Create a bootable live USB drive for testing distributions

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Go back to parent page Introduction to Linux for bioinformatics


Want to test a Linux distribution? Follow this procedure:

  • Grab an USB key and put your Linux distribution on it.
  • Boot your computer from that bootable live USB key, and you have a full linux OS, to play around with. This 'live modus' is an easy way to test the new stuff linux has to offer.
  • Before you test anything else, check if your hardware works (printer, sound,...) and check internet connection.
  • Secondly, do you like the desktop environment? Does it suit your needs? Play around and test.

Done testing? Just reboot your computer, remove the USB key, and the original operating system will start up again as if nothing has happened...

Choose your distribution

Downloaded different .iso files in your Downloads folder

Go to, and choose among the listed distributions. There are a few guides which can help you with picking one. In this tutorial, we will show the process for Ubuntu 17. Some releases are 'long term releases', meant to be used for long terms since updates will be provided for years to come.

How do I download an .iso file? Go to and the 'Download Ubuntu' button takes you to the download. What is the difference between 32- and 64-bit?. (Tip: If your old laptop does not boot, check the bit version.)

Fire up your computer from the USB flash drive

Plug in your USB drive in the computer you want to run in live modus. Start or restart your computer. When the computer just starts up, during the first screen you see, you should press F12 (or another F key, depending on your manufacturer), so that the computer boots up from the USB drive, instead of the hard drive (default choice). If you don't find the right F key, google a bit, or use my rough approach: let your fingers slide from f1 to f12 during the first boot screen. :-)

If you manage to get your computer booting from the USB drive, you will see a different start-up screen. Wait for the boot process to finish, which takes about 30 seconds.

Enjoying live modus

Now you can enjoy the complete linux distribution in live modus. Nothing is changed on your computer's hard disk! Nothing is saved neither... (so this is only for testing!). Test whether you can connect to internet, connect with printers, etc. In case you are excited about the distribution you are testing, you can directly continue with installation, by choosing 'Install Ubuntu'. Check our next guide for assistance with this: Create a virtual machine running a Linux distribution using VirtualBox.

Detail: it might be that in some rare distributions the installation option is not available in live modus. In this case, you have to exit live modus, download the installation .iso image and boot from that image.

Shutting down live modus

If you have done with testing your linux distribution, just shutdown the computer in normal way (going to the Shutdown menu and choosing 'shut down'). After the computer has been shut down, remove the USB key. You can now restart your computer again if needed.

Go back to parent page Introduction to Linux for bioinformatics