Install Ubuntu On Your Computer Using a USB Flash Drive

Danny Stieben 12-05-2015

Obtaining Ubuntu is super easy — all you have to do is download it from their website. But once you have the ISO file, what do you do with it? You could burn it to a DVD, or you can use a highly-reusable USB flash drive to get the job done.


Want to know more? Let me show you the entire process for every machine so you know exactly what you need to do to install Ubuntu properly on your computer with a USB flash drive.

Grabbing Ubuntu

Alright, to get started, we’ll first need to download Ubuntu from their website, but you already have a few choices you need to make. There is (except for six months every two years) the LTS release and the latest cutting edge release. While both are usually considered stable enough for everyday use, the LTS release is more stable and is supported for five years from its release date. The releases in between LTS releases are only supported for nine months so you must upgrade to a newer release every six months if you go that route. However, if you’re having hardware issues on an LTS release, you’ll probably find better support for your hardware on the cutting edge releases.

Then there’s the question of choosing 64-bit and 32-bit. Nowadays, you should always pick 64-bit unless you know that your computer is too old and cannot support it. There used to be a general “rule” floating around saying that you shouldn’t use 64-bit unless you have 3GB of RAM or more, but you can ignore that. All systems should take advantage of 64-bit even if they have smaller amounts of RAM.

When downloading, I recommend that you consider using the torrent links instead of your browser, as it will significantly speed up your download (and yes, it’s legal 8 Legal Uses for BitTorrent: You'd Be Surprised Like HTTP, which your browser uses to communicate with websites, BitTorrent is just a protocol. You could use your browser to download pirated content, just as you could use a BitTorrent client to download pirated... Read More ).

Prepping Your USB Drive

Once the download is finished and you have the ISO file, it’s time to write it to your USB flash drive. Here is where the instructions start to differ depending on what operating system you’re currently using.


Various tools are available such as LiveLinux USB Creator for Windows only Linux Live USB Creator: Easily Boot Linux From Your Flash Drive Read More and Unetbootin which is cross-platform How To Install Linux With Ease Using UNetbootin We've already talked about Linux and why you should try it, but probably the hardest part of getting used to Linux is getting it in the first place. For Windows users, the simplest way is... Read More . My personal favorite is the Universal USB Installer from Pendrivelinux. Download it and plug in your USB drive before launching it. For this tool, there’s no installation required.

Then simply pick the distribution you’re installing (pick the right one!), give it the path to the downloaded ISO file, and then pick your USB drive’s letter from the list. Be sure to check Format Drive to avoid any potential formatting issues. Be warned that this will erase all data from your USB drive.

Finally, choose an amount of persistent storage — if all you’re wanting to do is install Ubuntu, then you should leave it at 0. Then click on Create and it will start writing the installation image onto your USB flash drive, essentially turning it into the equivalent of an installation disc.


It’s a bit trickier to make Ubuntu USB installation media on a Mac (regardless of whether you plan to use the drive to install Ubuntu on a PC or Mac) because it cannot be done without using the Terminal. So open the Terminal, then use the following commands:

Begin by switching to the Downloads folder with

cd ~/Downloads

and then follow this with

hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o ubuntu.iso ubuntu-1xxxxxx.iso

Make sure you replace xxxx with the rest of the filename of the downloaded ISO. This converts the ISO image into a format that Macs can understand better. Follow this with

mv ubuntu.iso.dmg ubuntu.iso

… to rename the image file by dropping the .dmg extension that Macs will add automatically.

Next, list your current drives with

diskutil list

And insert your USB drive into your Mac. Repeat the command:

diskutil list

and note the drive number of the drive that wasn’t there before.

Now, enter

diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskN

where N is the disk number as given by the previous command (we want to unmount your flash drive so that it’s not used by anything else).

You should then run

sudo dd if=./ubuntu.iso of=/dev/rdiskN bs=1m

again, N is the disk number. This writes the installation ISO onto your flash drive. Click Ignore on the warning box, and then run

diskutil eject /dev/diskN

where N is the disk number. This safely ejects the flash drive so that everything is finalized before the system considers it no longer connected.

