I am constantly traveling between two countries and I am constantly forced to bring my laptop with me. I was wondering if it is possible to install an operating system such as Linux or Windows on my external 1TB HDD. I would be very thankful if someone who is more knowledgeable share his or her thoughts on this subject. Also are there any disadvantages in having your operating system stored on external drive? Thank you in advance!

  • 1
    for Windows you need Win8/10, here you can create a WindowsToGo on the 1TB HDD. This works ok, if you have USB 3.0, USb 2.0 is a bit too slow. – magicandre1981 Jan 3 '18 at 16:30
  • For Linux, you've to use live bootable media, for Windows, you need Windows-To-Go. See more Live CD. You can make a pluggable SSD with portable apps. – Biswapriyo Jan 3 '18 at 16:35
  • Why does it have to be live bootable? – multithr3at3d Jan 3 '18 at 16:42
  • The OS is more likely to become corrupted due the nature of things being easily disconnected, susceptible to phyiscal impact and bumping, etc. Imagine if you HDD inside your computer got unplugged while running and bumped 100x more (compared to not at all); things just are not as reliable in such a case even with special care. – Damon Jan 3 '18 at 16:47

Are there any disadvantages in having your operating system stored on external drive?

Generally there are no disadvantages.

Practically: An external drive conneted via ESATA works just as well. An external SAS or an external SCSI drive will work just as well. A drive connected over USB will be slower. Partially due to needless packet overhead. If you use USB 2 expect it to be much slower, while USB 3.1 with UASP might be almost as fast as a regular laptop drive.

If you use windows (and you tagged it windows) its get tricky. For most versions you want to succesfully boot windows so it can start recognising USB devices. Catch 22...

There are at least two ways around that:

  1. Windows to go.
  2. Put windows in a VM. The vm disk image itself is just a data file. This will work extremely well for some things (like office stuff, reading mail etc) and poorly for others (mainly high FPS gaming).

It would be perfectly functional to do. (I recommend persistent Linux [Arch, Ubuntu/Debian {which do you prefer}, or RHEL are best] on the external drive. So much easier to set up, and properly configured to be minimal will make it nicer) Here is the rub: Imagine your internal hard drive can do RW @ 300MB/s (just for argument's sake). Now image that streaming from an external drive at, say, 50MB/s. Then add delays from the USB interface, and the massive latency change, and life sucks. If your SSD boot takes 10seconds, then a HDD boot will take 5(ish)minutes, and your external HDD boot will take 10-20 years. (Yes, I'm estimating those first values, and yes, I'm exaggerating the external, but you should get the point). I recommend upgrading your internal drive (I use a 2TB Segate SSHD that I got for $99.99 USD), and doing a dual boot. Yes, a dual boot has its own pains, but it generally will work better and not be painful to use.


The only real disadvantage is possible bottlenecks due to using USB instead of SATA or PCIe, and the fact that you may accidentally unplug the drive during usage.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.