Live Linux Session

One of the best things about Linux is that you don’t need to install it to use it, you can load a “live session” from most Linux installation media. This can be useful for trying out Linux, but furthermore, it is extremely useful for data recovery, troubleshooting, and maintenance/repair work, since you can use tools external to your regular OS.

If you have Windows and are still able to boot it, you may wish to try this guide first.

This guide may seem long, but it’s not very difficult. It covers as many common cases as possible. It also aims to be informative.

 

Step 0: Preparation

Before creating the live session media, you should do a few things to ensure the live session will run smoothly.

If you have Windows installed and you’re able to boot it, go to Power Options -> Choose what the power buttons do -> Change settings that are currently unavailable -> Disable “Fast startup (recommended)” and Hibernation.

Be sure to disable Secure Boot and Fast Boot in BIOS, if the options exist. Some Linux distros can work with Secure Boot enabled, but it’s still recommended to disable it.

 

Step 1: Creating bootable media

You can do this step from any computer, not just the affected one. You will either need a blank DVD or a flash drive.

First, you need to download an ISO file containing a Linux distro. There are many to choose from, but we aren’t going to get into that, to keep it simple just download the Xubuntu ISO for 64-bit computers or the Lubuntu ISO for 32-bit computers. Don’t know? Try here.

After you’ve downloaded the ISO file, you will either need to burn this image to a DVD or you will need to put it on a 2+ GB flash drive. You can use the included software in your operating system to burn it to a DVD.

Alternatively, you can put it on a flash drive. If you are creating the installer from Windows, you’ll need to download a tool called Rufus. To put it on a flash drive if you are creating the installer from Mac or Linux, you can use the built-in dd tool.

Windows:

  1. Download and run Rufus.
  2. Near the bottom, select “ISO Image” and then browse for the ISO image.
  3. Select which flash drive you want to put the installer on.
  4. Select the target system type, GPT/MBR/UEFI/BIOS/etc. Don’t know? Try here.
  5. Click “Start” and wait for it to finish.

macOS:

  1. Open the Terminal.
  2. First, without the flash drive inserted, run diskutil list in the Terminal.
  3. Plug in the flash drive and run the command again. You can do this to identify the drive number.
  4. Unmount the flash drive you have identified. diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk[number], without the square brackets.
  5. Convert the ISO image. hdiutil convert /path/to/ubuntu.iso -format UDRW -o /path/to/ubuntu.img
  6. Write the image to the flash drive. dd if=/path/to/ubuntu.img of=/dev/rdisk[number]. Using /dev/rdisk instead of /dev/disk usually results in faster media creation.
  7. Wait until the next prompt comes up. dd does not display progress, you can’t tell how far along it is until it is finished.
  8. After dd is complete(you can press Ctrl+T to check the progress), eject the created installation media. diskutil eject /dev/disk[number].

Linux:

  1. Open the Terminal.
  2. Use lsblk to get a list of devices. Look for the /dev/sd[letter] of your device, with no numbers.
  3. Open a terminal emulator to the directory where the ISO is stored.
  4. Use dd if=/path/to/ubuntu.iso of=/dev/sd[letter] to create a bootable drive from the ISO.
  5. Wait until the next prompt comes up. dd does not display progress, you can’t tell how far along it is until it is finished.

 

Step 2: Boot the live session

Xubuntu Live Session
Xubuntu Live Session

Reboot the computer and boot the flash drive or DVD. If you disabled Secure Boot and Fast Boot in BIOS (if applicable), this should be easy.

When the image boots, select “Try”. You should connect to WiFi if applicable, so you can install software and contact /r/techsupport techs.

Now, you can perform whatever tasks are necessary to fix your computer. I’ve provided a list of a few things to do below.

 

Step 3: Things you can do in the live session

Recover data from your storage drives

  1. First, try to open your drive using the file manager. It should appear on the desktop of your live session.
    1. If your files open up just fine, see “Once you have your drive open” below.
    2. Else, if your drive does not appear on the desktop, see if it appears in Gparted.
    3. If you get an error like this, and you were unable to follow the Disable Fast Startup step in Step 0:
      1. Note the partition label (such as /dev/sda1). You can find this by opening Gparted.
      2. Use the command sudo ntfsfix /dev/sda1, substituting /dev/sda1 with your Windows partition’s label.
  2. Once you have your drive open:
    1. Look through your data and examine what’s there. For Windows, look in the Users/ folder.
    2. Copy what you need to keep to a USB flash drive, USB external hard drive, or secondary storage drive.

 

Check the health of your storage drives

  1. First, try to open them using the file manager. See above for details.
  2. Regardless of whether you’re able to access it or not, you should also check the SMART status of the drive.
    1. Use sudo apt install smartmontools gsmartcontrol to install the relevant tools.
    2. Open Gsmartcontrol and select your disk.
    3. If the “Basic health check” says anything other than “PASSED” then your drive is failing and you should replace it immediately.
    4. It’s also possible that it will report “PASSED” even if it’s failing, so you can take a screenshot of the details or save and upload the full report so that /r/techsupport techs can examine it.
    5. You can also manually perform a drive test from the “Perform Tests” tab in the details screen.

 

Format and prepare empty storage devices

GParted in Xubuntu Live Session
GParted in Xubuntu Live Session
  1. Open GParted from the menu.
  2. Select the correct drive (/dev/sd[letter]) using the dropdown on the top right.
  3. If you are unsure about what the next step is, please take screenshots of Gparted and post them to /r/techsupport.
  4. Select “Device” -> “Create Partition Table…”
    1. UEFI systems
      1. Set the partition table type to gpt (typically capitalized: “GPT”).
      2. Before creating any partitions, note that on GPT disks, you should ALWAYS use Primary rather than Logical or Extended partitions.
      3. If this is a disk you plan to use as a boot drive, create an EFI System Partition, about 1 GB, create as “Primary Partition”, file system fat32, with a name of “EFI System Partition”.
      4. Always after making changes to partitions, you have to click the green check mark to apply the changes.
      5. Right-click and select “Manage Flags”, and enable the boot flag for your EFI system partition (the esp flag should auto-enable when you do this, if not, manually enable that too).
    2. Legacy BIOS systems
      1. Set the partition table type to msdos (also known as MBR).
      2. Unlike with UEFI, no special partitions need to be created in GParted. You’re done.
  5. Close GParted if nothing else needs to be done.

 

Was this article helpful?