Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My persistent usb-hdd install of OpenSuSE

This is how i manage to do a persistent usb install of OpenSuSE
This does not require a working OpenSuSE system to do this.

I have used VirtualBox version that support usb devices. you can download it in their website If you are not familiar with VirtualBox i suggest reading the manual.

You will need a x86 hardware in order for VirtualBox to run.
This was tested with the following host :

  • Xp, Vista and Win7 (Windows)

I have made an 11.2 x64 SuSE usb-install. The DVD is the prefered installation media, live cd can be used as well or if you can get your hands on a text based installer for OpenSuSE that would suffice.
This guide is good for large size external hdd that is connected via usb. If you just want a pendrive install of SuSE then this HOWTO might fit your needs.

In vbox settings dont attach a networking card and hdd

Instead attach your usb-hdd and the OpenSuSE DVD or .iso

Fortunately the installer will recognize your usb device and will treat it as a normal hdd and normally (cross your fingers) install through it. just install as you would in a physical machine and don't touch the default disk mount option by the installer. The default would be by-id, you do not really have to bother about it. This just shows you how it is mounted in fstab.
  • .

When your reach the stage in which you will choose the desktop environment to install you either select directly which desktop to install or choose "other" Minimal Server selection (text mode).

Let the installation finish and let it reboot. Of course it will not boot after the first initial installation since vbox does not support usb booting at the moment . It will give you an error about not being able to boot.

Now shutdown your vm close vbox and restart your host while your usb device is still connected to its port. The idea is to trick the installer that it is still inside vbox while the sweet truth is, you are booting it on a physical machine using your external usb device as its hard disk and continue the installation. Make sure that your computer is able to boot with a usb device. Do not be surprised if it drops you in runlevel 3, without X. You did after all install the textmode version. If you are not comfortable with console stuff don't be afraid about it and i suggest you go with the auto configuration install. You can navigate through it using the [tab] and arrow keys, The [space] key selects and the [enter] or [return] key confirms your selection. Depending on what set up you have, you can update during the installation. if you choose the auto configuration then you might need to update manually after the installation is finished, just log in and "yast" is your friend since it runs on console as well.

Update manually and reboot so the new kernel kicks in.
 zypper ref && zypper --non-interactive up
 After that restart your system:


If you have installed the desktop directly you do not need to install the patterns as described below.

Now log in and install the DE patterns such as KDE,GNOME and others. The thing about text based install is that you can choose the D.E of your liking.

for KDE: zypper in -t pattern kde 
for Gnome:zypper in -t pattern gnome
for LXDE: zypper in -t pattern lxde
Choose one from the above, now this is the time that you can take a coffee have a smoke or watch a movie for a while because this might take sometime depending on your internet speed ,for KDE users this (in my opinion) is better since 4.3.5 is now officially released in the main update repository. After that you can change your runlevel to 5.

run as root yast runlevel  This will call yast2 in its console form aka TUI mode.

place your cursor to the expert mode using the [tab] key and select it using the [space bar] key. (expert mode --> the upper button where it says 3: Full multiuser with network ) It is a drop down menu use the [tab] to select it and use the arrow down key to "drop down" the menu change 3 to 5 and hit the [enter] or return key then reboot.

So the next time you boot you will have your DE log in waiting for you. Log in and enjoy.


  • If you are planning to buy a laptop or netbook then this is probably the good way of testing such device before you buy it. The live cd can do that as well, but some netbook doesn't have a cd/dvd drive and some drivers that are needed to test some hardware in not included like no 3rd party application such as 3d proprietary drivers and such. Unless you built your own usb/iso image using susestudio or kiwi.
  • If you cannot afford a dual-boot in your system then this (In my opinion) the best option you have.

  • This usb install might be useful as a rescue media. Install some useful apps such as "dd_rescue" "photorec" and others.

  • You can test some DE release since you are using computer's hardware except for the hardisk.
  • This can also be an installation media. You need to install the package "yast2-live-installer"Now this package will give you an option for disk partition setup, users and it will be auto configuration so not much of an option there. Bear in mind that the target disk (machine) should be larger than the usb (source) disk otherwise you will have some strange errors. The only catch is that it copies everything ( and i mean literally everything) from the usb installation (source) to its target machine. For example if you have a configured user on the usb (source) disk it will also appear on the (target) machine. It will also copy the grub entry of the usb disk to the target machine. So don't be surprised if you have more grub entry than you expect. Fortunately "yast" is your friend in order to solve this issue.

Final thoughts:

I find those usb flash drives a little bit slow and hangs sometimes. For the external usb hdd are more faster in terms of desktop activities. Does not matter which device (flashdrive/external hdd) you use desktop effects will run (at least) with my nVidia card [just works] tm!!!.

Now you got yourself a persistent and portable OpenSuSE system!

have fun!!!

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