I have tried installing several flavors of Linux on a 16GB USB stick. The following distros were tried.
PCLINUX XFCE 2011
Archbang Linux Live CD on Multi-boot
LPS Live CD on Multi-boot
This blog describes my trials and tribulations in installing Linux on a pen-drive. Initially all the above were downloaded as live cds (ISO files)on my Ubuntu 11.10 desktop. I downloaded the multi-boot system application and put all the live cds on a 4gb pen-drive. My PCs BIOS was altered to boot from USB. This gave me the boot menu on booting my PC, from which I could choose the distro I wanted to test drive. The 4gb pen-drive still has LPS and Archbang on it. I use it where security is important.
Next, I tried all the above(except LPS and Archbang) on Ubuntu’s UNETBOOTIN. While Lubuntu worked like a charm, unfortunately, the USB failed to boot with others.The best option was to have the full-blown distro installed on a16gb pen-drive. I have now got both Fedora 15 and Fedora 16 as well as PCLINUX burned on cds.I have yet to try out Mandriva and openSuSe. At this point you might ask why not install in Oracle’s virtual box? Well, I do have Peppermint 2011 installed in virtual box and it is lightning-fast. However, my dual-core Medion Athalon 64-bit PC has only 2gigs of RAM. So a modern Gnome or/ KDE desktop runs rather slowly in virtual box. Hence the wish to try running an operating system from USB. The next section describes how Fedora and PCLINUX were installed on USB pen-drives and how they performed from the pen-drives.
The downloaded ISO was burned onto a CD with k3b(Brasero will also do the job if you are on Linux; from windows OS you might use Nero or any other CD-burning software; remember that you need to burn the image not a data CD). Inserted a 16gb pen-drive in the usb port and rebooted with the CD in the CD-ROM. The entire live Cd runs off your PC’s RAM, so you need more than a gig of RAM. Every Linux live CD offers the option of installing the OS on to your hard drive. Just click on the icon and follow the on-screen instructions. After selecting the language and region, the instructions will ask you, where you want to install the OS. Both the internal hard-drive and the pen-drive will appear in the window. I chose the pen-drive as the option and also selected the pen-drive for loading the grub boot loader. It took about 10 minutes to install. Rebooted and voila a full PCLINUX XFCE desktop on a USB stick. I even managed to update the packages in no time. It boots in a minute and is quite fast. I wonder what it will be like in performance with USB 3 and DDR3 RAM? The obvious advantage is that it is portable. The disadvantage is that unlike Virtual Box, there is no seamless integration with host OS.