If you need it, there’s also a graphical way to prep your USB drive for Linux installation How to Create and Boot From a Linux USB Drive on Mac There are a few ways to get a create a live Linux USB drive that will boot on your Mac: you can do it with freeware, or get your hands dirty with the command line. Read More .


First of all, congrats if you already have Linux on a computer and just need to make an installation flash drive. The most reliable method is to open up Gparted or a Disks utility that can tell you what path the device has (whether /dev/sdb, /dev/sdc, etc). Then, just do:


cd ~/Downloads

to switch the terminal to your Downloads folder and then

sudo dd if=./ubuntu-iso-name.iso of=/dev/sdX

where X is the letter for the flash drive, and ubuntu-iso-name is the name of the ISO file. This will write the installation ISO onto your flash drive. Finish off with

sudo eject /dev/sdX

to make sure that all data has been written and the USB device ejects correctly (otherwise, it will write the remaining bits and then complete the ejection).

Using the USB Drive for Installation

Congratulations, you now have a USB flash drive you can use to install Ubuntu! The next step is to plug in the USB drive, turn on your computer, and enter the BIOS. This is usually done by pressing one of the following keys repeatedly as soon as the computer turns on: F2, F5, F6, F8, or F10. Often (but sadly not always), the computer will display which button needs to be pressed before it continues to boot the operating system. Once inside the BIOS, you’ll need to change the boot order so that the flash drive will boot before your hard drive. That way, it will start the installation media rather than your usual operating system.

Windows 8 users will need to use the advanced shutdown method How To Restore, Refresh, or Reset Your Windows 8 Installation In addition to the standard System Restore feature, Windows 8 has features for "refreshing" and "resetting" your PC. Think of these as ways of quickly re-installing Windows -- either keeping your personal files or deleting... Read More to boot from the USB device.

On Macs, you’ll have an easier time. As soon as you turn it on, hold the Option button for a few seconds until you see a selection screen. Press the right arrow key to move the selection to your flash drive, and then hit Enter to boot the installation media.

Things to Watch out For

Installation should be the same as with a DVD from here. There’s really only one thing you’ll need to look out for. If you choose to do manual partitioning, the USB installation media will appear on the list of drives. Just be sure to know which one is your USB drive (as it should have a much smaller capacity than your hard drive) and make sure not to touch the partitions on it nor have it selected as the installation target for the bootloader. Instead, if say the hard drive you’re installing to is /dev/sda, you’ll want to choose /dev/sda as the target if you’re running a regular BIOS system, or the EFI partition (probably /dev/sda1) if you have a UEFI system What Is UEFI And How Does It Keep You More Secure? If you've booted your PC recently you might have noticed the acronym "UEFI" instead of BIOS. But what is UEFI? Read More .

Enjoy Your Installation!

Ubuntu should now be installed on your system, thanks to your USB flash drive! Don’t worry about changing the boot order again in your BIOS after the installation — as soon as you unplug the USB drive (when Ubuntu says you can) and restart your computer, your hard drive should automatically slip back to the top spot in the boot order. And best of all, you can now do whatever you’d like with the flash drive. You can keep it as it is and reuse it to install Ubuntu on other computers, overwrite it with the installation image of another distribution, or even just reformat it to use as a regular flash drives for files you need to carry with you. You could even perform a Linux installation onto your USB drive Running Linux From a USB Drive: Are You Doing It Right? Did you know that can do a full install of Linux on a USB drive? Here's how to create a Linux USB PC in your pocket! Read More , and not just on your computer.

Is there anything else that fellow readers should be aware of? When was the last time you installed Linux via disc? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: notebook and usb drive Via Shutterstock

Explore more about: Linux, USB Drive.

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  1. Aronne
    January 4, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Installed ubuntu 16.04 (from .iso file) on old laptop using "Universal USB installer". Working good !

