead. Even a USB2 stick will be MUCH more responsive than a DVD.)

      System requirements for the latest Linux Mint 19.1 Cinnamon can be found in this post. They’re fairly minimal but, as always, more is better. For example, I use 4GB RAM and Linux Mint 19.1 Cinnamon flies.

      Note that the ‘Live’ versions will help you work out whether your hardware is supported but WON’T give you the full Linux Mint experience, particularly with multimedia and wifi support. For example, full multimedia support (including third-party support for codecs and VLC) and advanced wifi support is only available after a full install (and with an installation option set).

      Hope this helps…

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    • #317035

      Hi again!

      For beginners, my favorite distro is Linux Mint, with the Cinnamon desktop.  It’s a nice all-around setup that will look familiar to a Windows user… taskbar at the bottom (in Linux, it’s called the panel), start button on the left end of that (main menu button in Linux), system tray in the right end (and it’s still called that in Linux!) with the clock and notification icons.  Most of the desktops are set up like this from the start, though you can change it too if you wish.

      Don’t get caught up too much in finding the perfect distro up front, as long as it is one that’s beginner-friendly.  The experience you gain with any one desktop will give you the knowledge you need to explain what you’re looking for if the distro or desktop you are using doesn’t feel right to you.  The important thing is to get started and break the ice, so to speak.  The nervousness about not knowing what to expect or if you will be able to do it will go away once you see it’s not that different from Windows in normal use.  One baby step at a time, and soon you’re walking!

      To set up the USB boot, all you will need is a USB drive large enough to hold the Linux bootable image.  If you have a USB 3.0 drive, all the better; it will boot much faster.  I’m not really sure how big you need, but the image is about 1.8 GB before decompression, so probably between 2 and 3 GB will work.  I couldn’t even find any flash drives under 8 GB for USB 3.0 when I last looked, so I use those 8 GB models for my various Linux or Windows install USB needs.

      Once you have that, download the .iso image for the Linux flavor you want to try from its official page to make sure it’s the real deal.  Distrowatch.com has links to pretty much every distro there is, so that’s a good place to begin.

      Once the download finishes, use whatever program you wish to write the image to the drive.  In Windows, I use Rufus… it’s free, and if you’re familiar with things like this, it will be no problem.  It is a somewhat advanced tool, though, so it has a lot of options that won’t be needed for this.  TechRepublic has a how-to on this topic if you need assistance with Rufus.  Mostly, you just point it to the .iso and go, but if it doesn’t work, the article may help (and of course you can ask here too).

      Once it’s done, you should be able to reboot and hit whatever key your PC uses to bring up the boot selection menu (often F12 on recent machines), and select from that the USB drive, which hopefully will be shown.  It should boot right up and present you with a menu with options like Normal boot, Compatibility Mode, Recovery Mode, etc., and of course you’ll want to select the Normal boot (or let it time out and it will select it automatically).  Once it finishes booting, if all goes well (and it should), the live session will start in a short while.  Some distros will ask you “install now” or “try Linux first,” and you’d select “try Linux first.”  Mint starts the live session automatically and leaves an icon on the desktop to install Mint when you’re ready.

      From there, you can use the system as in Windows.  The Windows key (which is usually called a “super” key in Linux, but sometimes also a Meta key) will open the main menu, or you can use the mouse for this, and the menu that appears will look pretty familiar.  You can start Firefox and start using the web immediately if you have an ethernet connection, or if you use wireless, you’ll have to select the network and enter the password first, as with Windows.

      Hopefully everything will just work right off the bat.  It always has for me using Linux live sessions, but if not, be sure to get detailed records of what error messages you may get so we can help.  Linux distros usually have a screenshot utility that will record the screen any time you hit PrintScreen and pop up a dialog asking what you wish to do with the image.  You probably won’t be able to save it to the live USB you’re using, but another USB thumb drive should do the trick.  Don’t unplug the live session drive though!

      Note that the usual live session has no persistence.  You can use the system normally… visit web pages, explore the Linux desktop, change the settings, even download and install software as long as you have RAM available (since the live session creates a RAM disk using some of your memory instead of a hard drive).  If you make any changes or save any files on the RAM disk, they will be lost as soon as you power down or reboot, and the next live session will look exactly the same as the time before.  Be sure to save any files on a USB drive or other storage (not on the desktop!  That’s in the RAM disk) if you want to keep them.  Simply plugging in a USB drive will usually pop up a message asking if you want to open the drive with the file manager (called Nemo in Mint Cinnamon, but each one has its own), so it’s easy to access the drive.

      If you decide Linux is to your liking, but you don’t want to install it on the PC just yet, you can still have persistent storage on the USB drive.  HowToGeek has an article about this… I’ve never done it myself, but it shouldn’t be hard!


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      • #317037

        That was me… can’t fix it myself anymore.  Sigh.

        Dell XPS 13/9310, i5-1135G7/16GB, KDE Neon
        XPG Xenia 15, i7-9750H/32GB & GTX1660ti, KDE Neon
        Acer Swift Go 14, i5-1335U/16GB, KDE Neon (and Win 11)

      • #318309

        Ascaris wrote:
        The Windows key (which is usually called a “super” key in Linux, but sometimes also a Meta key)

        In my mind, I just think of this key as “the key that should have a penguin on it”.

        • #318319

          I remember the Symbolics. (Lisp machine…)

          Meta and Super are NOT the same.
          Symbolics keyboards had all three of Meta, Super and Hyper … and then some more fun keys too. Should’ve kept one of those, if just mounted on a wall or something…

    • #317094

      Then again, it would also be possible to perform a full “normal” install of Linux using any USB storage device as the target.

      This has the disadvantage that you don’t get the reduced-writes SSD lifecycle extension on the USB storage that a standard persistent live-USB has – and frequent-writes longevity isn’t exactly a thing most regular budget USB “disks” are designed for.

      Still, very much possible, and there are “good” USB SSDs too, not to mention adapter/enclosure kits that can use a standard SSD or spinning disk.

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    • #317643

      I continue to explore Linux Mint on a bootable USB stick.  It’s great fun.

      Also picked up a Raspberry Pi where another Linux adventure continues, heh heh.

      Win 8.1 (home & pro) Group B, W10/11 Avoider, Linux Dabbler

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    • #317658

      If you would like to use a live Linux distro with persistence capabilities try this software from pendrive linux…https://www.pendrivelinux.com/.  Not all distros have a persistence capability but the Mint distro does. Hope this helps.


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      • #318332

        People should be aware that a Linux Live does NOT provide the latest and updated OS-version and software. ALWAYS add persistance to a Live Linux, so you can update everything to the latest (and save that) before you’re safe to surf!

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