So here is the deal: I have an external hard drive NTFS 320GB with some data on it and i want to install an portable version of linux WITHOUT formatting the disk. I'm totally new to linux. Which distro should i choose? (please enumerate as many you know, if any)

  • Thank You
  • Ubuntu should have no problems. You won't be able to install Linux to the drive clearly. Linux only limited ability to read NTFS and doesn't support NTFS has the boot partition.
    – Ramhound
    Mar 9, 2013 at 14:27
  • I was speaking of the ability to read the data on the HDD. If you want to install Linux on this portable drive you will have to partition some of the HDD. This cannot be avoided. Linux cannot be installed on a NTFS partition.
    – Ramhound
    Mar 9, 2013 at 14:44

1 Answer 1


It doesn't matter if the operating system supports NTFS as it's filesystem, you'll have to partition your external hard drive in order to install any operating system in it. The OS needs it's own partition.

First of all, is the hard drive bootable? i.e. can you select it from the BIOS bootmenu? If so, you can just put in the installation CD of any GNU/Linux distro and select to install it on that drive. Shrink the NTFS partition from the installer's partitioner and use a guided partitioning method to install the distro on the free space that is left. You can google for tutorials on how to partition drives.

Once you partitioned your hard drive and installed the distro of your choice in it, you can easily access your files on the NTFS partition by mounting it from within the operating system you just installed - you can use ext3 or any other standard GNU/Linux filesystem. You can then move the files to a folder in your OS and wipe the old NTFS partition to have the OS use all the external hard drive.

If the drive isn't bootable you can backup your data and format it in order to make it bootable. Alternatively, there are a few guides on installing GNU/Linux on non-bootable hard drives here.

  • thank you very much; I didn't even knew that an external drive can be partitioned
    – daniel
    Mar 9, 2013 at 14:57

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .