Amazingly enough, circumstances have left me without a single USB flash drive, or a working CD-R drive. Also, because I moved about six months ago, I got rid of all my extra Ubuntu CDs that I used to get by mail. (cleanup win, hindsight fail) And yet, I need to get a live Ubuntu going to boot up a wonky desktop computer.

I tried using unetbootin to put a live CD install onto a portable USB hard-drive, but it won't boot from it (NTLDR missing error).

Is this because the disk is NTFS (which it is)? or for some other reason? Is there a difference between booting from a portable USB thumbdrive and a portable USB hard drive, other than potential performance?


5 Answers 5


There's no difference between a flash drive and a usb hard drive. Both can be used as a boot medium, and in the same way.

If you want to put the live system (installer) on the disk, the partition needs to be FAT32. NTFS cannot be read at this stage. So the partition you boot from (where the live cd contents are put) needs to be formatted as FAT32.

You can also install Ubuntu to the external hard drive, of course, just as you could with a flash drive. That's a different operation from using the drive as a live cd boot medium.

  • 1
    Actually, GRUB2 can read & boot from NTFS (I would have to check to be sure about legacy GRUB; I'm sure it can boot from it but maybe not read, and in that case it requires manual fiddling to specify the sectors to read). Or is this an Unetbootin limitation?
    – JanC
    Aug 28, 2010 at 15:03
  • I thought it was a limitation of the Live CD system.
    – loevborg
    Aug 28, 2010 at 18:12

If you're talking about what I think you're talking about, running Ubuntu/Linux off of a external hard drive connected via USB then it's actually quite simple to do. Here are the steps, or rather, the steps I took.

Please Note: The following steps were tested using Ubuntu Version 9.10, but has not been tested with the later versions. Use at your own risk & discretion.

What You Will Need

  1. A Computer with Internet access.
  2. A LiveCD or LiveUSB with Ubuntu.
  3. An external Hard Drive with USB capability.

What To Do

  1. Open up your computer and remove the Hard Drive.
  2. Plug in your external USB Hard Drive via the USB cable.
  3. Stick in your LiveUSB or LiveCD and then boot up your PC.
  4. Open up the boot menu, and choose to boot from the LiveCD/LiveUSB.
  5. During the installation process you should your external hard drive listed, install Ubuntu to that.
  6. Finish the installation process, turn off your PC, and put your other hard drive back into your computer.
  7. Reboot your computer, go to the boot menu and select your external hard drive and attempt to boot from it. If it does congratulations, you now have an external hard drive with a full fledged Operating System on it.
  8. Enjoy your external hard drive running Ubuntu/Linux! Please do let me know if this helps you! If not let me know about that too. :)
  • Hmm, how would you do this without removing the internal hdd? Apr 22, 2021 at 5:35

You can use $ sudo aptitude install ubiquity

Install that on your machine (that's the-ubuntu-installer), then go through installation instruction make sure you set up partions on the usb-drive & at the last step select advanced and make sure the bootloader is installed on to usb-drive as well.

This will give you portable-ish Ubuntu on usb-drive. (ext4 etc.)

Currently the only tool that works for installing Ubuntu on NTFS is wubi but that's to be installed along with Windows.

  • I like that, in general. Doesn't really apply in this situation, since it's overkill. BUuuut, what makes it portableISH? Isn't it a full-on install that I can just take around with me?
    – Jono
    Aug 28, 2010 at 13:47
  • @Jono: unlike live-session it doesn't rescan and doesn't reconfigure X.org each time you start it. So you might experience weird graphics issues on older computers.
    – Dima
    Aug 28, 2010 at 14:59
  • Oh. Well, in that case I'll stick to pendrivelinux.com for my portable persistent needs.
    – Jono
    Aug 29, 2010 at 11:04

If the computer is attached to the Internet, then use Wubi.



Maybe somebody from the Israeli locoteam is nearby and can help you out with a live-CD or USB or such? Try the chat, forums, etc.

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