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Old 06-07-2016, 09:30 PM   #1
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Question Need advice and help installing some distro to an external hard drive

I would like to install Linux to an external hard drive to boot and run from.

So far, Arch was the most straight forward installation I did, but it was to the desktop computer I use and not a hard drive.

I am reasonable, so if you recommend a different distro, that's ok.

My needs are as follows:

Least intrusive to any OS on the computer. In other words, I want to avoid accessing any local storage devices whatsoever "no questions asked, this is a must".

I would like a high resolution console. This is also a must. When I load Arch Linux from the installation live cd, it loads a high resolution console, which is at 1920x1200. After searching about this, I simply ended up with linux confusion about vga modes and framebuffers. I have no idea what to do about it.

After that, package installation is not too difficult with Arch, so I should be ok.

My install base is the Arch boot cd, but I can install Ubuntu 16.04 (I would like to avoid this, because the Arch install cd has a much nicer console mode).

Oh almost forgot. I would like to make sure that this loads drivers at least like the Arch live cd. That pretty much boots any hardware, so in a worst case scenario, I have access to a console and Lynx (console browser).

Please keep it simple - I'm pretty limited with Linux knowledge.
Old 06-07-2016, 09:49 PM   #2
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If you are going to use Arch, you had better be prepared to read the (excellent) documentation. Including the wiki.
The "Beginners Guide" is generic, so you decide where to install - as in which device. The only gremlin I saw in the guide was it instructed to install grub to /dev/sda - that should also be generic; i.e. /dev/sdx (where you installed the system).
At the end it directs you to the "General Recommendations" article. Read that too.

Once a GUI environment is installed, the resolution should be detected automatically, just like the liveCD. As for the drives on the internal disk(s), they probably won't come up by default on Arch, but it's been a while since I did an install from nothing. Easy enough to rectify later.
Old 06-07-2016, 10:54 PM   #3
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Just about all of the top 20 distro's at distrowatch should be able to install to a usb drive.
Personally I either remove the internal hard drive or use a free virtual machine to prevent any access to the internal drive while installing. That's the easy part.

Hard part to follow.

You mention that you don't want to access the internal drive once booted, you'll need to remove either your user permission to mount drives or fix automount. Different distros do different things. At one time it used to be kinda hard to mount a drive but not is is almost automatic.

One sad part about linux would be that you can't fully transport your usb from machine to machine. There may be issues with how network attaches/drivers. Linux today tried to mess with how the video works to make a seamless boot experience and really messed it up more. You can still use vesa on most systems but having the added support for video cards may be needed. Not sure any distro is fool proof.
Old 06-08-2016, 10:30 PM   #4
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Thanks for the info. I looked at the wiki and the Beginner's Guide is very easy to follow, this I know. I also found some additional information on installing to usb flash which had some other pointers.

I have since then also started to look into the squashfs type install. Where you take a complete image like on a livecd or liveusb and transfer it to hard drive. I have not found any info on this yet, but I did manage an install like that with Knoppix. The install to hard drive feature of an earlier version does that with a wizard.

... and at last, I am also looking at Puppy Linux.
Old 06-08-2016, 11:20 PM   #5
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Just my two-cents: I have used Puppy Linux in the past entirely from a boot CD, however at boot unless a specific boot option is specified, the boot process scans drives for saved sessions and loads them. Aside from that, I found Puppy to be a great distro for troubleshooting.

I would recommend Arch because during setup, you can specify to genfstab that you want to use UUIDs instead of devices (/dev/sdXX) which is helpful if you want to be sure that the right hard disk is mounted at boot (though I'm not sure if you can guarantee that Grub won't possibly boot from the wrong disk).

Look into BackTrack, too. That's a forensics/pen-testing oriented distro that might do what you need.
Old 06-09-2016, 12:12 PM   #6
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I'd recommend Puppy. It's specifically designed to be unobtrusive. On a writable device you can store configuration and install extra software. When you run it, it copies the basic system onto a RAM disk and runs from that at full speed. When you shut it down, the host computer has no trace that it was ever there.
Old 06-09-2016, 08:35 PM   #7
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I'm a fan of squashfs to some degree. It is a good way for beginners to get going. It however limits how you can easily update your system. It is not a great solution for you I don't think. It would be much easier to make a proper install to the hard drive.

Yes, some distro's are made to run off a squashfs so if you want puppy or some of the clones of knoppix, you may need to run it that way.


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