Running full Linux installations from external USB drives

So, I recently watched Reacting to Linus Tech Tips’ Linux Challenge Part 1 and like Michael Tunnell, agreed that swapping out the hard drive for their trials was a good idea.

Indeed, this is akin to how have I been running Linux - as my primary mode - for many, many years now. The difference though, is that I have always been doing this entirely using external USB drives.

There are two caveats to acknowledge:

  • it has always been interesting to work out how each different computer can be told to boot from the USB drive;
  • it became more than just interesting when EFI came along.

Consequently, for a few years I persisted with my USB drives using the older MBR style of partitioning and booting.

Nonetheless, I kept researching and experimenting, and eventually worked out how to set things to properly work on EFI boot systems.

For my easy reference and to share the idea, I later wrote up the method here: Ubuntu Linux installation to a USB external drive with EFI boot

I don’t claim to be good at writing articles and besides, my energies are required in other directions - but what I’d really like to see is an article and/or video demonstrating the method for more general users to set these up for themselves.

I really do find the idea of a system-as-USB-drive very useful - and wish more people were aware of how practical it is. In particular, it means that you can use almost any computer without modifying it at all (though you might have to navigate an odd boot selection sequence).

Another caveat:

  • I don’t claim this to be as “performant” as other methods. That’s just not of concern to me. I’ve had years of use in which USB2 and then USB3 has been plenty good enough for my usage. And if it’s not obvious, I’m not a gamer.

So if you know someone who writes article or makes demonstration videos, please forward info to them about this method.

A side project that I’d like to see, is a set of videos showing how to navigate as many different firmware-settings and/or boot selection sequences as possible - at the least just for the steps to boot from this style of USB setup.