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I've got a laptop that has a broken harddisk controller. Replacing the motherboard is quite expensive. I thought about buying a flash drive and installing & running the system from it.

However, I'm concerned about some things.

  • Speed: Are they fast enough for swap memory (I've got only 1GB RAM installed.)
    I'm considering buying 2 or 3 of them and making them into a RAID.

  • What about limited write cycles? How long will it last for a system that has a filesystem with journaling enabled? I'd hate to abandon it.

  • Are there significant differences between internal SSD which are used in modern laptops like MacBooks and USB flash drives?

  • What should I expect in 10 years when the memory wear starts kicking in?

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The only thing you have to worry about is that flash memory does have a limited amount of reads and writes. Otherwise the only down side is that some flash drives are slower than others which will show in the OS. – Nathan Adams Nov 8 '09 at 20:27
you have a laptop with a broken disk controller and yet you are concerned about 'memory waer' destroying your precious USB flash drive in about 10 years from now? please tell me you're not serious. i think the Mayan Doomsday is the greater worry! :) – Molly7244 Nov 8 '09 at 20:34
Actually I don't expect to still have that laptop in 10 years from now, that part of the question is just out of curiosity. – Georg Schölly Nov 8 '09 at 20:41
@Nathan Adams: So how bad is it? Are 100000 write cycles used up in a month / a year / 5 years? – Georg Schölly Nov 8 '09 at 20:42
@Molly - I'm starting to like you more every day. You have proven yourself to be direct, to the point, blunt & witty, all at the same time. I badly misjudged you, despite our run in on the very first post I made on this forum. Oh, and brilliant too!! – Patriot Nov 8 '09 at 21:05
up vote 4 down vote accepted

There is nothing unusual about running an operating system from a USB flash drive; many Linux distros are optimised for this very purpose.

In fact there is a laptop being sold without any internal storage - you can boot a variety of operating systems from USB keys.

Meet the Gdium Liberty:

alt text

'Broken' like yours, by design.

The short answer: yes, it is safe to run an operating system from a USB flash drive.

As for your worries about the life expectany of flash memory, this has been discussed ad nauseam. The interwebs are full with more or less conclusive discussions regarding the matter.

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I once had a USB stick that died after a few weeks of intensive usage. Not sure if it was wear and tear, but my advice would be the same: Don't use cheap USB sticks. Ever, it's false economy. – Phoshi Nov 8 '09 at 21:48
true enough, YMMV as they say, and if you want to run an OS from a USB stick, look up some reviews/recommendations/speed tests, there are huge differences in speed too. – Molly7244 Nov 8 '09 at 22:02

I try Run Ubuntu 9.04 from usb in university system lab, My university lab pc have 512 or 1 GB RAM and I don't encounter any problem and I can do any job with my Ubuntu

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It's fine, especially if you disable swap, I've got several bootable USB sticks I use. However, as soon as you lose that stick, you've given someone your entire OS, and all of the data on it...

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I thought about losing the stick already and decided to encrypt at least the user folder. – Georg Schölly Nov 8 '09 at 21:14
What is the benefit of disabling swap? – Georg Schölly Nov 8 '09 at 21:15
Swap is slower on a USB drive, and also means a big increase in reads and writes, reducing the life of your USB drive. – Artelius Nov 8 '09 at 22:31

Our hp bladecenter blades boot from an internal usb drive, it also has a slot for sd cards to boot from.

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So because you do it, it must be safe? – soandos Jul 12 '12 at 18:49

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