I'm planning on installing Linux on a USB drive, and I was wondering which filesystem I should use to format the drive for best performance (overall responsiveness), and life of the drive?
For installing GNU/Linux on USB key, you will obtain better results if you use a so-called Live with persistant partitions.
The main advantage of using a Live system is about hardware: A linux installation will configure everything for matching specific hardware. A live system will detect hardware at each boot process.
When using a live system, the FS (maybe
iso9660 or other read-only compressed fs) is embed in a whole binary file, containing a partition table. So the only thing to do is to put them in raw on the usb key.
Once this done, you could address de rest of your usb key as one or more partitions, than format them for
copy-on-write persistant partitions.
For this, I recommand
ext4 because it is linux defaut and flash friendly.
More info in this answer: Debian live with persistence.
Couple months ago we performed performance test at the Uni Lab and there was only one winner: Ext4. Write and Read stats were so much better than ext3 and ext2 - that's quite obvious as ext4 was developed based on those two file systems.
I don't remember the specifics exactly so can't give you any number but will defo go with EXT4.
Tests were performed on USB 2.0 - Kingston.
I have opted for ext4 on a 512MB partition for /boot, i chose ext4 because its compatible with grub and it has journaling capabilities.
I then chose btrfs on about 20GB partition for the root of the filesystem /, i chose btrfs because of its COW properties, i assume this will allow even wear across the drive, also btrfs is just badass. i have lzo compression enabled in fstab, and some other "flash-friendly" options (see here)
Also at the end of the drive i have a 10GB partition in ntfs that ive mounted at /home/user/Downloads which i can access when i plug it into my other computers.