7 Best Portable Linux Distro to Boot and Run from USB

Last Updated: July 25, 2018
Best Portable Linux Distro

A portable operating system is one which is compatible with multiple hardware platforms and also can be carried easily on a physical drive. Most of the portable OSs are lightweight and carry in a CD or USB drive. Running an OS from a CD/ USB drive is termed using live CD/USB. Even though portable OS is lightweight, the performance is not to be underestimated and most of them are open source with strong community support.

There is nothing wrong to keep one Portable OS as part of your System First Aid; they can boot from USB, retrieve your data and convert your dead PC to alive. We listed the best portable Linux OS Distro to help you.

Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux is an ultra-small linux OS has a user-friendly UI. Despite being small it has readily available partitioning and file recovery tools packed with this portable Linux. This Linux Distro is suitable for basic computing and web browsing. Puppy Linux is highly customizable, different customized versions called “puplets” are available. Each puplets offers unique features or support. There are puplets such as non-English puplets, special function puplets, etc.

Puppy can save session data in separate files. This Linux distro includes its own package manager, which makes installing additional applications easy. The configuration tools allow the user to tweak system’s setting. After all the tweaking, customizing and installing additional applications a user can turn the by-product into their Linux distro using the remastering tool.

Key Features: Size – 100MB | RAM – 256MB | Window Manager – JWM | Customizable | Download from Website

Related: 14 Best Lightweight OS for Old Laptop & Netbook


Slax is a user-friendly Linux distro. The standard version of Slax is small as 210MB, and fast Linux Distro. The size of this portable Linux is dependent on the user, and this distro is modular. The benefit of modular distro concept is the user can add or subtract modules before downloading the OS. If one does not require office software, they can delete it before downloading, or add the multimedia tool if they wish.

This Linux distro is packed inside a single directory /Slax/. Slax Linux Distro is available in both 32bit and 64 bit. For old computers, the 32-bit version is advisable, whereas 64-bit version is best suited for modern models of computers. If one does not require office software, they can delete it before downloading, or add the multimedia tool if they wish. This Linux distro is packed inside a single directory /Slax/. Slax Linux Distro is available in both 32bit and 64 bit. For old computers, the 32-bit version is advisable, whereas 64-bit version is best suited for modern models of computers.

Key Features: Size – 210MB | RAM – 256MB | Window Manager – KDE | Modular | Download from Website

Related: 10 Best Linux Server Distributions for your Business & Home

BackTrack (Kali Linux)

BackTrack is not light nor the heaviest OS. For a portable OS, it is a little bit heavy with the size of 2GB. But the 300+ apps readily available are enough to justify this extra size. This Linux distro is considered as Hacker favorite, meant for security testing. Kali OS can be used for wireless hacking, server exploiting, web-app assessing and so on. Although BackTrack Linux does contain a few graphical toolsIf, this Linux Distro is good for command line experts.

BackTrack is serious about anonymity. Users do not have to register any names, bank accounts or user accounts as part of obtaining ISO image. There is no reporting back to any vendor by any spyware. Ncrack is a tool in this particular distro which assists the user in identifying user accounts with weak passwords with no need for logging into each host. It must be noted that all the facility offered by Kali Linux distro is to be used legally only. It must be noted that BackTrack project is continued as Kali Linux.

Key Features: Size – 2GB | RAM – 512MB | Window Manager – GNOME, KDE | Security testing | Download from Website

Damn Small Linux

As the name implies, Damn Small Linux is very small. It is of only 50MB. The small size does not mean it is underpowered; it runs surprisingly fast even on low-powered hardware. Damn Small Linux packs many applications such as Firefox, VNC viewer, file manager, instant messenger and even a web server. Thus DSL is capable of performing browsing web, write documents, manage files, play music, manipulate images and all other things a basic computer does.

This Portable Linux Distro can function as a server (SSH/FTP/HTTPD) right off on a live CD/ USB drive. DSL is based on yet another Linux distro called Knoppix. Hence applications from that distro can also be run in DSL.

