How To Create a Linux Mint Persistent Live USB

March 27, 2014 by
Filed under: HowTo, linux, Linux Mint 

Linux Mint is the most popular Ubuntu based Linux distribution. Some would argue that it's even more popular than Ubuntu itself. Because of its Ubuntu base, Linux Mint shares a lot of the same great features with its parent distribution while offering a more traditional desktop design. One big feature that Linux Mint is missing though is the ability to create a Live USB stick with persistent storage. In this tutorial I'll show how to create a Linux Mint Persistent Live USB drive using UNetbootin and GParted.

What you'll need

You'll need a few things before you get started. I'll be using an installation of Linux Mint 13 to create the Live USB in this tutorial, so it will be easiest to follow along if you're running Linux Mint, Ubuntu, or something similar. While it should be possible to do this from Windows since both UNetbootin and GParted have Windows versions available, I'll only be covering how to do this from Linux. You could use a standard Linux Mint Live CD or USB as your build system if you want.

Second, you'll need the ISO image of Linux Mint. UNetbootin should be able to download it for you, but I prefer to just download it separately ahead of time. I'll be using the 32 bit version of Linux Mint 16, MATE Edition for mine, but other versions should work just as well.

Download Linux Mint 16 ISO - torrent links:

Affiliate Link

Third, you'll need to have UNetbootin installed on your Linux system. You should be able to find it in your distro's repositories. If you're running Linux Mint or Ubuntu, you should be able to install it with:

sudo apt-get install unetbootin

Or, just click: install UNetbootin

And finally, you'll need a USB flash drive or SD card that's at least 2 GB in size. The larger your USB stick is, the more room you'll have for persistent storage.

Preparing the flash drive

Now that we have everything we need, it's time to get started.

The first task is to create a couple of partitions on the flash drive.

WARNING: This process will erase all the data on your flash drive. Make sure any files you need are backed up.

To avoid confusion, you may want to unplug any other USB drives from your system. Now plug in the flash drive you want to use for your persistent USB stick and open up GParted. If GParted is not already installed on your system, open up a terminal window and install it with:
sudo apt-get install gparted

Select your USB drive from the device drop-down in the upper right corner.

GParted

If there are any existing partitions on your drive, right click on them and select Unmount, then right click again and select Delete Partition. Your drive should now be shown with only unallocated space.

GParted unallocated

Next, right click on the unpartitioned space and select New. Set the size of the new partition to 1500 MiB, set the File system to fat32 and click Add.

GParted Live Partition

The next step is to create the persistent partition. Right click on the remaining unallocated space and select New. This time choose ext2 as the file system type and set the Label to casper-rw, then click Add.

GParted Persistent Partition

Now you need to apply the changes to the flash drive. Go to Edit->Apply All Operations.

GParted Apply All Partitions

As long as you're sure you picked the correct drive, click Apply at the warning pop-up.

The final task in GParted is to set the boot flag on your boot partition. Right click on the first partition and select Manage Flags. Mark the box next to boot and then click Close.

GParted Set Boot Flag

GParted Complete

GParted Complete

Write the ISO with UNetbootin

Open UNetbootin and select the radio button for Diskimage. Click the "..." button and navigate to Linux Mint ISO that you downloaded previously. Make sure that USB Drive is selected and that first partition of your USB drive is listed as the drive. If you're unsure of your drive letter assignments, use the lsblk command in a terminal to check them.

lsblk output

Next, enter 100 in the field labelled "Space used to preserve files across reboots (Ubuntu only):".

When you have the UNetbootin window looking like the image below, click OK to start writing the image to your USB drive.

UNetbootin

When UNetbootin is done writing the image, DO NOT click the Reboot Now button. Hit Exit instead because we have one more change to make to the USB drive.

Open the boot partition of your Linux Mint Persistent Live USB drive in your file manager. Select the casper-rw file and delete it.

Linux Mint Live USB

Delete casper-rw

Congratulations! You now have a Linux Mint Persistent Live USB drive. You can now reboot your computer to boot into your USB drive and give it a try.

Here's a picture of my Linux Mint Persistent Live USB running on my netbook.

Linux Mint Persistent Live USB

Linux Mint Persistent Live USB

You can now use your bootable USB to install Linux Mint on another system, edit documents, browse the internet, or whatever you want.

Credit: This post by usbtux on the Linux Mint forums provided the basics of this tutorial.

This content was authored by Linerd and originally appeared on Tux Tweaks at http://tuxtweaks.com/2014/03/create-linux-mint-persistent-live-usb/

Comments

16 Responses to “How To Create a Linux Mint Persistent Live USB”

  1. WMarkH says:

    Very helpful, thank you. This worked like a champ and I'm betting it would be fantastic with USB 3. As-is, it is usable, but slow. I'm not willing to run without updates and the first full update ate up over 2 GB of data space, but my experience is that this shouldn't grow that much more. (I built this for a friend whose on-board HDD controller went bad. He should be able to get another year or two on that old laptop just running from a thumb drive.)

    I'm betting USB 3 and systems with more memory will open up some very interesting possibilities in persistent Linux. What I'd really like to see is a major distro that loads as much as possible into memory at all times (like Puppy) in order to minimize reads/writes to storage. That way it would be possible to just install to a thumb drive and not mess around with all the work-arounds in Live / Persistent Linux configurations. I could carry my "personal computer" around with me on my key chain (encrypted of course).

  2. LesStrater says:

    Thank you for this excellent tutorial! I followed it to the letter and it worked perfectly. I have a couple comments that may help others in the future.

    I didn't have a Linux system to use, so I download a live version of GParted. After burning the iso file to a CD, I booted up on it and followed the above instructions. I started with a clean format on an 8GB flash drive, so before I could hit "New" for the first time, I had to "Create Partition Table" in the "Device" menu.

