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I'm looking for a Linux distribution that I can run from USB that works on almost every computer that I will encounter. I need this because I repair computers and want to run all kinds of tools. I want it to run on:

  • IA-32 (32 bit) and x86-64 (64 bit) processors
  • BIOS and UEFI computers
  • PC and Mac (after they switched to Intel)

UEFI computers normally have a BIOS compatibility mode, but, if I understood it correctly, Mac computers don't have this. I have here temporarily an iMac from Mid 2010 on which I have tested. The boot option nomodeset seems to be required to prevent a black screen when running Linux on this Mac.

I've looked at:

  • Slax - works nice, but no UEFI support
  • Lubuntu - works, but no UEFI on 32 bit version, so I would need two USB flash drives to cover all requirements, which is not ideal. Also not really made for running from USB (persistence options).
  • Knoppix - When running on a Mac, it makes the startup sound, but the screen goes to black before I can enter boot options.
  • antiX - Update: seems to work, check my own answer

Is there any distro that satisfies all requirements?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Rui F Ribeiro, Mr Shunz, Romeo Ninov, Alexander, telcoM Apr 28 at 20:33

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Try GRML and ALT Rescue, maybe.

The former is a very decent specialized recovery/rescue distribution; the latter might be somewhat easier to reach regarding special needs (I maintained it for many years but am now passing the project to my younger colleague, so not as shameless plug as it used to be; any of the Regular builds' LiveCDs has gparted and a basic set of rescue tools, Rescue is text-only on intent but has considerably more of those).

GRML has "96-bit" ISO that will get you rolling on both 32- and 64-bit computers; ALT has UEFI shim that should work on 64-bit RestrictedBoot UEFI (and recently on 32-bit too if the guys didn't break it when updating).

Not sure of Intel Macs though, I have none handy for testing.

PS: you might also find this immensely useful, and this no less entertaining.

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    Thanks! At the moment I have antiX running and no time to look at alternatives. But I might take a look at it later. – Paul May 2 at 16:54
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    The golden rule is "if it works, don't break it" :-) Glad for you! – Michael Shigorin May 2 at 20:10
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How about one USB flash drive with multiple LiveOS on it?

You can put a 32 bit distro and multiple 64 bit distros on one USB key with Multiboot, Multisystem (English web review and another English review), and XBOOT.

Although not exactly what you asked for, it does give you everything on one flash drive.

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I got something that seems to work:

Use 32 bit (386) antiX Linux.

I first used Rufus on Windows to write it to a USB drive, with MBR as partition scheme. But I had some problems with persistency. Then I used the live-usb-maker tool from within antiX to write antiX to an other USB drive. Now it works just fine.

I tested it on my 64 bit PC, a 64 bit Mac (requires nomodeset in the boot options) and also on a 32 bit BIOS PC.

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https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-best-lightweight-Linux-distro-with-UEFI-support It say that you can just install a uefi grub on USB and it should be bootable.

  • I'll take a look at it if there are no other options. But I'm looking for a distribution that is easy to install, so just downloading an iso and a tool to write that iso to USB. Not manually installing a bootloader. – Paul Apr 24 at 14:58
  • Does not answer original question, specifically regarding the 32-bit and 64-bit points. – 0xSheepdog Apr 24 at 15:03
  • @0xSheepdog True, but x86-64 is backwards compatible with IA-32 so this isn't really a problem. – Philip Couling Apr 24 at 15:09
  • This is a problem when you need to chroot, for the starters... – Michael Shigorin Apr 25 at 20:02

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