Key Features: Size – 50MB | RAM – 256MB | Window Manager – Fluxbox, JWM | Download from Website

Porteus Linux

This particular Linux distro is of less than 300MB. Porteus is available in both 32 bit and 64 bit. Similar to Slax, Porteus is also modular. Precompiled modules can be activated or deactivated before downloading this Linux distro. The user can select default software and select applications such as browser, office, etc. Even Skype can be set as a default application. The user has the provision to select the drivers they wish. Finally, the user can customize the system password and boot behavior of the OS.

Key Features: Size – 300MB | RAM – 256MB | Window Manager – KDE | Modular | Download from Website

Tiny Core Linux

Being 10MB this Linux distro is the smallest of the portable OS. This is also the lowest RAM demanding OS. One of the downsides of being so small is that it packs no applications, no file manager or so. These can be later installed by users though. Since it does not have anything unwanted out of the box, Tiny Core Linux is fast and responsive. Tiny Core is not void though; it has a window manager, custom tools, and a terminal.

Key Features: Size – 10MB | RAM – 48MB | Window Manager – KDE | Download from Website


FatDog64 is a 64 bit multiuser Linux distro and a derivative of Puppy Linux. Many applications are included out of the box. Since it packs more application than Puppy Linux, it is heavier than the same but is not the heaviest of all.

FatDog packs applications like Libre Office and GIMP. There are also other lightweight applications for image editing, note taking, and other various tasks. There is room for some entertainment in FatDog64 since it packs some games. It has a save file persistent feature which ask the user to save any changes. This feature makes sure that the system changes made by the user stay unchanged while future uses.

Key Features: Size – 350MB | RAM – 256MB | Window Manager – JWM | Download from Website


Knoppix is a well established and stable Linux distro. This Knoppix portable OS was one of the first live CD distros to get popularity. It packs more than 1000 software packages. The browsers such as Chromium, Firefox/ Ice weasel are available. For office package Libre office is available. Tools for data rescue and system repair are parts of this distro. There are many distros derived from Knoppix. Adriane Knoppix, Damn Small Linux, and Kali Linux are some of them.

Key Features: Size – 700MB | RAM – 128MB | Window Manager – KDE | Download from Website

Best Portable Linux Distro

The portable OS can perform basic computing and more with extraordinary power. Portable Linux Distributions are used for system recovery, hardware compatibility testing and so on. Hence community support and long-term support is at hand, and portable OSs are independent of the hard disk of the system. They run on the RAM and hence are faster than most mainstream OS. The only speed limiting factor of these Live OSs are the speed of your USB drive/CD.

Related: Top 7 Free Operating Systems For Laptop or Netbook.

The Portable Linux distros are no less than any commercial operating systems in terms of features and driver support. The above-mentioned distros seem to outperform conventional operating systems in many scenarios. They can perform a specific task such as system recovery, penetration testing and so on, which most of the other OS fail to perform. Linux distro does all these and still manage to be light enough to be carried on a USB flash drive.


  1. I am really not a superuser, and I can’t run Gnome on my Kali Live w. Persistence ( I’ve mounted persistence n.p.) Than I read forums saying: “Gnome is not supposed to work on Kali. Kali is version of Linux intended for system maintainers etc.”. Seems that if you want to install anything to Kali Live, you need to do it using command line.

  2. Look no further than Knoppix. I’m amazed they listed it last unless they are trying to tell us which is best. 7.2.0 is probably the best of all versions ever done. I have been with Knoppix since version ONE and it has never let me down in any way. Run it from DVD for best security. With lang and keyboard switches it does not matter which language your iso is. It runs in any language you choose! The USB can be set-up any time you want but its not wise to use it over a week or so without renewing it. It can become a house for bugs. Klaus Knopper is the IT Einstein of the 21st century – hans-down –

  3. Bilibop software for debian distros (on synaptic manager) will do this. Bilibop-udev is the minimal app for persistance on debian usb installations. I’ve never really put Puppy to the test. Generally I’ve just burnt a disc, check that it boots and works, and never use it again. FatPuppy64 doesn’t seem to have been updated since Aug2016, I’m not sure how much it matters if pups from other flavors continue to be updated, but it’s not encouraging.

  4. Puppy Linux CLAIMS “Puppy can save session data in separate files” but in practice this has never worked for me not even once, While it runs unbelievably well off the USB or DVD installing it to a disk has always caused me some serious problems such as failing to boot again or lost data

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