How to revive a computer that no longer have a disk.

You have a computer that is now disk-less. Your hard drive failed or you took it off for another computer and you don’t have another one nor can afford it. You don’t need to keep it aside till you get a new disk. Here’s how to put it back to work.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Heads up/TL;DR: You need more than 2GB ram if youre attempting this, It’ll load the entire system in RAM, which makes it super fast and you’ll also be able to install programs and write files like it’s a disk, but you need to have enough RAM. I have 4GB and it runs perfect :)

Backstory (you can skip this)

A year ago, my computer’s hard drive failed due to a fall while running. After a day it wouldn’t work at all leaving me with a computer that wouldn’t boot. Being my only computer, and having no money for another disk, I’ve used a Linux Distro on a flash drive to use social media and watch series for a while. It was fine but not really suitable to run without installation for a long time and you needed to keep the flash drive in always.

A couple weeks after the drive wouldn’t work, and I started using my phone again. That until, something magical happened: I remembered about DriveDroid.

DriveDroid allows you to boot your PC from ISO/IMG files stored on your phone. This is ideal for trying Linux distributions or always having a rescue-system on the go… without the need to burn different CDs or USB pendrives.

So how was it different than a flash-drive? well I didn’t have access to another pc to install ISO files in a flash-drive, and second, I didn’t have one anymore. But again, I barely have space on my phone, 450MB only. And also, wouldn’t be the same struggle as running a Distro from a USB drive?

It is, however, this is where PuppyLinux comes in, with 300MB in size it fit in my phone, a good user interface that’s easy to use, and the killer feature which I didn’t know until I tried it is:

It can run completely in RAM. (And it does it the best way possible.)

How to start a computer with no drive using a Flash-Drive or a Phone, and have it run fast like a race car.

Now the real talk, how to do it.

You need either:

  • 1) a rooted android phone and a data cable.
  • 2) a Flash-drive and another PC to use to install the ISO file in it.

1) With a phone:

  • Download DriveDroid from Play Store or from another source online.
  • Download Puppy Linux ISO from here I recommend BionicPup as FossaPup didn’t work for me.

Now open DriveDroid and it will lead you to setting it up. You need to know how to open BIOS menu at startup to make it use the Flash-Drive for boot (which is also for data cables that we’re using with the phone).

Now move the ISO you downloaded to the folder DriveDroid is using and in DriveDroid tap it and host it.

2) With a Flash-Drive:

  1. Download Puppy Linux ISO from here I recommend BionicPup as FossaPup didn’t work for me.
  2. Download either: balenaEtcher, Rufus, Unetbooting, or any other utility used to flash ISO files into a Flash-Drive
  3. Follow the instructions and the ISO you downloaded.
  4. Open BIOS menu at startup to make it use the Flash-Drive for boot.

Now just plug in your Flash Drive or your phone to the PC and it should boot into PuppyLinux, you’ll be given a menu choose the second option which is “To RAM”.

Wait for a minute or two while it’s loading the entire operating system into the RAM.

You’ll be welcomed with a configuration window, it’s simple and straightforward. Then after you’re done, You can remove your phone or flash-drive and it’ll keep running!

For those who never tried Linux before don’t worry it’s not hard to use! this one is simple and easy and you’ll get use to it in no time, plus there is no installation needed.

Another killer feature of this that I very much needed is, ability to install WIFI Drivers without rebooting (which is not an option and cleared bellow). To keep puppy small it don’t ship with all the drivers but they can be very easily installed! Make sure when you open it and if you have internet connection through Ethernet or tethering through phone with cable (make sure to UnHost the ISO if you used it), Open QuickPet in desktop, the click on Puppy Updates. They have helpful fixes and it’s only 13.5mb.

Warning!

The thing about running in RAM, is that RAM is so fast, that’s why I said turn it into a “race car”, It’s about 10 times faster than SSD, as long as you have enough RAM! the system will take about a 1.5GB of it. You Need 4GB to have be able to download programs and such. Yes you can download and install programs into the RAM, even write files and everything you’d do on a disk. However:

  • Once you reboot everything is gone! so if you write some files, for small files that you work with you can use DropBox or Drive or any other service. If you wish to backup everything (the whole system with installed apps) to a disk there are utilities for it in the menu :)
  • You’re limited by your amount of ram. I have 4GB of ram, when I start it for the first time I get about 1.5GB free. So keep that into consideration.
  • If you run out of RAM, it’ll freeze and lose any unsaved progress. So don’t open too many programs. Puppy have handy indicators for it so you can keep it on check always.

Conclusion

This can be a real life saver in extreme rare cases such as mine. You can browse the internet and use the rich set of default apps for literally everything! I am currently writing this using it :)
Many thanks to the people at the #puppylinux channel on freenode for helping me out with all my questions: mrfricks, aloo_shu, and _puddle_.

If you’re using it and need help click the “Chat” icon in the desktop to get in the help channel :)

18, Web & Game developer, and an Open Source & Linux enthusiast.