Having a SD card as an alternative HDD

So, I tried CentOS 7 desktop edition and I didn’t like it. I wanted to go back to Ubuntu Mate. But my HDD died during format; it was around 3 years old. Now, I am going to buy a new HDD(obviously), but I am also thinking about buying an SD card of 64 gb as an alternative in case my new HDD dies as well. So, I am curious how well can GIMP, Inkscape and other graphic programs work on a SD card? Can I install my Nvidia geForce gt635m driver on my SD card? How well do these graphic design programs work on an Intel HD 4000 graphic card? What is the recommended way to install Ubuntu Mate on a SD card?


You would be much better off buying a good external hard drive. On it you can install a exact duplicate of your operating system, and it will boot and run most applications nearly as fast as your internal drive. I’m speaking of a full sized external drive with a power supply. Not one of the mini drives that are powered from the USB port. Generally speaking, SD cards and compact flash drives are not fast enough to run a OS from.


I agree with Steven. In comparison to a real HDD, SD cards have a very short lifespan if you use them often — which is the case when you run an OS on them.

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If you get a fast-enough sdcard everything runs pretty well. I do stuff like browsing and editing and compiles, so i’m not in gimp much or games at all, and mostly when i’m running off an sdcard it’s to fix something rather than accomplish something, like install linux on a new box by copying its partition and suchlike.

The overall performance you’re going to see is determined more by processor-speed and the number of external libraries your apps require, and whether there are any errors on the actual sdcard (or its reader) requiring retries, than the fact that linux happens to be running from an sdcard. It’s the same OS, it’s just on one device instead of another. The root partition of each distro on my backup sdcard is identical to the corresponding root partition on my system’s SSD except for a few files (logs and stuff, and /etc/fstab).

The number of dynamic libraries used in “linux” these days is risible imo, and you can see it any time you start firefox from a slow device. But once your mega-library-user-app gets up and going, the performance should be the same more or less. The linux kernel can make up for lots of application sloppiness, it has to.

I won’t buy any more sdcards that aren’t 10x until they come out with something faster. I carry a $6 usb-sdcard adapter (walmart) on my keychain that has a 64G 10x card in it, and it contains 3 linux distros plus all my data. It’s my backup device. I advocate keeping a bootable backup around and keeping it up to date.

By all means, buy a nice fast fat SSD, when i first started using SSD’s a few years ago it cut boot time and library-load time hugely, and you get more performance-per-dollar out of an SSD than you do out of a spinny-disk imo. But, since you’ve thought about it, maybe you’ll see that it really can be advantageous to have a bootable pocket-backup.

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Hello, with a micro sd card goes very well, if it is fast in reading and writing is better, speed of 90 Mb / s is very good, but you need a USB 3.0 card reader and a USB 3.0 port, my card has 80 Mb / s read and 20mb / s write and I do not notice faults, but in my case I do not have swap, with 3.0 USB you can put Swap. I have had up to 4 different desktops on the micro sd card, I installed Unity and I also put KDE, Cinnamon and flash back gnome, all perfect.

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For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say SD Cards are no good as a long-term medium. That is why when I get myself an RPi3 I am going to mod it so I can run the system from an HDD instead.

Though, something I learned about some phones; if you can get a phone to act as a media sync device, you could use it as a USB-connected microSD reader when no other options exist.


I can’t afford a ssd now. I got a new hdd, but I’ll consider a ssd in the future.

For a lot of daily operation I think like tiox, a hard disk is better than a micro sd card, … my installation of Mate 16.04 on my hard disk I have spoiled doing installations of drivers for my new graphic card and after I was also testing with MATE 17.04 and I do not have it to my liking, I’ve been using my Micro SD card for 1 month and the system works perfectly, until I do the new installation of Ubuntu Mate 16.04 on my western digital hard drive, for me the best quality-price.

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@tiox, i definitely agree about SD cards not being a great long-term medium. But there are questions like “long-term medium for what?”, and “how long is long-term?”. I think there are no long-term data storage mediums that are all that good.

I came to linux because the spinny-disk of the last Windows laptop i owned died. Starting with that one (including it), i’ve lost 2 HDD’s, one SSD, 3 or 4 microsd’s, and probably dozens of USB sticks. Lots and lots less than the number of floppy-disks i’ve pitched, but still more than i would prefer.

