Universal USB Installer, Install, Run Linux From USB

Martin Brinkmann
May 9, 2011
Updated • Dec 16, 2012
Linux, Windows software

I just got the replacement battery for my Acer Aspire 3810T and decided to make a clean cut. Instead of continuing to use Windows 7 as the operating system I have decided to install the latest Ubuntu on the notebook. I'm not using the device that often, actually only if I'm on holiday, and I thought it would be a good way to start fiddling around with a Linux desktop OS.

The Acer laptop comes without optical drive, which means that I have to install Linux from an USB device. But how do you get the Linux installation files on the USB device and ensure that Linux can be booted and installed from the device?

I remembered that I have reviewed UNetBootin, the Universal Netboot Installer, in 2008. The program is still around and updated regularly to include popular Linux distributions.

A friend recommended a similar program called Universal USB Installer which offered a similar functionality. And since I have not reviewed that program yet, I made the decision to use that program to install Linux on my notebook.

Preparing the USB device

Universal USB Installer is a portable application for Microsoft Windows operating system. Just run it to open the configuration screen. Everything is handled on that screen. Make sure you plug in your USB stick before you start the program, as it will not be recognized by the program otherwise. The stick needs to have a size of at least 2 Gigabytes. It should also be reasonably fast as the copying and installation may take a long time or fail if it is to slow.

universal usb installer

You start by selecting one of the available Linux distributions from the pulldown menu under Step 1. Available are the latest stable releases of Ubuntu, Debian, Linux Mint, Open Suse and a couple dozen more.

You can select to download the ISO from the project homepage, or select an existing ISO image from the local hard drive. Downloads were processed in Microsoft Internet Explorer, even though that was not the default web browser on my computer system.

You select the usb flash drive letter under step 3. Only removable drives are displayed by default. You can override that option to display all drives but that is usually not recommended as installation on a local hard drive may break the installed operating system on those drives.

install ubuntu linux usb

It is recommended to format the drive which will erase all contents stored on it before the Linux distribution is copied to it. Persistent file size is only necessary if you plan to run the Linux system from USB stick. Since my intention was to install it on the notebook, I did not need to configure that storage.

installing ubuntu

Installation of the Linux distribution on the device takes time, especially if the device is not that fast. A progress bar indicates the remaining time and the current state of the copying process.

Using the Linux distribution on USB

Now that Linux has been installed on the USB device, you can make use of it in two different ways. You can plug it into any computer to run Linux directly from the device, or use it to install Linux on that computer. One thing that you probably need to do is to enter the BIOS setup to change the boot order. The notebook's hard drive is usually the first boot device, and you need to change that so that your USB device comes first and the hard drive second.

The loader of the selected Linux distribution is displayed once you have made the boot order change. It is then just a matter of selecting to Install the Linux distribution on the hard drive, or run it from USB device.


The process of copying Linux to an USB device has been pleasant. It took less than five minutes to download and copy all relevant files on the USB device. The first USB stick that I tried caused a problem during installation, probably because it was not fast enough. The second USB stick that I tried was faster and installation commenced without further problems.

Users who want to install Linux on a netbook without optical device can use the Universal USB Installer to do that comfortably. The program is constantly updated with new Linux releases. A download is provided at the developer website. that has been linked above in the article.


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  1. aaron said on January 21, 2013 at 1:40 am

    i downloaded the ubuntu-12.10-desktop-i386 iso from the link on this article, but when i try to select it on step 2 of the usb installer, it won’t select. I tried to find which specific folder of the file but there seams to be nothing there. Do i need to extract the file with an iso opener? or is it something else? thanks

  2. Artur - usb stick said on May 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    As I know you can even create multisystem boot usb :)

  3. Jetchisel said on November 25, 2011 at 4:00 am
  4. Reader said on May 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Yep, some can work with as little as 11MB (see tiny core linux! Very interesting)
    But probably Ubuntu requires a lower bound of GBs.

    a reader

  5. Reader said on May 10, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Huge coincidence: I have been messing with this program and a couple of linux distros the last 2 days!

    Quite a helpful piece of software :)

    One short notice though:
    The stick does NOT need to have a size of at least 2 Gigabytes.

    I played around with a 16Gb UBS flash drive, but also with a 256MB old lexar drive. Worked like charm! :)

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on May 10, 2011 at 8:14 am

      Reader, you are right.Some distributions do not require 2 Gigabyte. I think I read on the Ubuntu homepage that it does though.

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