Ubuntu – Best way to create a bootable USB volume for testing potential PC purchases for compatibility with Lightworks under Linux


I currently have a mid-2012, pre-Retina MacBook Pro. I do a bit of video production, enough that I'm interested in buying a machine that will run Lightworks smoothly. It's pretty terrible on the MBP (under OSX; I'm not running Linux on my Mac), most likely because it needs a dedicated nVidia graphics card in order to run smoothly. I'm interested in transitioning back to Linux anyway after having been frustrated in various ways by OSX.

I'd like to shop around and test some potential new and used purchases with a bootable USB Ubuntu volume. So I'd like to build a bootable Ubuntu volume that has Lightworks already installed. What's the best way to do this? I.E.

a) is it better to use a live USB volume that has been built with persistent storage? Or should I actually install Ubuntu onto a USB drive from the Live CD? Is there a difference in terms of compatibility with a variety of machines? Is there any advantage to the third option of building a custom Live-USB volume?

b) will it be practical to do this setup with my Mac, or should I borrow a PC to build the test volume?

c) what tools will be best suited to creating the given volume? I've built a Live USB volume using Etcher (as per the official recommendation) but it uses Apple Partition Map, which seems unlikely to be conducive to cross-platform functionality.

d) I've heard in passing that it's more difficult to install Linux on modern PCs with UEFI and secure boot. Does this mean there are special considerations necessary when building a testing boot volume? Will this prevent me from, say, booting up a random machine at Best Buy off my testing volume?

Best Answer

Testing with the free graphics drivers

If you intend to test the performance with the free graphics drivers, I would recommend that you make a persistent live system. You can use the tool mkusb for this purpose.

A [persistent] live system is very portable between computers, so likely to work when you have the opportunity to test a new computer.

Testing with a proprietary nvidia driver

If you intend to test the performance with a proprietary nvidia graphics driver, I would recommend that you make an installed system, that boots in UEFI mode.

Recently I answered a question here at AskUbuntu, that should help you make such a system.

Boot Ubuntu from external drive

(Of course, in addition to those instructions, you should install an nvidia driver, that is likely to work with the graphics chips/card that you want to test, and your particular software, Lightworks.)

Custom live USB volume

Unless you already know how to do it, it is probably too difficult to create a custom live USB volume for this purpose.

Borrow a PC

Installed systems are portable, but not as portable as [persistent] live systems.

Mac computers are different from the standard PCs that are delivered with Windows, so I suggest that you borrow a standard PC to build the test volume, if you want to make an installed system and test with a proprietary nvidia driver. It would help if the computer is rather new to have hardware that is similar to what you intend to test (and of course boot in UEFI mode).

UEFI/BIOS system

You might have to turn off secure boot in order to make the computer boot from a USB drive. This is different between computers, depending on the UEFI/BIOS system. I don't think that all sales people can help you with that; you might need some research before visiting the store in order to succeed.

Several HP computers boot only from USB via grub if there is an MSDOS partition table, not if there is a GUID partition table, GPT.

Some UEFI/BIOS/motherboard systems are extra tricky, and you need some special boot option to make the computer boot from USB. Sometimes it seems like the manufacturers use non-standard features and tweaks to make it difficult to boot anything but Windows.

Preliminary testing

I suggest that you test your USB drive in some computers, before visiting the stores and the real testing. You can ask friends, relatives and colleagues to try in their computers. This way you will get a feeling of how easy it will be to do the real testing. Maybe you have to modify the system in order to make it more portable.