Top 10 Best Linux Distros to Install on a USB Stick

The GNU/portable Linux community is blessed with 100+ distributions, and we try our best to cover just the best of them on, so if you haven’t read titles like the Best Linux Distros for Laptops in 2019, 5 Operating Systems for IoT, and the Top 10 GNU/Linux Distros for Privacy & Security, you should.

Today, we’ll be focusing on portable Linux distributions that are ideal for running off USB sticks (and maybe other portable external storage devices), which means we’ll be focusing on portable operating systems.

These are operating systems that are meant to be resource efficient, i.e. they can run on hardware with limited secondary storage space and/or RAM.

Portable operating systems are also often tiny enough to fit on USB sticks and CDs without sacrificing performance quality, even when running on aging devices. Having said that, here is my list of the top portable Linux distributions.

1. MX Linux

MX Linux is an open-source antiX and MEPIS-based Linux distribution meant to run on both old and new PCs. It is straightforward to set up and has been designed to allow portable Linux newcomers to quickly get up and running.

MX Linux is a robust operating system that will operate smoothly on your USB stick, and its online community is extremely welcoming of new users and developers.

2. Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux is a collection of entirely customisable lightweight portable Linux variants designed with memory efficiency and ease of use in mind. It comes with everyday computing capabilities, a “grandpa”-friendly UI, and different varieties to fulfill the specific needs of potential customers.

Puppy’s memory footprint is so minimal that it may run fully on RAM, and it even allows you to save your session data independently.

3. Peppermint OS

Peppermint OS is a lightweight, quick, and fully customisable Lubuntu-based operating system meant to interface with web-based apps and cloud services.

It combines the functionality of Xfce’s panel and application menu with LXDE’s lxsession to provide users with a stylish desktop environment, as well as the tools that users generally require in their workstation, such as the Software Manager and the terminal.

4. Ubuntu GamePack

Ubuntu GamePack is an Ubuntu-based distribution that provides 28,000+ games and apps that are generally exclusively available for Windows and MS-DOS to Linux users.

It comes with inbuilt delivery systems for Internet games and programs such as Lutris, Steam, Wine, and PlayOn portable Linux and allows users to store multiple copies of their game configuration and progress.

5. Kali Linux

Kali Linux is a Debian-based distribution that was created specifically for penetration testing and digital forensics. It includes 300+ premium tools created by an elite team of security specialists and is designed to run on a flash drive to allow for uninterrupted workflow regardless of location.

If you’re interested in cybersecurity or forensics, you should read our post on the Top 20 Hacking and Penetration Tools for Kali Linux.

6. Slax

Slax, dubbed a Pocket Operating System, is an open source Debian-based LiveCD distribution with a modular installer that allows users to select which software to install on their laptop.

Slax is approximately 210MB in size and requires just roughly 256MB of RAM to run. It performs admirably even on older PCs, and it is available for both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures.

7. Porteus

Porteus is a complete portable Linux operating system designed to operate from USB flash drives, CDs, or any other bootable storage medium, including hard drives.

It is one of the smallest and yet quickest distros on our planet, weighing in at little under 300MB and booting into the LXDE desktop in under 15 seconds, among other things! It implements a modular framework that is available for 32 and 64-bit architectures and includes support for various foreign languages as well as a big user community.

8. Knoppix

Knoppix is a Debian-based operating system that can be run directly from a USB drive and/or CD/DVD, thereby putting a Live Linux Filesystem on CD.

Knoppix was introduced as one of the earliest LiveCD distributions 18 years ago and has been under active development ever since, inspiring similar initiatives such as DSL.

9. Tiny Core Linux

Tiny Core Linux is a little Linux operating system created by Robert Shingledecker to offer a foundation system utilizing FLTK and BusyBox. It is notable for its small size and minimalist approach to program management, among other things.

The Tiny Core Linux project’s purpose is to build an operating system capable of booting from a CD ROM, pen drive, or booting frugally from a hard drive while completing processes quickly.
It runs straight from RAM and can have its modules extended by installing extensions in RAM or mounting them from a storage device.

10. SliTaz

SliTaz is a high-performance, secure GNU/Linux operating system that is fast, easy to use, and entirely customizable. Its name is an abbreviation for Simple, Light, Incredible, Temporary Autonomous Zone, and it has a total core LiveCD size of 35 – 50MB.

SliTaz is possibly the world’s smallest distribution with a desktop GUI. It is so flexible that you may alter everything, such as adding Desktop Effects, persistence (the property of a state that outlives its parent process), and so on.


Did I mention your preferred portable Linux distribution? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. Don’t forget to show your support by subscribing to the FossMint newsletter and sharing our posts.

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