Laptop motherboards that can boot from USB
October 3, 2007 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Can you name any laptop motherboards (brands, models, etc.) capable of booting from a USB flash drive?

We're working on a robotics project at my university, and we're thinking that using a small linux kernel on a flash drive and a laptop motherboard would be much more sustainable (and easier) than dealing with microcontrollers.

What we need to find is a motherboard that can boot off of a USB flash drive. I know these exist, but I have no idea how to find them!
posted by DrSkrud to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Most modern motherboards can boot from USB. The Dell Latitude D620 I type this on can.

The forthcoming Asus EEE has a small solid-state hard drive; there are numerous interfaces from various flash memory formats to IDE or SATA allowing you to functionally have a solid-state drive (and boot from flash memory) even if the mobo doesn't support booting from USB. (I'm assuming the real point here is a battery-powered computer without a hard drive, thus my suggesting things unrelated to the exact question.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:34 PM on October 3, 2007

The learning curve for microcontrollers isn't that steep nowadays, and it'll allow you to ditch a lot of bulk and significantly reduce power consumption. And it'll be a useful thing to have learnt to work with.

If you really do want to go for a PC though, you could do worse than getting a gumstix machine.
posted by fvw at 3:38 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

My Fujitsu A6010 can do it, I have recently been playing with booting Puppy Linux on the flash drive which is mildly amusing.
posted by jockc at 4:10 PM on October 3, 2007

As Zed_Lopez said, most can. You'll want to read up on bootable USB device types though (USB-HDD, USB-FDD, USB-ZIP). Some machines can only boot some of these device types, others all if manually selected, still others will automagically detect the drive type and understand how to boot it. If your machine demands that you specify a usb drive type you'll may have to format/prepare it with different options.
posted by datacenter refugee at 4:30 PM on October 3, 2007

My thinkpad T42 can do it. So can Mrs. Toxic's Dell Inspiron 1405. If you're talking about modern systems, more can than can't these days.
posted by toxic at 4:30 PM on October 3, 2007

@ neustile: I'm obviously not the OP, but epia boards are god-awful underpowered (I just sold off two because they trudge through even key generation on headless linux now) and an ATX battery is far more difficult to make / expensive to buy than a common laptop battery.
posted by datacenter refugee at 5:29 PM on October 3, 2007

All Intel-based Apple laptops will. Try picking up one with a cracked screen.
posted by now i'm piste at 5:31 PM on October 3, 2007

+1 on gumstix!

I'm about to build the brain of my unmanned aerial vehicle from one. I've played with mine in a great many ways; although I quickly got bored with just programming it, since it's just another linux box.

They're 400MHz linux computers, on a board the size of a stick of gum, weighing a few grams, with at least forty lines of GPIO (these, of course, also serve as special-purpose IO, as the gumstix has plenty of really useful I/O modules).
posted by Netzapper at 8:07 PM on October 3, 2007

Zed Lopez's 'Other interfaces' to IDE above is talking about These things. - They will probably make you much, much happier than a USB interface.
posted by Orb2069 at 12:19 PM on October 4, 2007

I can say from experience that the Gateway M460XL cannot boot from USB, even with the latest BIOS updates. A source of personal aggravation, as it has frustrated certain goofy Linux boot tasks I had planned.

(No comment on other, more recent Gateways - I'd assume they include this feature).
posted by sprocket87 at 9:41 AM on October 5, 2007

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