    Note: only problem was the "ubiquity failure" during the installation (problem solved just unplugging the battery as described in the ubuntu-forum)

    thank you for the installatiuon advice

  2. Jesse
    November 26, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    Newb here...If I have Ubuntu on a thumbdrive, can I set Ubuntu up on a brand new mb and hdd? No other app or OS required?

  3. Tochukwu Okafor
    July 29, 2016 at 12:00 pm


    I did try many times to install ubuntu on my pc (windows 8.1) but was unable to succeed. Please can someone help me in regards to this. I have windows 10 installed now my pc but I still want to run ubuntu linux so that I can dual boot or switch to any operating system that I want. Thank you

  4. Michael
    December 29, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Excellent tutorial, Danny. Worked like a charm for me. I installed Ubuntu on an 11-inch 2010 Macbook Air using a stick drive. Thanks for posting this!

    • Karla
      June 28, 2017 at 9:36 pm

      Can you please provide a more detailed expalnation for the installation of ubuntu once the usb has the program? I keep getting confused on the step where the disk is supposed to be partitioned :(

  5. hazel
    November 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    it seems to install on my hard drive just fine but when i boot without the flash drive it is unresponsive. i am quite happy to just keep the flash drive in there but as someone who isn't exactly a computer noob. i find it quite frustrating

  6. arjaybe
    May 18, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Hey. Only one troll so far. Not bad.


  7. Andrey
    May 18, 2015 at 1:23 am

    You can us Unetbootin on Win, Mac an Linux, do not need to use terminal.

    • muzikjock
      May 19, 2015 at 12:20 pm

      correct. i've never had a hard time using unetbootin. usb creator which comes with ubuntu has never worked for me. it works as far as installing an iso on the usb, but doesn't work when you try to boot to the live environment. unetbootin also includes a few other utilities that are useful like freedos, which is good to use when you want to flash your bios, and you don't have windows. i've also used unetbootin as a tool in windows one time when an upgrade from 10.04 to 12.04 borked . i had 4 hard drives on my box. i forgot to unplug all except the hard drive that i was upgrading to. one word of warning when installing most Linux distros that use grub; if your box has more than one hard drive, unplug all the drives except the one you want to install your Linux distro on...for some reason, grub gets confused which hard drive to install itself on. if your not paying attention, you boot to a screen that says "no bootable device" and a flashing cursor. for some reason, this box would not recognize a live boot to usb to install from or repair, which is why i chose to upgrade. so i used a old xp install i had on one of my 4 hard drives , installed unetbootin, and repaired my upgraded install on my target drive . also used the utility "boot repair". most of the time, installing a Linux distro is effortless. however, some times, there are problems. for those who are intimidated by ANY hiccup in their life, stay with windows. (i am being sarcastic) . "hiccups" in Linux are a feature , not a defect. i've learned more using Linux than i could ever have learned staying in bill gate's world. the community forums are more than helpful in correcting your problems . and there is no reward better than knowing you fixed your box. using Ubuntu since feisty fawn 7.04, i will never use windows again. like anything else, there is always a learning curve. don't let that stop you from trying something new. if you are ambivalent about installing a Linux distro, use the live environment for awhile with persistence for awhile until you decide to install it. no need to dual boot really (unless for a few of you, you find it more convenient to do so). Linux for me is about freedom and choice. if you like everything to be decided for you, and handed to you on a silver platter, stay with windows. this tutorial is not for you.

  8. paul gureghian
    May 15, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Is the usb flash drive which is used in the top picture of the story available for purchase somewhere? or was it just created for the story ? its a darn cool looking piece of hardware.

  9. x64.bits
    May 15, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    I have installed Linux Mint about a year ago and haven't stopped to even looked back. No more internet explorer, no more restarting my Pc after installing updates. No more searching for drivers, no more annoying spinning symbol waiting,,Bye bye Windows

  10. pmshah
    May 15, 2015 at 1:25 am

    Just so you know YUMI the installer creator can also include 1 version of Windows on the USB pendrive apart from multiple versions of Linux and bootable other utilities. In fact I have also managed to include Boot It Bare Metal - a boot manager and Norton Ghost to create / restore partition images.