    I set the Fat32 partition at 2500 MiB to allow allow a bit more space for the OS in case of updates, addons, etc. And finally, when finished with everything above, I browsed the flash drive in Windows Explorer and opened syslinux.cfg with Notepad. I deleted everything, then added the following:

    default live
    label live
    say Loading Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon 64 bit
    kernel /casper/vmlinuz
    append initrd=/casper/initrd.lz file=/cdrom/preseed/linuxmint.seed boot=casper quiet splash noprompt -- persistent

    The above gets rid of that uglyass UNetbootin menu and starts the Linux Mint OS right away. (I recommend renaming the original syslinux.cfg file to something like syslinux.old before saving the new version.)

  3. klaup says:

    I don't know but it doesn't work with me.
    I tried installing linux mint debian edition cinnamon, but it just boots without persistence.Now I'm going to try with regular linux mint and how it goes...

    • klaup says:

      Ok with regular mint, not with debian edition it works.
      Now I'm gonna try and set an encrypted persistent space, let's see how it goes

  4. Jacob says:

    Linerd, thanks for the tutorial.

    I would like to add 1 important suggestion: Adding a 3rd partition for data. I've noticed that casper-rw partition is readable/writeable ONLY from the thumb drive OS; so you can't copy any data between computers. The 3rd partition (I've created fat32) allows for both, the thumb drive OS and any other OS running on other computers, to read/write.

    Now you can copy your data/settings from a desktop PC and carry with you; AND for protection, you can encrypt the data partition.

  5. Alonzo says:

    I think it's important to make the persistent partition ext2. The ext2 file system is not a journaling file system, while ext3 and ext4 are. Journaling continually writes to the USB flash pen drive and will cause it to wear out sooner. The down side to not using a journaling file system is that error recovery is slower and the file system is more likely to become irrecoverably corrupted.

  6. Paul says:

    I tested the above approach and it works very well in my experience so far.

    The advantages I can see are that the persistence space is not limited by Unetbootin limits, the persistence size can be modified as needed by a Gparted resizing of the partitions, the entire USB stick space can be used, the persistence space is separately readable/writable by just mounting the USB partition on a computer running Linux.

    I read somewhere that journaling file systems should not be used with USB sticks, so EXT2 would be the preferred option for the persistence space.

    • Bradley says:

      Yeah, I used ext3 journaling file system on my 16GB data traveller. It's slowing to glacial pace, I think it's about had it! I want to use this approach on my 750GB external drive with a large FAT32 partiton for storage. I've tried a few times with another method that hasn't been booting.

  7. Brian Cantin says:

    I've had good luck with 64 bit Mint Mate versions 15 & 16 in creating and using a persistent live usb drive created by UNetbootin. However, no matter what I specify, or how big the usb drive is, the space available is silently limited to 2GB. Which is ok with me because I have not been able to figure out how to create live usb that is encrypted. Without encryption, I would not want to carry around most of my data on the drive.
    Thanks for showing how to use gparted to create the data partition. Maybe I can figure out how to encrypt the data partition in conjuction with the live usb. That would not be as good as having the whole lot encrypted, but it would be pretty close.

  8. espinozahg says:

    Is there any reason why you coose ext2? Why not ext3 or ext4?

  9. Dan Saint-Andre says:

    I believe that one could name the persistent partition anything in addition to the "casper-rw" suggested in the article. For the media created using this article, I created "TH-Mnt16Sys" and "TH-Mnt16Dat."

    I tend to label my removable media "XX-name" where 'XX' is one of TH (thumb drive), SD (SD media), CF (compact flash media), EX (external drive) and so on. I have not mastered the scripting needed to use a fixed mount point for my removables and this is the next best thing. Remember, that FAT32 volume names which are 8.3 names or 11 characters.

    One can alter partition labels using 'gparted' or 'dosfslabel' or 'mlabel' or 'ntfslabel.' However, I've had trouble getting win-dose to honor labels written by linux tools.

  10. Albin says:

    Is there some performance improvement from creating a partition and deleting the casper-rw file as you've done? I'm using a Persistent Live USB with Mint 16 XFCE writing this: runs very quick on a low-powered netbook. The default Unetbootin installation is much simpler: no partioning and maintain the casper-rw as the "persistence".

    I've installed and updated and configured the heck out of third party software on a 16gb drive. The only thing I do NOT do on Live USB is update the operating system.

    Mint is a good choice since it seems increasingly developed for use on Live USB: it used to be these installations would just go wonky after a couple of weeks (and still do on other distros.) Mint 15 and 16 keep on ticking.

    • Linerd says:

      There's no performance improvement that I know of. My experience in the past has been that using the default UNetbootin process resulted in a Live USB that wasn't actually persistent. The forum post I linked to was for Mint 14 and I know I had the same problem with Mint 15 64 bit. To be honest, I have not tried the default persistent process with Mint 16.

      One advantage I can think of is that I could re-image the live partition with a newer version of Mint while keeping my personal files intact on the persistent partition. It may take a little file cleanup on the casper-rw partition though, depending on what you've updated or installed on the live system.

      • Albin says:

        Thanks. I've had very good expeience with default Unetbootin persistence on 32 bit (older machines) on recent Mint versions, noting that I don't try to update the OS or any really large third party software like LibreOffice or GIMP and limit updates to one or two apps at a time. USB 2 is just too slow to handle really big updates reliably.

        I should have said I also run Mint 16 on dual booted laptop and netbook hard drives, but I find a Persistent Live USB is a fantastic way to test out all the intriguing tips, tricks, and various software suggestions for Mint BEFORE risking my hard drive installations. Users who want the performance of a hard drive install should still keep a Live USB around as a Guinea Pig for all those brilliant experiments that might not work.

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