Welcome to the part 1 of Installing Linux on USB series. Last week I made an announcement that I am planning to write a series of article on Installing Linux on USB drives – Hard Drive and Jump Drive. Also I had created a poll (my first ever poll!) to see how much interest is there regarding this topic. So let’s get started with Part1…

Purpose: Many people loosely use the term USB hard drive and USB jump drive interchangeably. In fact they are not the same – surprised? I was too but when I first discovered that. You may ask, “OK so what has this to do with installing Linux on USB devices?” And this is what exactly I am going to answer for you guys in this post.

Generally speaking (and correct me if I am wrong), USB devices falls under two classes:

1. USB Hard drives

2. USB flash/jump/thumb drive

Note: From now on we will just the term “flash” which implies “thumb” and “jump” drives also. In short,

Jump drive = Flash drive = Thumb drive = Pen drive =  Key chain drive.

Let’s look at some of differences between the two:


USB Hard drive

USB Flash Drive


Exactly like IDE hard drive but comes in an enclosure with a IDE to USB interface

It is made up of non-moving parts unlike USB hard drives.


Large in size just like traditional hard drive (> 40 GB)

Usually smaller in size – Ranging from 128 MB to 32 GB

Moving Parts

Yes, just like traditional IDE Drives

No moving parts. It is a solid state device (SSD)

Performance/Data transfer

Fast (with USB 2.0)

Slow even with USB 2.0*

Reliability/Ruggedness (from data loss)


More (because of no moving parts)

Linux (Debian) installation


Not so straightforward

GRUB support

Yes 100% (no issues)

Fails some of the times**


* I am still not 100% sure on this one. I am researching on this meanwhile.

** I did had success installing GRUB couple of times and was able to boot also.


1. Both can store data even when power is turned off

2. Both plug into USB port of the computer

3. They both are recognized as /dev/sdX by the Linux kernel i.e. as SCSI devices.

where ‘X’ stands for driver letter – sda or sdb or sdc and so on.

In my next post you will see that installing on USB Hard Drive is a very simple process and don’t need any special trick or step to do it as compared to USB flash drives. As you must have guessed by now why is this the case – because of the above mentioned differences – specially the SSD (Solid Storage Device) one.

Finally if you notice any errors or you do not agree with the above differences feel free to comment.

As usual, please leave a comment/feedback if you have any. Comments encourages bloggers to post more and keep their spirits high.

Also please don’t forget to rate this post below.

Part 2: Install Debian Lenny on USB Hard Drive

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