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Running Linux from Xternal HD

Posted on 2003-10-30
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Last Modified: 2010-04-20
Hi guys..
   I'm trying to get learn Linux. I have laptop running XP Pro and i'm thinging of buying an external (USB) hard drive and load Linux in it.
Will this external HD act just like a partition ??
Can this external drive act as a bootable drive ??
These external hd's cost nearly $100..  just want to know before i actually buy one.

Thanks :)
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Question by:queryanalyzer
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by:queryanalyzer
ID: 9651729
Also its a AMD Athlon Mobile 2200+ processor....

Thanks :)
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Gns earned 25 total points
ID: 9651873
Hm interresting questions...

> Will this external HD act just like a partition ??
If usb-storage works OK, it'll mimic a SCSI hd.

> Can this external drive act as a bootable drive ??
This is a BIOS question in part.
You'll need the cooperation of the BIOS for the bootloader to be able to read the kernel and initrd (which will have to contain the requisite USB and usb-storage support)... In theory, it should work.
But I wouldn't expect a smooth ride:-).
One could possibly have the kernel etc on some other media (floppy, CD ...) if the BIOS doesn't want to play...

-- Glenn
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by:svenkarlsen
ID: 9654589
I'd say it should be quite possible, but will need some poking to run:

The basic setup would be to install some fairly new Linux (e.g. RedHat 9.1) on the external HDD and then configuring your machine to dual-boot (using the XP to take care of that).

As Glenn mention, the big question is whether the hard&firmware will support the new drive as bootable.

I started out just like you, but perhaps a bit simpler: I just bought a used HDD for my laptop and installed Linux directly on that, - i.e. I physically swap disks when I want to swap OS.

Of course this gave me the disadvantage of not being able to share files between the two OS's, but on the other hand, I could play with the dangerous toys, like parted (somethin like Partition Magic) and dd (a mean low-level copy function) without risking my precious serious data getting messed up or deleted.
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by:paullamhkg
ID: 9655246
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by:Gns
ID: 9656812
Thanks Paul for the illustration of some of the frustration one might get into(:-), and the type of things one might need do to get things working.

RedHat has never released any 9.1 version, but apart from that I'd have to agree with Sven that you'd probably be best of with as new a kernel as possible (which leads to getting as new a distribution of linux as possible), since you're likely to have better-working usb support (and hotplug support).
I've seen to many HDs toasted by continually swapping them to boot different OSes (usually a problem with "low-grade" IDE caddies) to really recommend that path... But of course it does work:-).

BTW Sven, you in Scandinavia? I'm in Stockholm (at least when I work:).

-- Glenn
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by:svenkarlsen
svenkarlsen earned 25 total points
ID: 9656966
I will have to aggree with glenn on the potential problem when switching HDD on a laptop, but I thought that was back in the 'old' days.

Anyhow: the bottom-line from the link supplied by Paul is, that it seems like you should not expect to be able to make a direct boot from a USB-HDD, and furthermore it looks like a little more than beginners task to create a floppy-boot-model to overcome the problems.

So what's the alternative ? Funny no-one has mentioned the good old loadlin.exe, - you can have your linux-files in a directory on your WinXXXX and just call loadlin.exe. The reason I don't recommend this is because Linux will not be able to access NTFS, so you will probably not be able to write to disk. Same thing goes for 'Live-Disk' solutions, where you boot Linux from a CD.

So whats left, if you don't want to swap HDDs, and can't use USB-HDD? I'd say you could consider how much room you have on your current HDD, - if you could spare about 2-3 GB for the Linux experiment I would suggest the following:
- get Partition Magic and shrink your current partitions to make room for Linux
- get A major Linux distribution (RedHat, S.u.S.E., Mandrake, etc..) in latest version
- READ THE MANUAL about best practice for installing for dual-boot solution

BTW: I run IBM Laptops for toys (701, 600, 390e, A20 and R30). Over the time, IBM have learned to drop those silly caddies, so now I don't have to buy extra caddies for my swapping.

I do a lot of disk-swapping (total of 9 laptops of above mentioned makes) when I play with different setups/combinations of Linux/Win and to this day I have never had a disk break down on me, so I believe it's possible if you're carefull.

But then again, maybe you shouldn't listen to me on HW subjects: I'm the guy who hot-swap SCSI devices without hot-swap HW ;-)


Glenn: Yes, - I'm in Copenhagen (same chair for work and pleassure :-)


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by:Gns
ID: 9657144
The reason noone mentioned loadlin is because it needs operate in REAL mode, so this precludes a boot XP. Unless someone has started working on loadlin again, and solved those problems:-).

Knoppix (http://www.knoppix.net) could be a viable option, but then with only swap and "user data" stored on the USB drive. Still is a very nice Linux-Live-CD.

As for HD swapping: Sure it works. Most of the times. If you're careful when you remove the drive (ie does as the manual tells you to... and be sure it has come to a full stop before fully removing it;). So it might be me you shouldn't be listening to:-).
That is (of course) provided your laptop is equiped with a removable hd caddy.

-- Glenn
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by:queryanalyzer
ID: 9687581
Thanks a lot guys...  appreciate all your answers.
Think i'm gonna split-up my HDD and do a minimum installation.
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