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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ubuntu on an external hard drive - It's a megablast!

Wow, it's just such a thrill to have ubuntu sitting here on a portable drive!!

I just hooked my external drive to the IBM Thinkpad laptop I use for my job.

True, for some reason, I had to install the drive first under Windows XP (I'd expected the BIOS to pick it up right away, but it didnt), but after that, I could boot Ubuntu right away, just like I did on my desktop upstairs.

(Some people might regard it as a bit of a makeshift solution, but I like having the internal hard drive as the default boot device. During startup, I just hit whatever function key BIOS happens to accept to pop up a list of boot devices - F8 on my desktop, F12 on my laptop - and pick my external hard-drive if I want to boot Ubuntu. It makes sense, I really cannot be sure the external drive is hooked up, whereas It's safe to assume the interal hard drive's still there ;-).

So, Ubuntu has just awoken in this strange, new, compact body. From there, I used the graphical "networking" tool to set up my wireless adapter (built-in in my thinkpad, my desktop uses and old fashioned umbilical chord) and lo-and-behold: here I am, sitting in the living downstairs, with my laptop posting this.

I admit, I did reboot once after tinkering with the wireless adapter configuration. It just would not work at once, and the rebooting reflex is kinda engraved in my backbone, being a Windows user since the 3.11 version.

Thanks again Dave (a.k.a. DaBruGo), I really, really am so much obliged to you for posting this solution of yours!! I'll just repeat it here: those that want to have a dual boot solution for ubuntu and they want ubuntu to sit on an external drive, look no further! This thread in the ubuntu forums contains indispensible valuable information. Right, people are even posting replies that tell you how to do this with an USB flash memory stick, imagine that!


Tim said...

hmm.. had to install the drive in windows.. i wonder where this is all going.

i have the 2nd external hard drive that wont show up in linux (both usb drives).

i wonder if you kood unmount it (eg. sudo umount /dev/sda* or whatever the device / partitions are) and print the partitions reported by fdisk. fdisk doesn't recognize mine for some reason.

Roland Bouman said...


it's not much help now, but quite often, Linux hardware detection problems can fixed if you spend some time on it.

A simple check to start with - did you try switching the drives? Maybe there is something wrong with the USB socket.

My advice is that you turn to the Ubuntu forums (if you are running Ubuntu) or try the #ubuntu channel on freenode for more detailed help.

People there can help you set up your hardware manually. Although I use Ubuntu as my primary operating system, I'm don't have enough technical knowledge of Linux to be able to offer any real help.

Kind Regards,

Roland Bouman

Joe said...

I could possibly do the same, but I'm curious as to why? I'm looking for a way to manage a long list of files on my external drive for quick easy access like a file server - I'm on an Intel Mac, and I have all these images I'm trying to organize and I'm thinking of creating a sort of database for them that's searchable, and I would like to host the thing on the external drive where I work, but I'm having trouble finding anything like this on the web, sure I could just use the regular search/spotlight stuff built in but it has no interface really specifically design for what I want - is linux on an external drive going to be a step in the right direction? I know it's vague but could you elaborate on the benefits of linux being used in this manner? - feel free to email me directly. josephlundeen (a) gmail -com

Roland Bouman said...


for me the external drive was just the easiest way to not mess up my windows installation. It allowed me to run a 'real' ubuntu (as opposed to a live cd experience). In addition, I found the idea of being able to 'plug in' an OS of choice thrilling. This is simply out of the question with windows, and I just admired to flexibility of it.

I doubt whether a hard drive alone is going to be suitable for your purpose though. You see, suppose you do install linux on that hard drive...that does not turn your hard drive into a computer. So, in order to actually work with the data on the hard drive, you still need some device that is capable of mounting the drive and run at least the linux kernel.

I guess what you should be looking for is a portable NAS (network attached storage, or network drive). I am not an expert, but take a look here to get the idea:

hope this helps,


Confessions of a Flea Market Rez' Queen! said...

Roland. You did this on a Thinkpad? If you have any experience with Rescue and Recovery would you happen to know how I can get into the parition that holds my Rescue partition? I can't get no help from anyone on this!

I installed Ubuntu and now my option for F11 recovery is not there. I do see a FAT32 hidden partition which I'm assuming is the recovery portion.


Roland Bouman said...

Hi Flea Market Rez' Queen,

I did this on an external Maxtor drive that was connected through USB. It worked for both my Desktop (Packard Bell) and Laptop (Thinkpad r51p)

The point of using an external drive was not to mess up the internal hard disk and existing windows installation + data.

I'm sorry if you accidentally broke your system. I can't give any good advice on how to solve it - you should find someone near you that can take a look at your computer and try to help you out.

GOod luck, I hope you'll manage to recover your system.