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I've installed CentOS 5.5 64-bit on an external WD 500GB HDD. I went through the installation setup, and formatted the external HDD normally. (100M /boot, 250GB /, 248GB /tmp , 2.8GB swap). I also installed grub in the external HDD's MBR.

After installation, I could boot up Linux on the same platform (Arrandale). However, as soon as I took it to a different platform such as Atom Pineview D525, it had all kind of problem on Grub, such as Grub Hard Disk Error, or it just hanged on grub loading stage {1.5,2}. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I would get to grub command prompt, but rarely I could boot up. I would stuck at mounting file system.

I've searching a lot on Google, and people suggested to reinstall Grub, so I tried various method to reinstall Grub, but the same behaviors still exist. I can't guarantee the drive will boot...

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By the way, this was all with grub legacy (0.97.63?) If people think grub 2 has significant improvement on usb boot, please comment below. I will give it a shot, but I don't want to mess with grub2 if it's not worthy the time... – Patrick Apr 8 '11 at 14:29

I'm not sure if you solved this issue; I had a similar problem to you. After updating the BIOS, Linux can now boot from a USB drive.

I used the following BIOS:

http://downloadcenter.intel.com/Detail_Desc.aspx?agr=Y&DwnldID=20077&keyword=MW0083P.BIO&DownloadType=BIOS&lang=eng

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Have you tried Plop? It's probably the most versatile boot loader around and is ideal for use with USB devices.

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Thanks, I will definitely check it out! Will get back to my experience once I try it today. – Patrick Apr 8 '11 at 17:11
    
I tried the Plop. Unfortunately, it didn't even detect my USB drive... – Patrick Apr 9 '11 at 22:45

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