Boot Times & Run Times

I’ve seen it stated on various forums how much faster a system will be once installed to a hard drive, rather than running in live mode from a USB stick. In fact I’ve even seen figures of 10x and 15x faster quoted. Sorry but I haven’t yet seen any evidence to support this. I’ve tried a vast number of different distros over the last couple of years or so, and I haven’t yet come across one that has been significantly quicker once installed. Please note I said “significantly”. Ok, so there’s been one or two that have perhaps booted 5 seconds faster, but certainly nothing to get excited about.

I’ve also noticed that, although there’s probably the odd exception, most distros appear to boot up in roughly the same time, again perhaps 5 seconds difference here and there. Distros that are specifically classed as “lightweight” don’t boot up any quicker than others. Where I do notice a difference is with different desktops, e.g. something with Gnome will take longer than an XFCE set up, as you would expect.

Interestingly the other occasion I see a difference is with 32 bit systems, where they are still available. Although all my machines are 64 bit, a 32 bit distro will boot quicker than it’s equivalent 64 bit version, and use less RAM. So there are other reasons for running 32 bit, other than having a 32 bit machine.

But as for an installation being much faster than a USB stick? Nope, not seen it yet. Perhaps that only applies to those with the latest Ryzen processor and 64Gb of RAM. Well I’m not in that position and never likely to be.

I’m not looking for any solutions or fixes, I assume a lot of it is simply down to my 12 year old machines. It’s just something I felt like rambling about on this cold, grey, dreary Sunday and wondered if anyone else has made any similar observations? Or is it just me?


Same as you running live in USB just as quick as a full install, even quicker if the the distro loads to ram like puppy linux.
Maybe the “how much faster a system will be once installed to a hard drive” quote goes back a few years to when we had to use CD or DVD to run a live distro?


That’s an interesting thought…and I’d agree with your findings - at least based on my usage, I get similar performance (at least to login)… Although I always caveat that I’m not a heavy desktop user (I don’t install/start a GUI if I don’t need it).

Considering my own (old) hardware - I certainly find that CD and DVD is noticeably slower than either USB or HDD. For a few years, I actually installed that O/S onto a USB3.0 (600MB/s) which was plugged into a USB2.0 port (being only 60MB/s). This had minimal performance loss when compared against my standard 5400RPM HDD (100MB/s) installation. At present I use a SSD (530MB/s) which is plugged into the same old SATA2 port (being only 300MB/s)… so based on that, it would appear that my SSD is by far my best option - but in reality, it is all very insignificant.
(I’m unsure if those figures are correct, I grabbed them from the internet solely for this post!)

It’s probably worth considering that many of the boot processes are not reading from disk, but they are initialising hardware and negotiating network, etc - which may explain why “time to boot” is pretty consistent…

Nope, the comments I’ve seen have all been fairly recent. The comment that a hard drive is 10 to 15 times faster (which I thought was a ludicrous claim incidentally) was certainly within last 6 months.

This may help:

So … there are a couple of aspects to this which skew the figures back and forth a little. Overall boot speed is a combination of latency (aka seek time) and throughput. When a system boots, it tends to read from a number of different areas of the disk, which means on a HDD the heads need to move quite a bit, so latency becomes quite important relative to the sequential read speed. So where USB drives potentially lose out on throughput, assuming the storage is flash based, they tend to catch back up again on low seek latency.

Actually getting 60Mb on a USB2 would be pretty good going, I’ve had an old Mac here running on an external SSD via USB2 and the best it sees is around 35Mb/sec (historically this feels about right for Linux too). As for USB3, I looked at the high throughput speeds and was very surprised to find I couldn’t get anywhere near this, specifically on a Raspberry Pi 400. (top-end seems to be more like 250Mb/sec) I’m not certain, but from what I can see there are two USB3 specs, 3.0 and 3.1. It “seems” that 3.0 actually delivers ~ 250Mb/sec and you need 3.1 to get any closer to the published maximums … but my takeaway was generally “avoid mass-storage on USB” …

So … HDD at 100Mb/sec with 5ms seek time vs USB flash at 35Mb/sec with 0.2ms seek time, who boots faster? I guess it depends on the particular install, desktop environment etc etc … but for a desktop, I’d probably lean towards the USB - although I’m not sure there would be that much in it.

In terms of ‘faster once installed’, then if it’s a modern system, and assuming that system has onboard NVMe M.2 type storage (which I think is pretty standard) then seek times will be quicker (not sure how much), but the throughput is indeed going to be a lot faster. The sequential read speed on my machine is ~ 3000Mb/sec, which would make it ~ 100x faster than a USB2 flash. It’s not going to boot 100x faster because the difference in latency isn’t going to be anything like that, but I would expect it to be significantly quicker.

Thank you, very well written and informative, but this bit probably sums it up

In a lot of cases it probably isn’t a modern system. I’m aware that some people are running Linux on pretty high spec machines, but for a lot of us we’re using Linux simply in an effort to keep something old functioning. I have two laptops running Linux, both with the same spec, and both date from 2009. I’m running Manjaro on one and MX on the other, and I’m happy with both.

Another interesting article, although I notice that, as is often the case, there’s no mention of the the typical life expectancy of an SSD compared to a HDD. I don’t know if things have improved recently, but the last time I looked into it the lifespan of an SSD was abysmal.

Well at least I managed to generate some discussion and interesting feedback, which was my original intention.

Thank you

but this bit probably sums it up

Ok, so just to clarify, my prior para was aimed at “non” modern systems;

So .. HDD at 100Mb/sec with 5ms seek time vs USB flash at 35Mb/sec with 0.2ms seek time, who boots faster? I guess it depends on the particular install, desktop environment etc etc .. but for a desktop, I'd probably lean towards the USB - although I'm not sure there would be that much in it.

i.e. for older systems, there may not be that much in it and if anything, the USB may be quicker (depending on a multitude of variable factors).

no mention of the the typical life expectancy of an SSD compared to a HDD.

My impression is that current SSD’s are likely to outlast the average HDD, although mileage will vary depending specifically on what device you go for and how you use it. I think WD slap a 5 year warranty on some of their cheaper SSD’s, which I suppose gives some sort of indication of how long ‘they’ think the devices are good for …