I have here a company notebook, and because the HDD is full encrypted, I cannot install an extra partition for another system that I would like to use in my free time. And I really need another system, because this crap Windows here with that much of anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-whatever on it is so slow and annoying.

What can I do? I could use an external USB HDD with another system. Because I would like to handle big files and so on, I don't want to use a USB stick. A USB 2.5 HDD + Ubuntu is what I think the best option.

Here are my questions:

  • Do I have to note something?
  • Does Ubuntu run well on an external HDD?
  • Do I have big performance problems (because of the USB HDD)?
  • Should I buy a very fast HDD for much money or it is not that important?

Any suggestions?

  • 3
    First of all, I don't recommend this because it's a company laptop, and they probably don't want you doing that for a reason. However, I will tell you that yes, you can run ubuntu off of a USB drive - i do it all the time when troubleshooting machines. :P – jrg Sep 8 '12 at 20:07
  • 1
    @jrg In my free time in a hotel I can do whatever I want...and I dont what to do stuff on the "company system". Because its sucks ^^ - so there is a good reason to use an external system. – Klaus Sep 8 '12 at 20:08
  • I'm just saying that it's on you, and that they probably have it locked down. – jrg Sep 8 '12 at 20:08
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    @jrg Yeah its locked down, with locked down I mean the internal hdd is full encrypted. So you cannot add partitions or new systems. But the Bios is mine and I can boot from where I want. Thats why (I think), I could boot from an external hdd (ubuntu) – Klaus Sep 8 '12 at 20:09
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    What's the theoretical speed of both interfaces? 480 Mbit/s for USB 2 vs 3.0 Gbit/s of Sata 2.. you imagine how slow it's going to be, of course those are the theoretical speeds, actual speed is far less than that. – Uri Herrera Sep 8 '12 at 20:26

Yes, Ubuntu will run reasonably well on an external drive, as long as you use a reasonably fast interface. I have actually survived for a few weeks on a 8GB USB 2.0 flash drive as my boot drive, and although it was slow, it was not that horrible. Now, if you have the choice, you should absolutely go for either USB 3.0 or (e)SATA, as USB 2.0's performance, while rated at 480 Mb per second, is going to be a lot slower in real life. You will experience some speed issues, but only during hard disk access. Linux has pretty good file caching, and after the program loads/file opens you are going to have the same performance as you would otherwise.


I've done it before on a 500gb wd passport. It was pretty lightweight stuff (web browsing mostly), with a reasonably modern DE (KDE 4.0 I think), with a 'full' install rather than a unetbootin style frugal install. I'd go with a lighter DE if I could, or better yet, throw together a 'bespoke' install with just what I'd need.

As long as you arn't throwing massively disk intensive things (well more so than usual - videos should be fine.. actually, anything a reasonable, non poweruser would do is fine), it'll probably handle things sufficiently.

I wouldn't go with a flashdrive for this since they do wear out (eventually). If you do, there's pretty fast USB 3.0 flash drives worth considering. I'd just go for a reasonably priced, modern, USB HDD myself - maybe usb 3.0 if you have it on your system. If your laptop has esata/esatap, it would be the best, no compromise option for running a hard drive off of - it'll give you the same speed as an internal drive, but external.

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