Tinycore: Install to Pen Drive 







Install to Pen drive


This is a simple guide to setting up a USB pen drive with Tiny Core Linux on it. It's just a 'get you going' description for those who are totally unfamiliar with the process, and is intended to get you to the stage where you have something that you can use to explore the capability of those thin clients that will boot from USB.

This description assumes that your main working environment is Windows. (If you're a Linux Geek you probably don't need to read this guide!)


Pen Drive

You obviously need a pen drive! Tiny Core is not a large distribution, but you'll also need space for any extensions you decide to add. I currently have a number of cheap 1GB drives that I got from eBay, but almost anything over 64MB should do.

NB: At least one of the utilities mentioned below refuses to put the distribution on a pen drive that's smaller than 1GB. You may have to rule that one out if you are wanting to use an old 256MB pen drive for instance.


Tiny Core download screen Next we need a copy of the latest Tiny Core distribution. This is available from the Downloads section of the Tiny Core website. At the time of writing I see the version number has now reached 4.7.6. and that there are now three variants available - Core, TinyCore and CorePlus. The first excludes the graphical front end, and the last bundles a load of applications such as support for a Wireless setup. For this example we'll download TinyCore.

With my setup this automatically goes into my Downloads folder. In your case it may be different and you might get a save as... prompt from your browser. Where ever it ends up you'll need to find it later. The current distribution is always named tinycore-current.iso. I find it useful to rename it to the actual version - tinycore476.iso in this case - so you know what's what in a few months time.

Pen Drive transfer Program

Finally we need some way to get the distribution on to the pen drive. There are quite a few options you can use. Here are four of them:

The first two have no installer and execute directly. The last two will install themselves on your computer in the normal fashion and create an entry in the start menu.

When I first wrote this guide there wasn't much to choose between them. Some did it all for you, some needed a slight tweak afterwards. If you have problems with one then try one of the others. core2usb is Tiny Core specific and so should automatically deal with the issue mentioned below. All of them use syslinux as the system loader.

Recently (September 2013) I've found that pen drives prepared with LiLi were not recognised by the BIOS on a Neoware CA9 whilst an alternative pen drive I had that used Grub as the boot loader worked perfectly. I've had brief look at things and have no explanation as to why its not recognised. At the time I looked around for alternatives and found RMprepUSB that did produce a 'syslinux'ed pen drive that would boot on the Neoware CA9.

I should also mention that I've found some BIOSs will not recognise large pen drives. I suggest you use pen drives of 1GB or less to avoid this problem.

I've written a couple of simple guides to putting Tiny Core onto a bootable pen drive:

Tiny Core CD/ISO Quirks

When you install applications in Tiny Core it puts them in the tce subdirectory. However, if you're running Tiny Core from a CDROM, that media is actually read-only and you cannot store downloaded applications in that directory. At some point in the 4.0 series the Tiny Core developers recognised this and changed the name of that directory to cde for the live CD version to indicate that it was non-writable .

All the installation applications below basically unpack the Tiny Core ISO image, copy the files across to the pen drive and then install syslinux to make it bootable. This means that at some point the cde directory needs to be renamed to tce. core2usb does this automatically, but if you use any other installer you'll have to do this by hand. (It also may be worth editing the syslinux.cfg file to remove the cde parameter from the boot command line).

Pendrive Install

All follow a similar path.

Plug your pen drive into a USB port on your computer. Note the drive letter that windows assigns to it. This is critical. This drive is going to be modified so you need to be sure that you're installing to the right drive and not screwing up your main system or any other drives in any way. Most utilities are actually quite helpful here and various various safeguards built into it to prevent you making a mistake - they'll only work on removable drives.

Some of the installation applications offer you the opportunity to format your pendrive before use. If they don't and the pendrive needs to be formatted you'll have to do that yourself - either on another system or using the inbuilt Windows disk tools. An easy option, at least in Windows 7, is to right click on it in Explorer and then select Format.. from the list of drop down options. Next select FAT or FAT32 as the format option.

After that it's a matter of following the prompts.

Running Tiny Core

Plug into your thin client and power it up. Hopefully you'll find that you end up in a Tiny Core boot screen, then hit return to boot Tiny Core.

If Tiny Core boots but you only end up with command line interface there two likely causes:

  1. You may still have a cde rather than a tce directory on the pendrive. Check and rename if necessary.
  2. You have a slow USB device. You need to use the command line parameter 'waitusb=5'. At the time of writing this is the second option on the standard boot menu.

Final tweak

As a final step you might want to edit the syslinux.cfg file to suit. For example add your version of kmap=qwerty/uk to the boot parameters to match your keyboard, change the default boot to the entry that includes waitusb=5 and reduce the default timeout from 60 seconds down to something like 5 seconds.



Any comments? email me.    Last update September 2013