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I have an old laptop with a broken hard drive controller and am running the previous ubuntu from a usb. I installed this as per standard instructions by running some program that copied the live cd to the usb.

This has had a few problems, it seems like it was just made for trying and not for everyday use. Ideally I would like to do a proper install to the usb disk instead of just running off the installer disk. Is there a way to do this?

The main problems I have are:

  • When adding mounts to fstab it gets overwritten on each reboot
  • When installing updates the kernel cannot be updated
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I presume you've seen this question and answer?… – fossfreedom Nov 18 '11 at 23:39
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I had to do this a while back when my netbook's hard drive crashed. I used to USB drives. One USB drive I used to boot into Ubuntu's live 'CD' trial environment. In that session, I formatted the other flash drive (EXT4) and installed Ubuntu to it using the standard installer. There are other ways, but that's what I did. GRUB was installed to flash drive and kernel updates were fine.

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I also did what Dr.Frankinfurter did. I had a usb hard disk, and a usb thumbdrive with ubuntu live image.

I booted from the thumbdrive in "live" mode, and made a normal install on to the other usb hdd. Everything went well, i updated several times, installed extra software, it was great.

I asume you can do the same thing with another thumbdrive if you dont have a usb hdd at hand.

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What you did was create a bootable Ubuntu flash drive that would reset to its initial state every time you booted it up. This is great if you’re worried about messing something up, and want to start fresh every time you start tinkering with Ubuntu.

However, if you’re using the Ubuntu flash drive to diagnose and solve problems with your PC, you might find that a lot of problems require guess-and-test cycles. It would be great if the settings you change in Ubuntu and the programs you install stay installed the next time you boot it up.

It is possible to have Ubuntu on a USB drive (aka USB Stick or Thumb drive or Flash drive) or USB hard disk drive with persistent mode. This means that you can boot from a USB drive and keep customisations such as keyboard layout, numlock, preferences, additional packages saved on the drive. offers two solutions that will help you get your USB thumbdrive in persistent mode.

  1. Universal USB Installer (If you have an empty thumbdrive and an .iso file you can start from fresh).

  2. Pen Drive Linux Casper-RW Creator (If you already have a live USB thumbdrive you can use this software to put it in persistent mode).

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Following step by step for Full install of 11.04 or 11.10 to USB device. Partition sizes given are for 8GB drive, adjust size to suit. If you are using an external HDD, consider formatting the first partition NTFS:

Turn off and unplug the computer. (See note at bottom)

Remove the side from the case.

Unplug the power cable from the hard drive.

Plug the computer back in.

Insert the USB drive.

Insert the Live CD or Live USB.

Start the computer, the CD / flash drive should boot, (you need to adjust BIOS to boot USB).

Select language

Select "Forward".

Select Download updates while installing and Select Install this third-party software.

(Notice that at least 4.4 GB drive space is required, 4GB bootable flash drive users must choose another distro for a full install).


If prompted unmount partitions.

Select "Something else"


Confirm "Device for boot loader installation:"is correct, (If you left your internal HDD plugged in make sure the USB drive root is selected - sdb not sdb1).

(Optional Windows data partition)

Select "New Partition Table" click Continue on the drop down.

Click "Free space" and "Add".

Select "Primary".

Make "New partition size..." about 1000

"Location = Beginning".

"Use as: = FAT32 file system"

And "Mount point = windows".

Select "OK"

Click "free space" and then "Add".

Select "Primary", "New partition size ..." = 3 to 4 GB, Beginning, Ext4, and Mount point = "/" then OK.

(Optional home partition)

Click "free space" and then "Add".

Select "Primary", "New partition size ..." = 1 to 2 GB, Beginning, Ext2, and Mount point = "/home" then OK.

(Optional swap partition)

Click "free space" and then "Add".

Select "Primary", "New partition size ..." = remaining space, (1 to 2 GB), Beginning and "Use as" = "swap area" then OK.

(Importent) Confirm "Device for boot loader installation" points to the USB drive. Default should be ok if HDD was unplugged.

Click "Install Now".

Select your location.


Select Keyboard layout.


Insert your name, username, password, computer name and select if you want to log in automatically or require a password.

Selecting "Encrypt my home folder" is a good option if you are worried about loosing your USB drive.

Select forward.

Wait until install is complete.

Turn off computer and enable the HDD.

Stick the side panel back on.

Note: You may omit disabling the hard drive if after partitioning you choose to install grub to the root of the usb drive you are installing Ubuntu to, (ie sdb not sdb1). Be cautious, many people have overwritten the HDD MBR.

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