Build a transportable pc on a USB stick

Linux, the loose and open-supply running machine, has fewer desktop customers than Windows and macOS. But it is also ways extra bendy. In truth, you can set up lots of its variations (Linux is available in several unique flavors, known as distributions or distros) on a USB stick. Once you’ve got created your transportable computer, without a doubt plug it right into a PC or Mac of your desire, boot it up from the power, and you are up and walking.

This mini-computer can include all your apps, packages, and documents. It clearly is like having a portable laptop within the palm of your hand. Much easier to tote around than a laptop, a USB pc comes in handy if you generally tend to exchange between an office and home pc and want to apply the identical packages on each. It’s also an excellent option to have if you need to borrow a pal’s computer without interfering with anything on there.

USB stick computer systems do have their downsides. As you may expect, for something, it truly is hundreds of bucks less expensive and lots smaller than a big device. You can only run primary apps, and the report gets entry to instances that are possible to be slower, especially if you’re using older USB 2.0 ports in place of the ultra-modern USB 3.0. You’re also confined using the space at the USB power, which can’t shape the biggest difficult drives. Finally, you still want a mouse, keyboard, and reveal to get the right of entry to the power’s contents and a preferred pc as well up from.


That said, these gadgets provide maximum flexibility and portability—and they’re spotless to installation. Read directly to learn the way.


What you want

The state-of-the-art variations of hardware could have modern-day speeds and technologies. So invest in a new USB pressure for this task, ideally one that works with USB 3.0. Choose a tool from a relied on the brand names like Kingston or SanDisk, and shell out for a good deal capacity (you will need at least 4GB) and velocity as you may come up with the money for. If you’re waffling between alternatives and want a clincher to select one, then pass for the force with the quickest examine speeds indexed in the specs.

For example, we might endorse a 64GB Kingston Data Traveler ($22.97 on Amazon) or a 32GB SanDisk Ultra CZ48 ($11.99 on Amazon). Once you have got the USB stick, you may need the software to head on it—which means it’s time to select a Linux distribution. Many unique distros can run on a USB in lots of specific configurations. Netrunner, Ubuntu, Porteous, Knoppix, Fedora, and Mint are all right alternatives, and you may discover more information about them at the above links. However, we went with a distinctive option.

Linux laptop

Many Linux distros, together with Ubuntu, can run from USB drives.


This manual will change the consciousness on the Raspberry Pi foundation’s Pixel OS; a Linux distro model referred to as Debian. We picked it for numerous motives: It’s easy to set up and function, it includes all of the fundamental apps you’re probably to need, and we are enthusiasts of the Raspberry Pi mini pc. The working device is free to download, and you may choose it up at this hyperlink. That said, the procedure best varies slightly from one version to any other. So if you decide on an extraordinary distro, feel unfastened to go together with that in preference to Pixel OS. If you need greater help, you may find plenty of reliable and unofficial commands, unique to each Linux model, available without spending a dime online.

Finally, you want a well-known laptop (whole with the keyboard, screen, the entire shebang) that may boot up from a USB power that covers quite a plenty of all machines sold inside the last 5 years. You’re best possible to run into issues if you’re plugging your drive into an ancient gadget or a brand new MacBook with no complete-sized USB ports. If you have a newer Apple laptop, you may have to buy an adapter dongle ($18.75 on Amazon) that lets you connect it to a trendy USB drive. Or you can rethink your flash power choice, and as an alternative select one that works with USB-C, together with the 64GB SanDisk Dual ($45.25 on Amazon).

Set up your USB stick
Etcher makes growing your USB pressure a breeze.
David Nield/Popular Science

Download the version of the Pixel OS document with an.Iso extension, as well as the Etcher application. The latter, a loose program for each Windows and macOS, makes the method of making your USB-stick computer very simple indeed.

To get commenced, plug your flash drive into your widespread laptop. Everything presently at the USB pressure will get wiped as Pixel OS is mounted—so ensure your stick doesn’t already hold irreplaceable cell phone pix or any other documents which you really need to hold.


Next, fireplace up Etcher at the pc, click Select Image, and select the Pixel OS ISO record you downloaded in advance. Click Select Drive to select your flash drive, and click Flash! The manner will take a couple of minutes, and then your Pixel-powered USB stick may be equipped to move.

Use your new pc

When you’re ready to apply your newly configured USB power, flip off the standard computer you intend to apply, insert the mini-computer into a spare port, then switch on the bigger machine and boot up from the USB pressure. On a macOS pc, you do that by conserving down the Option key while pressing the electricity button and then deciding on the USB power from the list. On Windows, you may press a characteristic button like F2 or F12 even as the laptop is turning on to look at a listing of bootable drives. Instructions for doing this generally seem as the laptop starts evolved up; however, if you’re now not certain, run a brief internet search using the PC’s producer and model.

Once you’ve got exactly the new USB force you need to boot from, Pixel OS will release. By default, it runs “with staying power,” this means that it shops all your files and app configurations as you move. If you’d favor going away with no trace of your sports on the mini pc (because of this that every time you boot up from it, you will have the enjoyment of a clean installation), you could run Pixel without patience. Hit Esc at some point of the boot series to accomplish that.

Pixel OS
It might not take you long to become familiar with Pixel OS.
David Nield/Popular Science

The pixel itself could be very truthful and easy to apply. To access your applications that consist of Chromium (on which Google Chrome is primarily based) for internet surfing and LibreOffice for phrase processing and different productivity needs, click on the Pi menu on the top-left nook the display.

This machine additionally supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi: Hit the Wi-Fi image inside the pinnacle proper corner of the display, and connect to a network by way of choosing one and coming into the password. If you’re going to walk the computer with staying power, you could see your stored documents by clicking the folders icon at the top menu bar. Pixel creates some default folders, like Music and Videos, to get you commenced; however, you may organize your facts however you want.

Look in the Accessories menu for useful utilities, such as a calculator and PDF viewer. And if you want to trade anything approximately the operating gadget, without a doubt, open up the Preferences menu. When you’re geared up to leave the computer you are on, use the main menu’s Shutdown choice. Then unplug your new Pixel OS USB force and take your computer away with you.

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