I have an old PC with old hard disk (IDE, parallel ATA) dying (probably). There is Windows XP installed, but it's not booting any more. During Windows load, I can hear hardware clicks (believe it comes from hard disk), then screen just freezes, few more clicks and restart.

I am familiar with Linux, using it on my laptop, have tried few distros, know how to install from CD or USB, or try live session. So, basically, I would like to install Linux on usb stick, and use it instead of old hard disk (boot from usb).

Currently, I don't have available usb drive (so I can't try it now), but considering of buying one, if know that this will work.

I am planing to do full linux installation on usb stick. By full, i mean that I will partition usb drive as I would be installing linux on hard disk (not just live installation session, or the option with persistence file).

This old PC would be used mostly for browsing internet, watching some videos and live streams.

Motherboard has USB 2.0 interface, so i wonder is it fast enough for Linux operating system to run from it? (it will be probably Lubuntu or Xubuntu)

  • 2
    "Fast enough" is not an objective metric. There are people for whom running Linux from 90mm floppy discs is "fast enough". You'd do better to ask for a factual answer, whether it will work, rather than for random people's subjective opinions on whether it is "fast enough". – JdeBP Feb 7 '14 at 11:58
  • @JdeBP OK, then, can it be used for browsing internet, watching online videos, live streams, maybe some movie player ...? – Vladimir Feb 7 '14 at 12:17
  • @JdeBP You are right, admin should close this question.. – Firee Feb 7 '14 at 13:01
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think that your biggest problem here will be that the PC may not boot from USB. This is a relatively new feature of BIOS's.

If it does, I would personally recommend using a Live version such as Knoppix for this purpose rather than trying to treat the USB drive as another drive. The later is unlikely to be successful and even if it is, it is likely to be very slow. It would also put a lot of wear and tear on the drive.

A Live version with persistence will work very well for what you want it to and can easily be swapped to another PC at any time.

However, you need to check whether you can boot from USB first.

UPDATE: Hmm, interesting comments from the link provided. The security one is certainly valid but the speed one presumes that you will tweak the installation to be optimised for your use. Will you do that?

Also, I'm not convinced that it would be faster when running since any distro will assume that it is running from a hard drive not a USB2 drive and so will make good use of the fast speeds available from the drive (think of logging for example). This is what puts the wear and tear on the memory stick. Remeber that memory sticks are specifically not designed for this kind of use. They are made as cheap as possible with the expectation that they will mainly be used for storing images and such like not for the constant read/write pattern associated with Operating System use. Memory sticks can fail very rapidly when misused.

On the other hand, Live distros are specifically made for this kind of use. Loading as much as possible into memory and avoiding the source media if at all possible. This will be faster and put less wear on the device.

  • Thanks for pointing that out, I totally forgot there may not be option to boot from usb. I was booting several Linux distro's on my laptop, but laptop is only five years old. Will have to check for that. – Vladimir Feb 7 '14 at 12:22
  • Why do you think that full linux installation on usb (with partitions) will be slow and will put a lot of wear and tear on the drive? I am asking this because I had oposite opinion. This link says it should load faster with full partitioned usb. – Vladimir Feb 7 '14 at 12:42

It mainly depends on how heavily the disk is being used. For simple things like Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice and even the occasional movie the data throughput of USB 2.0 should be sufficient.

However, with a USB stick, the primary bottleneck is the flash memory itself. Due to the way in which Flash chips work, certain write operations (specifically, modifying a sector without rewriting it entirely) are quite time-consuming. Solid-state-disks have some extra logic built in to speed up this kind of access but memory sticks generally don't. I have frequently used Ubuntu off a live USB stick (mainly to use my work PC for personal purposes when on the road because I didn't want to drag two laptops along), and at times it will just hang for a few seconds, then continue. Apart from that it worked flawlessly.

If you have any chance of borrowing a stick, your best bet is to try it out. A live image should be sufficient to tell if performance is OK. In addition it allows you to test whether your PC will boot from USB at all (I still have two boxes from ca. 2003 which don't).

If you're planning to buy new hardware anyway, though, then you might be better of getting an external USB disk or replacing the internal one. A small one will do – maybe you can pick up a used one cheaply. The live image will work with as little as 2 GB, but of course it depends on how many extra applications you're going to install and how much data you're going to keep.

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