I am planning to install Ubuntu 11.04 on a portable hard drive (no external power supply, typically 5400 rpm, USB 2.0, 250 GB). This way I wont have to install apps on every machine I work on. I will just boot off this HDD whenever I am working. I have seen lot of similar questions and have gained some idea of how to do it.

What i need to know is -

  1. What will be the os boot speed, and response time of general applications like firefox, eclipse/netbeans, gimp, inkscape etc? Will there be noticeable difference than internal hard drives? At least it should not drag as it does with live-USB using a regular usb stick.
  2. Given that I will be using it heavily, are portable HDD more prone to wear and tear?
  3. I will make atleast 3 partitions, one for OS (ubuntu), one for home, and one for other data that I want to be visible from windows (like media, photos etc). If I format the external hard drive's 1st two partitions in ext4 and 3rd in NTFS, will that be fine with windows and linux?
  4. Should I create swap space?
  5. Is there any particular ubuntu distro, thats optimized for such (by storing all caches on RAM and mimimizing HDD writes)


  1. Installing Ubuntu on external hard disk
  2. Modification on USB bootable drive
  3. External USB hard drives - what speeds should be expected?

I've my Ubuntu installed on 500GB external drive and here are my observations: My computer specs: 2.4 GHz 8600 stepping processor and 4GB DDR2 RAM

  1. I didn't see any significant difference for boot time until I switched to development branch kernel however even then booting time never been more than 2 minutes. As for applications I don't use InkSpace however I use gimp and there is no noticeable difference there either.

  2. I don't know yet -- using it for last 6-8 months.

  3. Partitions should be no problem.

  4. I don't have swap as I've 4GB RAM and I never overuse it, depends on how much RAM you have.

  5. I don't know. I'm using Ubuntu11.04 its working good for me as of now.

In any case its portable HD we are talking about you can try installing it use it for a while if you don't like it just format it and use for general purpose :)

Good luck :)

|improve this answer|||||
  • Thanks for answering. I am going to buy a new HDD for this. My existing portable HDD has backup and don't want to mess that up. Just wanted to know if this is gonna work well before making the purchase:) – kunal Jul 27 '11 at 19:19
  • Have fun :) Here is something to be noted assuming your computer allows USB booting, when you connect external HDD to other computer you may need to explicitly go in BIOS and change boot to USB and restart it once. – wisemonkey Jul 27 '11 at 20:18
  • to add: you may also have to go to the BIOS every time after you unplugged the device, and of course then also in every other machine. – Takkat Jul 27 '11 at 20:37
  • I don't need to go to BIOS every time I unplug as long as I'm reconnecting it to same machine. – wisemonkey Jul 27 '11 at 22:04

To install it it left a comment above with what i did.

  1. Boot speed: about ~4 minutes (in my case i used an SDcard).From the Usual ~30 seconds.

    Responsiveness:Inkscape loaded in ~2 minutes, Chrome took a bit longer overall performance felt like a netbook.It is faster than using the live session but not as fast as it would be in a SATA Hard drive.Of course it also depends on the specifications of the PC you plug it in and the external drive you're using.

  2. I think not really, they are still Hard drives and depends on the Manufacturer.
  3. Yes that'll be fine.
  4. I personally think you shouldn't unless you are going to use the External drive on a PC that has no drive and on which you are going to Suspend to disk (Hibernate), besides SWAP (if used) causes a lot of drive activity, wearing the drive faster.
  5. Ubuntu official derivatives,no.Ubuntu based-distros,yes.Of course Ubuntu itself can do that (Ubuntu wiki).
|improve this answer|||||
  • Regarding the speed, your observations apply to SD card, what about portable HDD? with 4 min boot time and 2 min for inkscape, I would probably not install it. because I intend to use it as primary platform to work on. – kunal Jul 27 '11 at 17:09
  • Of course, it should be faster (just don't expect it to run like a regular SATA 5.400rpm drives) but seeing as the speed of the drive you are to use, USB 2.0 isn't the fastest for heavy workload, i recommend you if possible an e-sata drive or a USB 3.0 drive or just a faster USB 2.0 drive.You should also check the read/write speeds of the drive. – Uri Herrera Jul 27 '11 at 17:13

I have Ubuntu 11.04 installed on a OLD IDE hard drive that I pulled from a non-working desktop. I installed the hard drive in an enclosure, and then installed Ubuntu 11.04 on it. Partitioning was pretty straight-forward, as long as you know what your doing. As for performance, I have seen no major impact on performance. Yes, it is a little slower than what it would be on an internal SATA hard drive, but it's definitely usable. It's a much better alternative to dual-booting, especially if the computer is a family computer, and the other family members don't want to me to fool around with dual-booting and possibly messing up the Windows partition.

  1. My boot time is under 1 minute. And remember that the drive I'm using is about 10 years old. Response time is slightly reduced. Not very noticeable on my system.

  2. It all depends on the manufacturer. But I don't think they wear out more quickly than an internal drive would.

  3. Yes the partitions should be fine. :)

  4. If you have plenty of RAM installed, you shouldn't need any swap.

  5. Sorry, I don't think there are.

|improve this answer|||||

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.