Persistent Live USB vs. Full Linux install on a USB drive

Live USB is a fascinating way of testing out any Linux distro without modifying or making changes to your computer. Unknown to many, there is data persistency mode in the Live session. So you can make some changes and save the file to your Universal Serial Bus (USB) drive. The data will remain still even after powering off the live session.

You can run a test drive on installing the distro to your USB drive after testing out the live session instead of the internal hard drive. Accordingly, there are two more test-driving a Linux distro – Persistent Live USB drive and Full distro install USB drive.

The two methods will still allow you to boot Linux from a USB drive and save your data. Some may be thinking about the differences between the two methods and which one you should opt for.

What is a Persistent Live USB?

A persistent Live USB allows its users to save data changes back to the USB storage device instead of leaving the information in the system Random Access Memory (RAM). Ideally, in this section, a separate Persistent storage space (persistent overlay) is used with a compressed Live Linux OS.

What is a Full Linux install on USB?

On the other hand, a complete Linux install on USB refers to a standard installation of the OS, specifically Linux in our case on a USB drive. The USB stick will make the OS portable and, of course, allow kernel updates which the Persistent Live USB does not support.

Below is a quick review of the differences between the persistent Live USB and Full Linux install on USB. Without further ado! Let us get started.

Persistent Live USB space

persistent live USB
persistent live USB

First and foremost, when it comes to comparison in terms of space, Persistent Live USB is the best shot for you. This is because someone can create a non-persistent Live USB with a 2GB USB drive. However, when creating a persistent Live USB, you need a slightly higher one, say 4GB.

Second, Persistent Live USB can be used for installation purposes.

Ideally, a persistent Live USB is a copy of the installation DVD. This, therefore, means that the files in the original ISO remain as they are. Updates and future installations are saved in the space designated for storing the changes. Say you update your chrome. In a standard installation, the old one is replaced. Still, in the persistent installation, the old one stays. The newer version is located in the persistent virtual disk (within the USB), thus taking up extra space and sometimes creating issues, for instance, kernel updates. Now, when you install Ubuntu from this Persistent copy into another hard drive, the original version of chrome in the DVD image will get installed.

Note: Booting a persistent Live USB gives the users access to the “Install Ubuntu” icon on their PCs desktop. However, users can “Unintentionally” initiate the install process and delete their hard drive contents in most cases.

Third, Persistent Live USB is less secure.

Basically, at this point, you should be aware that there is no login process in the persistent Live USB. This means that the default user has admin rights and does not need a sudo password to exercise their rights. Hence, a malicious user can boot into a persistent Live USB of another user and easily access the stored data, including documents, personal stuff, and uninstall or reconfigure applications. So, generally, Live USB threatens a user’s data safety.

Full Linux install on USB

full linux install on usb
Full Linux install on USB

When it comes to installing Full Linux on USB, the installation takes more space than keeping the image of the installation DVD, which is approximately 5GB. So, generally, you will require a USB drive of around 8GB or more to carry out the process without struggle. However, once the system is installed, it can be updated and customized to the user’s preference. Plus, it also supports uninstalling unneeded software to free up space.

Hardware importance

Second, the hardware on which the full install is created is very vital.

The live DVD image in the persistent USB is created with a compatibility feature with most PCs in mind. Nonetheless, once installed on specific hardware, the installation gets a bit customized for the specific components. This is specifically important if the computer has some parts that require proprietary drivers. Once these drivers are installed, the USB may not function on PCs that lack that specific hardware. Conversely, if the installation is done on a PC that lacks any proprietary drivers, that typical installation may fail on the machines that need them.

If the goal is to use the USB in different PCs, a persistent Live USB may be the best shot compared to a full installation.

Third, Persistent Live USB is more secure.

During the installation process, the creation of a user ID/username and a password are required. Purposely, this password is needed for any administrative actions. One can also set up their PC to require the password at the login page. This means that no one can access your PC’s desktop without inputting the already set credentials, ensuring data safety and integrity.

After looking at that vital information regarding Persistent Live USB versus the Full Linux install on USB, we can now look at the advantages and disadvantages of each to ease the comprehension.

Advantages of data persistency in a Live Session

  • One of the key pros of a live USB is that it doesn’t require a lot of storage space. This means that you can create a Live USB of data persistency with 2GB of the USB drive, whereas a full installation will take at least 8GB of storage space.
  • A live USB is configured to run on almost all desktops. Additionally, it has excellent compatibility features with most hardware. In case you want to run a dry run test on the Linux distro on various computers, then using a Live USB with data persistency is the best shot for you.

Disadvantages of Live USB drive

  • The main con of a persistent Live USB is the security issue. When you boot up a live USB, it directly boots to the desktop. This means that there is no login or credentials mechanism to protect anyone from accessing your data. Generally, the live USB is intended to test the distro and install it on the hard drive if you are interested in the distro. It is not meant to be used as a production OS.
  • The second con is that Live USB has a slower boot-up time. This is because it has to run a series of compatibility tests on boot-up to ensure that it can run well on the machine. This, in turn, slows the boot-up time and speed significantly.
  • The Linux distro in the live USB is outdated in that most users have their update manager that spontaneously updates itself to the latest version. The Linux distro you are running in the USB is created from the ISO image, which is often the release version and not the updated version hence the outdated issue. While you may technically run a system update in the live session to upgrade the distro in the Live USB to the latest version, the kernel and bootloader conflict is highly likely to break the system. The conflict is caused by the misconfiguration of the kernel to make use of the new updated kernel.

Advantages of Full Install on USB

  • An excellent method in terms of system security. This means that you are required to log in before you can use it. Additionally, you will be required to enter the sudo password if you need to run any administrative task.
  • Faster boot-up. When it comes to booting up, a full Linux installation on USB is known to boot up much faster than a live USB.

Disadvantages of Full Install USB

  • Most Linux distros require a minimum of 8GB of storage space compared to 2GB of the persistent Live USB to install. Nevertheless, with the advanced technological world we are headed to, as USB drives get larger in storage, the cheaper it is becoming; thus, this is becoming less of an issue.
  • Hardware compatibility. When you do a full installation, the installer will customize your system to gel and work well with the current set of hardware. This, therefore, means that if you use the full install on USB on another PC, especially one that uses a proprietary video driver, the chances are that your Linux machine won’t run well.

Final thoughts

When testing the Linux distro or using the Live USB as a rescue disk, it is helpful to use the data persistency feature in the live session. Other than that, it is not advisable to use the Live USB as the production OS. To this far, the article has taken you through the core part of the review, which was looking at the differences between the Live USB and Full install in USB, which you should be well versed with as of now.

After that, we also looked at the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you understand more. We hope this article has helped you cover the gaps you have been looking to fill in terms of the differences between persistent Live USB and Full Linux install on USB. Thanks for reading! And in case of any issue, do not hesitate to reach us through the comment section below.

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