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Can I run Ubuntu from USB stick (or install Ubuntu) when Windows 10 won't boot up. I'm having problems with the latest update from Windows and am ready to make the switch to Ubuntu. My laptop fits the minimum requirements and I can access the BIOS menu to boot from a USB.

  • Thank you so much for the very helpful and prompt responses! – PGreen Sep 26 '18 at 17:58
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Yes, by default Ubuntu will run in "Live" mode via a USB stick without making any permanent changes to your system. You could even unplug the hard drive if you really wanted and it would run entirely off the USB stick. You will be prompted with an option to Install or continue running in Live mode. You can also copy existing files from your Windows installation to the Internet, a local file share server or install Ubuntu along side Windows keeping those files for access later.

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If you mean automatically switching to a USB drive when Windows fails to boot, probably not. You'll probably have to do it manually.

If you mean running a trial version of Ubuntu without installing it to your hard drive, yes. Just burn an installer ISO to your USB stick, boot from it, and select Try Ubuntu. It'll forget everything you did except writing to the hard drive after you reboot, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

If you mean installing the full version of Ubuntu that remembers your changes onto a USB stick instead of a hard drive, yes:

  1. Back up all the files from your USB stick elsewhere, because the USB stick will be erased.
  2. Install VirtualBox into Windows.
  3. Make a new virtual machine with no hard drive.
  4. Attach the Ubuntu installer ISO of your choice to the virtual DVD drive (Ubuntu 18.04 is recommended; Xubuntu 18.04 for machines without a lot of RAM; Lubuntu 18.04 for machines that are really, really low on RAM).
  5. Boot the virtual machine with the ISO.
  6. Select Try Ubuntu.
  7. Connect the USB stick to your real computer.
  8. In the VirtualBox Devices menu, select USB, then choose your USB stick to attach it to the virtual machine.
  9. Make sure the USB drive shows up on the desktop and has your (soon-to-be-deleted) files on it.
  10. Reboot the virtual machine (don't shut it down, make sure to restart it).
  11. Don't pick Try Ubuntu this time.
  12. Follow along with the installer and erase everything on the "hard drive" (really, your USB stick). If you want to also use the USB drive to store files on that both Ubuntu and Windows (and Macs for that matter) can read, make sure there's a FAT32 partition of your desired size before all other partitions on the "hard drive".
  13. Once it's ready to reboot, reboot, then pull the USB stick out once it's starting to boot.
  14. Turn off VirtualBox.
  15. Turn off your real computer.
  16. Connect the USB stick to your real computer.
  17. Boot from the USB drive.

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