USB Live Key

Acquiring or Creating a Live Key

A Live Key is a great way to try Linux because it does not share computer resources like a virtual machine. The downside is you cannot save your work except for a few Linux distros that are designed to run exclusively from a USB drive. The computer will run just about as well from the USB drive as it would from the regular internal disk, so this is a great way to test out a distro.

Purchasing a Live Key

It is possible to purchase a Live Key, but please be aware many people are selling poor quality or malicious versions of Linux and they may be overpriced. If you must purchase a key, you should purchase it directly from the foundation that creates or distributes the distro. Not all distros have an option to purchase, but several do sell USB drives or DVD’s. If you do not have good internet or are limited in data, you could try this option. Several distros sell media through . I have not personally purchased from this company but some reputable companies do recommend

Creating a Live Key

Creating a USB Live Key is very cheap and easy provided you have sufficient internet to download the .iso image and you can get a USB drive at least 4 GB in size.  The .iso images average around 1 GB, but could be slightly larger or small depending on the packages included.  To download, just navigate to the proper page to download your desired distro and save the file to your computer.  If you are extra cautious, you will want to follow the steps to validate the .iso image.  That step will differ depending on your OS.  For Windows, I prefer to use HashTab because it is fastest and seems to work with the smallest amount of configuration.  For Mac, I use the terminal because the tools are built right in.  Usually the distro will provide a SHA256 hash tag, so in the terminal I type “shasum -a 256 {path/file}” and compare that number with the number that the Linux distro provided.  This is a quick method and there are more secure ways to validate the file but for the average user this is enough.  On Linux, the process is exactly the same!

Once the image is validated, you can either write the key to a DVD with a CD burner or you can write the image to the USB drive.  I prefer the USB drive so I can reuse the drive when I am done with it.  For Linux, I use the USB writer that is packaged with the distro, or you can find a solution in the software center.  For Windows and Mac I use UNetBoot .  This program will even install common distros directly from repositories so it may be a good shortcut to downloading first, but I am not sure at this time if the program validates the image.  You do not even need to install the program to create the Live Key, just run it from where you download it from.

To create the Live Key, you need to open UNetBoot and click on the radio button for Diskimage.  Navigate to the distro in the the box next the menu that should say ISO.  On the bottom, under Type, select USB Drive and select the correct drive in the dropdown next to the Drive: label.  Click OK and wait for the program to finish writing the drive.  This step can take a while. Once the drive is completely written, remove the disk and you are ready to reboot the computer.

Booting From a USB Live Key

Booting from a USB Live Key is as easy as putting the drive into an available USB port of the computer and booting the system.  To boot, if you are running a computer pre-dated Windows 8, press the F12 key a few times while turning on the system to access the boot menu.  The menu may be on a different key, but F12 is the most frequently used.  If that does not work, you can enter the BIOS (or setup) by pressing either ESC, F2, or F10.  Also take note that some computers toggle the function keys with the special keys, so you may need to hold Fn while pressing F2 or F10.  One of these options will work.  If you are able to get the Boot menu with F12 then select the option to boot off of the USB drive.  If you accessed the Setup or BIOS you will want to find the Boot Order or Boot Sequence and move the USB Boot above the Hard Disk (HDD).  Restart the computer with the USB drive in the port and it should boot from the drive instead of the internal disk.  To return to usual booting you just need to remove the drive from the USB port and your computer will be back to normal.


If you are particularly paranoid, it is easy to remove the hard disk  from your computer or pull the disk cable (on a desktop).  Since installation does not happen automatically, you are generally safe without these extra steps.

Windows 8 and Windows 10

Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft started to implement Secure Boot on most computers.  This system prevents some Linux operating systems from booting. If you are not able to boot the computer, try to disable Secure Boot following instructions provided by Microsoft to disable Secure Boot here .  Once you disable Secure Boot everything else will work the same as above.


Unfortunately Apple has made booting from an operating system that is not OSX difficult.  Special software is required to boot Linux on a Mac, so I will not discuss this topic here.  If you have a Mac and you want to try out Linux, it is very easy to find or buy a cheap old computer that is nearing the end of it’s life and use it to test drive Linux.  Otherwise, you can just stick to the VirtualBox to test drive Linux.

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