[nSLUG] Linux on Laptop and External USB Drive

Michael Crawford mdcrawford at gmail.com
Fri Sep 22 15:02:43 ADT 2006

On 9/20/06, Preston Smith <prbasmith at gmail.com> wrote:
> I would like to install Linux...
> I have 250 GB external USB drive which I plan to use to backup both my
> laptop and PC.  Could I install separate Linux OS partitions for both
> computers on this drive instead of installing on the respective HDs?

Yes, you can install Linux on an external USB drive.  It helps if your
laptop's BIOS supports booting from USB, but if it doesn't there is
still a way to get what you want.

You need to roll a custom initrd that includes the USB and SCSI kernel
modules.  It's not hard if you have ever made a custom initrd, but it
will be frustrating if this is your first one ever.

I have done it a couple times now and have been meaning for eons to
write up a HOWTO, but regret I won't have the time to do so for at
least a little while.

Maybe someone else at NSLUG who has made custom initrds can walk you through it.

Just to make things difficult, different distros have different ideas
as to how initrds should be made, so my Fedora Core initrd might not
work for the distro you use.  Even if you run Fedora, it won't work
unless you're running the exact same kernel version as I use.

If your laptop doesn't support booting off of USB, you can store your
kernel in your Windows root partition and install grup on your drive's
boot sector, with the later stages also on your Windows drive.  Grub
can boot windows just fine and will be able to parse the NTFS or FAT
filesystem format to find your kernel.

That's how I do it on my older PC.  I had to install a USB2 card that
doesn't have a boot BIOS.

Reinstalling XP will overwrite your Grub root partition but it is easy
to reinstall it.

Mike Crawford
mdcrawford at gmail dot com


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