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Running Linux from a USB drive

This tutorial is shows you how to create a bootable Linux USB drive on Windows for:

  • Running Linux from a USB drive  to try out Linux without making any changes to your computer.
  • Install Linux from a USB drive.

Rufus - Tool used to create bootable USB drive.

There are many free tools for creating Bootable Linux or Windows USB drives, I  recommend Rufus, it's very easy to use, faster and more reliable than its competitors.
Download Rufus at


There are few hundred Linux distributions in the market. Ubuntu and Linux Mint are the most popular distributions. Linux Mint run faster on older machine and more easier to use, it's still support 32 bit machine.  You'll need a 2 GB USB drive for creating Linux Mint bootable USB drive, or 4 GB USB drive for Ubuntu. You can try any Linux distributions, the creating and installing procedure is almost the same.

Linux Mint comes in 3 different editions, Cinnamon, MATE and xfce, you can choose any edition, but choose the 32-bit or 64-bit version that your machine is supported, to check what is your machine processor, open the Settings window by typing "Settings" in search bar or pressing Windows+i keys, and click on System > About, check the "System type" entry whether is x64 based processor (64 bit processors) or x86 (32 bit processors).

Open Rufus from the Downloads folder.

Device - select the USB device you want to use from the drop-down list.

Boot selection - is "Disk or ISO image",  click on SELECT button to select the download Linux ISO file.

Persistent partition size
This is an option to create a Linux USB drive with persistent storage, any changes you make to the system will be stored in the storage, but there are some limitations, you can't change system files, install drivers and persistence doesn't work with some Linux distributions.

Partition scheme - MBR (Master Boot Record) old standard BIOS partition table, and the Target system will be BIOS or UEFI .
GPT (GUID Partition Table) new standard for newer PCs, the Target system will be UEFI only.

Format Options - keep the default settings.
Volume label - Enter any label name.
File system - FAT32
Cluster size - 4096 bytes

First, I will create a Linux Mint xfce 32 bit version for my old PC with BIOS system, and later I will create another Linux Mint xfce 64 bit version for my newer PC with UEFI system. 
Select linuxmint-19.3-xfce-32bit and settings as above picture and click on START button.
Click on OK button to select default "write in ISO image mode" option in pop-up window. 

 All your data on the USB drive will be deleted, click on OK button if you confirm to do so.
The process may take a few minutes to complete, and the USB drive is ready to use for running or installing Linux Mint.                

There are 2 things to do before you can use the Linux USB drive.

Create Free Space on Windows for Linux Mint Install.

It's Optional, if you select "install Linux Mint alongside with Windows" (dual boot) during installation, the hard disk will be auto partitioned by the installer, but if you want to specify the size of partition to use for Linux Mint, you'll need to allocate free (unallocated) space in your hard disk, to do this, you can use Windows "Disk Management" to shrink the partition and leave it as unallocated space.

Right click on Start Menu and then select "Disk Management", or type "disk management" in the Search Box and choose "Create and format hard disk partitions" from the results list.

Check the partition and free space from the table, right click the partition you would like to shrink and select "Shrink Volume", it needs to take some time to querying volume for available shrink space.

Enter the amount of space to shrink in MB on next screen, Linux Mint required minimum 15 GB of disk space.

The window below shows an unallocated space after shrinking, just leave it as unallocated space, the Linux Mint installation program will auto install in unallocated space if you choose "Install Linux Mint alongside with Windows" option.

Change BIOS Setting to Boot from USB Drive.

Insert USB drive into a USB port.
Press the power button on your computer, and press F1,F2,F10 OR DEL depends on your computer brand.
Asus: F2 or DEL.
Dell: F2 or F12
HP: F10
Lenovo: F1 or F2

The BIOS setup screen will appear, using the arrow keys move to the "Boot" tab, check the Boot Order, using arrows key to select the USB drive and using + key move to the 1st order.
Press F10 to Save the change and Exit BIOS setup screen, the computer should now boot from the USB drive if it inserted into a USB port, remove it from a USB port if you want booting from hard disk. 

Once the computer boot-up from the USB drive, a Linux start up screen should appear on your monitor.

You can run or install Linux Mint from here.
Choose Start Linux Mint and press Enter key to continue.

Now you can try out Linux Mint, it comes with a wide range of pre-installed software, including Firefox, LibreOffice and Gimp.

Let's install Linux Mint. Double-clicking on install Linux mint icon.

Select the language on the first screen.

On the next screen, "install 3rd party software for graphic etc.",  leave the box unchecked and click on continue button.

Next screen, you have to choose installation type, select "Install Linux Mint alongside Windows" option, the installer will auto partition the hard disk and install Linux Mint on it, or if you have created an unallocated partition, the installer will install in the unallocated partition.

If you want to erase all operating system and data on this computer and install Linux Mint, select 2nd option "Erase disk and install Linux Mint".

Select option 3 "Something else" if you want to do partition manually.

First option "Install Linux Mint alongside Windows" is the most easiest way.

Click on "Install Now" button, and click on Continue button for the next screen if you are confirmed it is ok to write the changes to disk.

On next screen, select your timezone.

Next, Enter your user details.

The installation process will take a while.
After the installation has finished, click on Restart Now button, and remove the USB drive.

Your computer start up screen should look like the screen below, now you can select Linux Mint or Windows 10 on the computer.

Create an UEFI Bootable Linux USB drive

Now we try to create a 64 bit UEFI bootable Linux Mint USB drive.

Open Rufus, select 64 bit Linux Mint ISO file and select GPT in Partition scheme.

Click on "Start" button to proceed. 

After the bootable Linux Mint USB drive is created, insert it into a USB port and restart the Windows system.
There are 2 ways to restart the Windows 10.
Method 1: Click on Windows "Start" > "Power" and hold down Shift key and click on "Restart".

Method 2: Open the "Settings app" and go to "Update & Security".
Select" Recovery" on the left, scroll down to the "Advanced startup" section and click on "Restart Now" button. 


The computer will reboot to a special screen as follows, select "Use a device".

Next, click on "EFI USB Device", the system will then boot from the USB drive. 

The Linux Mint 20 Xfce boot up menu should appear as follows, you can run or install Linux Mint by choosing the options from the menu. 

The UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) is more complicated, and not all Linux distributions are supported. You may need to disable the Secure Boot in the UEFI settings.

To disable the Secure Boot, you'll need to restart the Windows system.

The screen should appear as follows, click on "Troubleshoot" option.

Next, click on Advance options.

On Advanced options screen, click on UEFI Firmware Settings.

Click on Restart button on the right bottom of the screen, your computer will reboot and display the UEFI settings screen.

The UEFI screen are different on different computers, but most options will be available, Use the arrow key move to "Security" menu, and down arrow key to choose Secure Boot option, press Enter key to change the setting to Disabled.

IF you want your computer to boot from your USB drive, you can change the boot order from the "Boot" menu.

Move to Exit tab and select "Exit Saving Changes".

Installing 64 bit Linux on 64 bit Computer with 32 bit EFI Boot Loader.

Some 64 bit UEFI computer comes with 32 bit EFI boot loader, if you want to install 64 bit Linux on it, you'll need to download the bootia32.efi file and copy it into a Linux 64 bit UEFI USB drive EFI\BOOT folder.

Insert the USB drive into a USB port, restart the computer, and you should able to boot it on 32 bit  EFI boot loader computer and run or installing 64 bit Linux distribution. 


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