I'm looking for a Ubuntu installation that runs from a USB flash drive. I do not want a desktop, all I need is a shell. It should be as small and fast as possible.

I currently work with Debian on a CubieBoard (cubian) and I really like it. I now bought a new system which has an intel CPU & a nVidia GPU. I was advised to switch to Ubuntu for better driver support.

Is there such an ISO image for USB? or maybe a way to create it myself (with limited Linux knowledge)?

Thanks in advance for your time!

  • 1
    "I do not want a desktop, all I need is a shell. It should be as small and fast as possible." in this case you could probably boot Ubuntu Server Edition. Regardless of the name, it's a minimal Ubuntu version with a prompt only as default. If not, try Lubuntu or Xubuntu for desktops (but very light desktops) if that is tolerable.
    – pzkpfw
    Mar 17, 2014 at 15:55
  • @bigbadonk420 This is more of an answer than and comment.
    – user68186
    Mar 17, 2014 at 15:58
  • Well it's such a non-answer I would feel bad getting karma for it. A good answer would entail how to put Ubuntu on a USB and have it boot to prompt only by default. I think Ubuntu Server still gives you a menu and assumes that you actually want to install it (not run it live). Also there's the question of persistency which you likely want on a bootable USB Linux.
    – pzkpfw
    Mar 17, 2014 at 15:59
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    nim, this is not clear. I suppose you want an Ubuntu without desktop but you do need to run some graphic application on it, otherwise I can't understand why you are interested to the nVidia drivers. And BTW, which architecture (intel, Arm, whatever) is your PC?
    – Rmano
    Mar 17, 2014 at 16:04
  • 1
    it's an intel system. the reason why i need nvidia drivers (while not having a desktop) is, that the gpus are only used for calculations using the cuda 5.5 kit.
    – nim
    Mar 17, 2014 at 18:05

1 Answer 1


Have you tried installing one of the minimal Ubuntu iso's?

You can find them here:

That way you can pick and choose exactly what features you want when installing. I've successfully installed one of these on a USB that runs on a thin client with just 128Mb RAM (with a blackbox wm)

  • is it possible to install that to an USB stick? or do I need to download a special image?
    – nim
    Mar 17, 2014 at 19:05
  • Yes you can install it to USB via your computer, though you have to be very careful not to accidentally wipe your hard drive! A safer option, but requires more work is to install Ubuntu minimal to a VM and use Clonezilla to make a copy of the installed VM. The copy can then be installed to a USB by running Clonezilla in another VM with the USB plugged into the VM.
    – lloowen
    Mar 17, 2014 at 20:22
  • just a short question: does the MinimalCD somehow have a limitation for the number of GPUs? Everything wokrs fine when I run the system with two cards, but as soon as I add another card, nvidia-smi stops working and just gives me a: Unable to determine the device handle for GPU 0000:03:00.0: Unknown Error
    – nim
    Mar 20, 2014 at 1:56
  • i switched from 12.10minimal to 13.10 server and now it's working as expected. thanks again.
    – nim
    Mar 20, 2014 at 17:21

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