USB Pendrives and Distributions for Them

A look at three distributions you can use to boot Linux from a USB pendrive.
Floppy-Based Boot Process

If your machine doesn't allow you to boot from a USB pendrive, you can boot DSL from a floppy. Download the file bootfloppy-usb.img from the DSL site, and copy the image to a floppy disk with dd:

dd if=bootfloppy.img of=/dev/fd0

Modify your computer BIOS to boot from the floppy first, and then boot the floppy image file of DSL. This boot image will launch the USB version of DSL. This process works with just about any distribution that offers a floppy boot image for booting USB pendrives.


The SLAX site says, “SLAX is a fast and beautiful Linux operating system, which fits on small (3.14") CD-ROM disc. It runs directly from the CD (or USB) without installing. The live CD described here is based on the Slackware Linux distribution and uses the Unification File System (also known as unionfs), allowing a read-only filesystem to behave as a writable one, saving all changes to memory.” Fortunately, when you use a pendrive, you don't have to worry about emulating write operations because, unlike a CD, the pendrive memory is writable.

You can use UFS to merge storage from several sources, including network storage, into one local directory. This makes UFS a good solution for diskless workstations, because it makes it easy to keep your home directory on a network storage device.

SLAX is a modular distribution, so you can add features as you need them. It lets you configure your installation for many different purposes. You might be able to watch a DVD, use QEMU, burn CDs and DVDs, run firewalls, antivirus apps and much, much more. Check the list available on the project's site (see Resources) to find out about modules that add new features to SLAX.

SLAX Installation

To install SLAX, get the latest version from the Web site (see Resources). SLAX has many versions of the same distributions, with certain differences in apps and size. Select among Frodo, Standard, Popcorn or KillBill editions. I used the slax-5.0.7b.iso standard edition of 200MB with KDE.

Mount the ISO image file of SLAX using the loopback device. In my case, I called the mount directory slax. Here is the command I used:

mount -o loop  slax-5.0.7b.iso  slax/

As before, format the USB pendrive to use FAT16:

mkdosfs -F 16 /dev/sda1

(Change sda1 to whatever partition is appropriate for your system.)

After you have a bootable and formated FAT16 partition in the pendrive, mount it:

mount -t vfat /dev/sda1 /mnt/usb/

Copy all the files from the directory slax/, where you mounted the ISO of SLAX, to the mounted pendrive:

cp -rav slax/* /mnt/usb/

Synchronize the data:


And go to the pendrive location (/mnt/usb):

cd /mnt/usb/

Now, copy the files vmlinuz and initrd.gz to the root directory, where you mounted the pendrive, in our case from the directory /mnt/usb/, and do:

cp boot/vmlinuz .
cp boot/initrd.gz .

Then, edit the file called isolinux.cfg:

pico isolinux.cfg

Remove every string called boot/ before vmlinuz and initrd.gz. Then, rename it to syslinux.cfg to use syslinux with the device:

mv isolinux.cfg syslinux.cfg

Finally, install and update MBR with LILO or GRUB:

lilo -M /dev/sda

And, use syslinux to finish the process:

syslinux -s /dev/sda1

SLAX is installed—enjoy it. Umount the pendrive and reboot. Change your BIOS to boot from the USB pendrive, and reboot again. You may need to use LILO or GRUB to update or install the master boot record on the pendrive.

SLAX has KDE, Fluxbox, K3b, Media Player, a Web browser, mail, office suite, Kopete and many other applications. You can find a complete list on the SLAX Web site (see Resources).

SLAX doesn't have the speed of DSL, but has the 2.6.15 kernel, excellent network support, the parted application (partition editor) and more. It's by far a more complete distribution than DSL, but you pay for it in size.

Flash Linux

The Flash Linux distribution is based on Gentoo Linux. Get the Flash Linux ISO image file from the Web site (see Resources), and burn it to CD. Then, boot from the CD in order to install the LiveUSB version in the pendrive. Download the three parts of the ISO from Currently, the three parts are flashlinux-0.3.4-RC2.iso-part1, flashlinux-0.3.4-RC2.iso-part2 and flashlinux-0.3.4-RC2.iso-part3. After you download these files, put them together:

cat flashlinux-0.3.4-RC2.iso-part1 flashlinux-0.3.4-RC2.iso-part2 \
flashlinux-0.3.4-RC2.iso-part3 > flashlinux-0.3.4-RC2.iso.

Flash Linux has a beautiful Bootsplash and framebuffer theme. It also includes the accelerated NVIDIA driver, which is great if you have a GeForce video card.

Hardware detection also was fantastic. Flash configured all my devices without a hitch.

After you boot and log in, install Flash on the pendrive. You will need two partitions on the pendrive: a boot partition of +4MB and a second partition of at least 256MB.

The Flash Linux people suggest you set up the partitions with fdisk. Plug in your pendrive and run:

fdisk /dev/sda



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Rev. rob's picture

Dear customer service,

My name is REV.Rob .Heisler .I'm writing from Illinois,in the U.S.A and i'm looking to make some purchases of some particular products for a local church school as the first step towards our aim to help our unable brother's and sister in the work of the Lord.

Please do let me know if you can make available pendrives .I'm looking to make a purchase of about 250 pcs.Please inform me on your stock rates.

please let me know if you have some or more in stock and also please inform/advise me on your forms of payment.
I will like to pay by credit card.Also would like to use my own means of shipping.Hope to hear back from you soon.



syslinux not available in linux

albramos's picture

The article says:

And, use syslinux to finish the process:

syslinux -s /dev/sda1

I tried to use syslinux while I was running SLAX but I didn't found the it. I had to boot to windows and run the syslinux command (availble in SLAX) under windows.


please show grub instructions

moschlegel's picture

The article says:

"Finally, install and update MBR with LILO or GRUB:
lilo -M /dev/sda"

But oddly the command shown is only the one for LILO,
What's the commands needed to do the similar thing with grub?
Many linux distros don't install lilo at all anymore.
I have Fedora Core 5 and it doesn't have lilo in /sbin but
only /sbin/grub so I'm stuck not know how to setup grub
for my pendrive for SLAX.