  11. Jay Barney
    May 14, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    The hard drive on my HP crashed. I bought a WD 2TB replacement but the Vista re-insall DVDs failed. "Windows Setup could not configure Windows to run on this computer's hardware." I don't want to pay for Windows 7 on a six year old back-up computer. Am I a candidate for this?

    • dragonmouth
      May 14, 2015 at 11:23 pm

      "Am I a candidate for this?"
      Are you a candidate for Linux? Certainly! Anybody who is sick of Microsoft's shenanigans and is ready to try something new, is ready for Linux. But be ready to give up your old habits and learn something new.

    • jimvandamme
      May 15, 2015 at 2:18 am

      Put the right Linux distro on it, and it will run like new again. And no Windows drama.

  12. Jill
    May 14, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Danny, I have tried to install Ubuntu on my HP Envy(bought in July 2013), both with Windows and, eventually without; after last summer's "Security Update" borked Windows entirely, I got disgusted and wiped it off. However, even though I had a Ubuntu disk from the $40 book I bought, the install wouldn't stick. I used it for a day, then it wouldn't load. I replaced both the mSATA drive and put in an SSD instead of the HDD, loaded Ubuntu and, again, it worked for a day, then wouldn't load. Now my UEFI or BIOS says I need to update the BIOS, but how do I do that without an operating system? Why won't the Ubuntu "stick"? Should I try 15.04 because of its updated UEFI and boot stuff? I have put off taking it back to the place I bought it, because they'll probably charge me to fix it, and I've already paid for the drive upgrades, which I installed myself, in the hopes that the manufacturers would be more Linux-friendly.

    At any rate, do you have any advice for a clean install? I get confused about if I can just use an ISO or if I need Unetbootin or one of those other installers. Thanks for any advice you can give.

  13. jasray
    May 13, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Yes, Rufus is much faster and more reliable; however, Rufus doesn't offer a "persistent" feature--which the user wouldn't need, obviously, if he/she were installing on a Windows machine.

    What the writer epically fails to tell his audience is the nightmare that awaits the user when he/she wants to uninstall Linux.

    Maybe he should leave his personal email address, home address, and prepaid postage labels for those who will find an ungodly mess of what was once a reliable computer when they choose to uninstall because Ubuntu, and Linux in general, is highly overrated unless one is running a server farm.

    • dragonmouth
      May 14, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      "What the writer epically fails to tell his audience is the nightmare that awaits the user when he/she wants to uninstall Linux. "
      What nightmare is that? "Nightmares" can usually be avoided by reading the manual/instructions before attempting an unfamiliar task. The different file systems and partitioning schemes of Windows and Linux can cause problems for those who have not read up on the differences.

      • Harry
        February 9, 2020 at 5:43 am

        If only the instructions were provided in a step by step format without the confusing crap in between !!! I have a Live Debian GNU/ Linux stretch/sid (Debian 9) and it will not let me change to Ubuntu nor Mint.

    • jimvandamme
      May 15, 2015 at 2:14 am

      Why would anybody want to uninstall Linux?

    • jimvandamme
      May 15, 2015 at 2:17 am

      I still like to put Linux on CDs I give away. I have a ton of CDs sitting around, and it's hard to find flash drives 2 GB and under.

  14. PinkUnicorn
    May 13, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Rufus is another great tool for writing the ISO on the flash drive.

  15. dragonmouth
    May 12, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Any other Linux distro can be installed to a USB drive using these instructions, not just Ubuntu.

    • Chinmay S
      May 13, 2015 at 5:42 am

      He mentioned Ubuntu because it's the most popular linux distro and everybody knows that it is indeed a linux distro. If the article title read "Install Korora On Your Computer Using a USB Flash Drive", nobody would have understood that it's a linux distro.

    • dragonmouth
      May 13, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      This is the one article that could/should have been titled "Install LINUX on Your Computer Using a USB Flash Drive" and mean it. But once again, MUO is trying to convince readers that beyond Ubuntu there is no Linux. It seems like most of the Linux articles on MUO are paid for by Canonical.