Installing from a USB

I had never installed an operating system from a USB stick. However, I had to deal with a netbook (dual core Atom CPU and 1 GB of RAM) that had no CD-ROM. It was not for my own use, so I ended up installing Lubuntu, but I tried Slackware first just to see how it runs.

I downloaded the Slackware 14.1 usbboot.img from here, got an empty flash drive, plugged it in and made sure it was not mounted. Then I run:

fdisk -l

to see what device name (X below) it was assigned. Then, following the instructions nicely provided, I did:

dd if=usbboot.img of=/dev/sdx bs=1M

The dd command expects the name of a device, not a partition, so you should use /dev/sdx instead of /dev/sdx1. There is a warning in the instructions that I have to quote:

Be careful about the device name for your USB stick! The above ‘dd’ command will wipe out any existing data on the device, so you had better be sure that it is not the SATA hard disk you’re targeting!

The USB image is small, so it took very little time for it to be copied to the stick.

For boot options, apparently I had to be pressing ESC upon netbook startup. However I did not know that at the time, so in stead I went to BIOS to check the boot order, saw that the USB stick is listed first and was even recognized, exited BIOS and the computer just booted from the stick! I later tried several other distros, but Slackware was the only one that was able to boot like that. Unpacking the kernel took a while, but after that I did a regular netinstall. I selected XFCE as a desktop and it ran very well, consuming less than 150MB of RAM.

Now for copying a whole ISO image on a USB stick I checked the corresponding section of Slackware’s wiki and something from Ubuntu. In case the ISO is not hybrid it has to be converted with isohybrid before copying it to the USB stick:

isohybrid slackware-13.1-install-dvd.iso
dd if=slackware-13.1-install-dvd.iso of=/dev/sdx

Well, in the end I just got a Lubuntu 14.04 alternative installer and following the above instructions (it is already a hybrid ISO) copied it to the USB stick. Plugged it in the netbook, pressed ESC several times and was presented with a boot options menu. After that the installation was quite straightforward, I even managed to do the netinstall through my wireless network. The system boots fine, only the screen stays black during the boot process and I don’t like not knowing what’s going on. Althought advertised as a very “lightweight” system, Lubuntu did not run noticeably faster than Slackware with XFCE, but whatever…

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