The Windows XP of my father's old PC was utterly broken (no wonder), so I removed his 160 GB internal SATA-drive from his PC, took it at home, connected it via a universal USB connector for all kinds of old hard drives, and installed Xubuntu 14.04 onto it.

To install, I used my Dell Laptop Latitude 6400, also running Xubuntu (which does not matter in this problem), and the Xubuntu installation ISO burnt on a freshly formatted USB stick.

Everything worked fine, the installer even came to the very last point where it said "remove USB stick now and reboot" (or something similar).

But I just cannot get my Dell Laptop to boot from this (now) external hard drive, still connected via the USB adapter. I have googled now for more than 5 hours and followed all kinds of hints, but none of them works.

The only thing I can imagine that I have done wrong was when it came to the question "where do you want to install the master boot record on?"

During installation, my laptop had 3 drives available:

  • /dev/sda - internal HD of Dell laptop
  • /dev/sdb - USB stick with Xubuntu installation ISO on it
  • /dev/sdc - father's previously internal hard drive connected via USB

I chose /dev/sdc.

I have tried each and every boot sequence in the BIOS - nothing works. I have also tried boot tools such as the Universal Boot CD (ubcd). Now, as I have removed the USB stick, the external drive is recognized as /dev/sdb. When I explicitly boot from it, I either get a blank screen, or it just boots from /dev/sda (my laptop hard drive), or I get "Gave up waiting for root device" "/dev/disk/by-uuid/xxx does not exist".

What the hell do I have to do?

And if some day this problem is solved, can I just insert the drive back into my father's PC and will it boot from it?

I admit that I might not have completely understood what a MBR is. And then, there is GRUB. Or is it not?

Here comes my 19th nervous breakdown... (Rolling Stones)

up vote 2 down vote accepted

This is related to the firmware of your laptop or the controller in external enclosure. I for example know that my T530 is unable to detect my USB 3.0 HDD enclosures and thumb drives and let me boot from them after powering on the laptop, but with a warm reboot everything works. Another example is an external dock that doesn't play nice, partitioning some drives in it is different than connecting the same drive internally. From that experience, I'd say try another computer and another enclosure or install on the target machine. This should save you time spent chasing firmware bugs.

  • Sorry, but what is a "dock" and an "enclosure" in this context? Of course, installing on the target machine is the easiest way, but my father lives 100 km away, and on my last visit, I just did not have time left for the target machine. That is the source of the problem :-) But I will try to install from a different PC of mine, good idea! – ubuplex Apr 8 '15 at 23:44
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    @ubuplex "dock" = USB HDD dock, "enclosure" = USB HDD enclosure, few of these were ordered directly from china sites like dx.com and have standard ASMedia controllers. – LiveWireBT Apr 9 '15 at 0:05
  • Sorry, I am not a native speaker. In your comment, what is then the difference between a dock and an enclosure? An enclosure for a 3,5'' HD? Do you mean something like a "chassis"? What should that be for? – ubuplex Apr 9 '15 at 0:15
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    Sorry, I'm not a native speaker either. There shouldn't be a difference between an adapter, enclosure or dock. All of these contain (almost the same) controllers to attach the device to a computer, but USB massstorage access is different from SATA, I don't know all the details though. – LiveWireBT Apr 9 '15 at 1:12

I can't quite tell what you did from your description, but the easy way(s) to make a bootable USB stick are:

mkusb
startup disk creator

both are GUI apps. You can't just write the ISO to the stick like a DVD.

  • My question is not about making a bootable USB stick. I already have one: The one from which I installed to the external-internal HD. – ubuplex Apr 8 '15 at 23:40
  • "You can't just write the ISO to the stick like a DVD." That's untrue, especially for Ubuntu (see (Ubuntu wiki)[help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/FromUSBStick]) – Karl Richter Apr 9 '15 at 0:13
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    Yes, I know. I used the excellent mkusb script (help.ubuntu.com/community/mkusb), which I have used a 100 times before. I even used the same stick of the problem description above to successfully install Xubuntu on my father's old laptop, so it definitely works. – ubuplex Apr 9 '15 at 8:02
  • Er, Karl, I'd like to know how: the wiki help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/FromUSBStick (slightly different URL) says to use startup-disk-creator – John P. Fisher Apr 9 '15 at 17:06
  • Sorry Ubuplex, I assume the laptop doesn't have an optical drive? – John P. Fisher Apr 9 '15 at 17:10

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