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Can you buy a 128 gb flash drive, and install Linux directly to that instead of your hard drive? So every time you want to use Mint, Ubuntu, Debian, e.t.c, you could boot from the flash drive, and all your files and settings would be there?
Yes it's possible, during installation just select your target drive as your usb flash drive. Let's say if it's /dev/sdb then select /dev/sdb during the installation, but make sure what drive letter is your target usb (/dev/sdb, or /dev/sdc etc). After you finish installation and on subsequent use that USB will be persistent ('files and settings would be there')
You can definitely do it, though there's still computers around that won't boot from usb either because they're pretty old, or sometimees UEFI can be a pain. If you have a computer with UEFI, there's ways to make it work but one of the easiest things you can do is go into the settings and switch it to "Legacy Mode" or "Bios Mode".
I'd suggest you do a normal install just like you'd do to larger internal drives.
Your best bet is to remove internal hard drive to prevent any accident. Then boot to the dvd/cd of your choice and install it to the usb. In some computers you may have to first boot to bios to view usb as a hard drive choice. In almost all newish systems the usb will be a hard drive as opposed to what you'd think is a usb choice.
You don't need 128G. I have many many usb flash drives 16G and under. Just depends how much you need. If you want you can use an external hard drive instead of that expensive usb flash 128G.
Use a 4G flash and you might wish to look at pendrivelinux.com for how to do a live to usb sort of cheat. That pendrive install is good for speed as it has a compressed image to save space too.
I have a good gui distro on 128m (meg) flash.
There are some work arounds for older systems that can't boot to usb.
A system with hardware problems will still need to be fixed.