Linux on a usb flash drive

The drive on my very old dell inspiron laptop failed a while ago, so I decided to give it a new lease of life with a 4Gb usb flash drive. I know, it’s not a very big flash drive but that was part of the fun. All I had to do now was find a linux distro that would work…

I initially tried macpup 528 and puppy linux lupu 528 but they just didn’t seem stable on a flash drive – I have puppy linux on a dvd and it works ok. I tried slax but that simply failed to work at all – enter Porteus (which funnily enough, is slax based).

Porteus 2.1 comes in a few versions, given the low spec of the inspiron I went for the Mate version, which is a fork of the old gnome 2 desktop.


Porteus comes with a usb stick install script which failed for some reason. I used unetbootin instead and that installed Porteus 2.1 Mate to a 4Gb (fat formatted) usb stick without problems.

At first boot Porteus defaults to the ‘always live’ menu option. With a fat16 formatted usb stick you need to create a ‘save’ dat file that will keep any changes you make to the system and store your documents. You can do this easily from within Porteus and you can increase the size of your ‘save’ file at a later date if you need to.

In Use

Porteus boots to the desktop in about a 90 seconds and the Mate (gnome 2) desktop looks good. After downloading a driver via another pc, I was able to get the wireless card working via Mate’s Network Manager.

In use, the system is light and responsive – applications (including firefox and libreoffice) appear in a reasonable amount of time, although I did notice a short initial lag when typing a web search or at the start of a document.

Porteus comes with an ‘update’ app and ppm (porteus package management). There are enough apps available to build a good working system and you can always make your own or look on the forum.

Porteus make use of a number of ‘cheat’ codes that can be passed to the system at boot. Depending on what you want to achieve, there should be a cheat code combination that will get the job done. There is also good documentation on the porteus site.


Porteus does what it says on the tin. I now have a working laptop with a wifi connection and I can write documents and do email. I found the system well thought out and highly useable – it is sometimes hard to believe that a linux system is running from a £6.00 usb stick! Porteus 2.1 Mate is pretty impressive and it works.


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