What i’ve concluded, given what little i know about the current hardware technology, is the following, fwiw. They use the same technology to make the memory chips in USB sticks, microsd cards, and SSD’s, and for a company that makes all three, it’s a matter of QC sorting the chips down near the end of the manufacturing line. The obviously bad ones get pitched. The acceptable ones go into USB sticks, better ones go into microsd cards, and the best of the bunch go into SSD’s.

Now, maybe i’m mistaken about that, i haven’t set foot inside a chip fab facility since i went on a tour of AMD’s place (in Cupertino or thereabouts as i recall) the '70s. The point is, the technology is continuing to develop. You can buy a 1TB SSD for $275 these days. You can buy a 200GB microsd card for $75. For the types of apps i’m most familiar with (i’m not a gamer) performance is going to be good enough. It should be about the same as the performance of the nearly-identical chip that’s wired into your latest tablet or your phone.

I’m a practical guy, i look at these 1TB devices, and i think, outside of a server, what would you store on these things? Movies and music, probably. I run all my distros in 10G partitions and haven’t run out of space since i moved to that policy. All of my source code is probably… 5Gb i’m guessing. This xps13 has a 250GB SSD in it, including 50GB of archives and tar backups, 8 bootable distros, 4 swap partitions at 8GB each, and miscellaneous, with 20GB still not even partitioned. I probably have around 3GB of photos in the mix. I got a good deal on an 850GB SSD a while back and put it in my wife’s machine where it’s virtually unused.

Okay, so we have random failures in all devices because that’s how manufacturing processes work, we know this already. But failure rates are down and processes are continuting to improve, so extrapolating that, along with the fact that they either are, or soon will be, using 3D printing or equivalent, instead of going the photo-etching “growing” approach (if they didn’t abandon it for 2D printing years ago), what you get to is absolutely humongous storage capabilities for nearly no cost but with some infinitesimal but real failure rate.

Finally the point, what are you gonna do when your 1TB SSD fails, wait several days for dd to move every byte from the backup it was too much trouble to make?

I guess what i’ve taken a long time to express is that sooner or later any “long-term medium” is going to give out on you no matter how good it is. The fact that a microsd card will almost certainly give out before your vinyl recordings lose their playability unless the dog gets to them, that’s true, but with things going in the direction they’re going, i think it’s more important to have a rugged backup strategy than it is to marry yourself to a perfect hard-drive, because sooner or later Murphy’ll be around to visit, and you’re gonna want those backups.

If performance and reliability are matched to usage, i don’t think it matters what the media is. When one of my USB sticks went bad, i tossed it and set up another one. Same deal these days with microsd cards, when one goes bad i pitch it and set up another one. It’s a mortal PITA but it does come around once in a while.

Backup strategies. Small partitions. Independent recoverability. Without being dependent on some cloud when the internet is under attack through the power grid, or in my case when the local cell-tower is unavailable due to local weather.

Sorry for preaching my sermon, it seems to be what i do when i’m not trying to remember how that next piece of code is going to work once it’s written; i prolly should do more of that and less of this, but it is so much easier to talk about it than it is do it, until you’re actually doing it, when the rest of it disappears. :slight_smile:

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Just figured would mention, I use home partitions that are half the size of my system because I set my disks up to always have an NTFS partition and I always configure the Ext4 partition’s directory so my home folders; the ones I interact with most anyway are links from the NTFS partition. It’s a nice setup that hasn’t failed me yet.

I can see your point, and it is much appreciated. One of these days I should save some money for a RAID setup (level 5 at least) so when one of the cheap HDDs I use dies, I can always replace it. Honestly they’re jellybean components these days, you can buy 'em like you’d buy a bunch of compact disks back in the day, when CDs and their combo read / write units cost significantly more.


Let’s see… i have backup-1 on my xps13, backup-2 on my keychain, backup 3 & 4 in my wallet, backup 5 in my laptop bag, backup 6 and 7 on an old acer n270 machine, backup 8 on another old acer, and backup 9 on google. Okay, so i’ve been burned bigtime and didn’t like it, i’m a little cautious. Besides if NK goes ballistic there may be enough EMPs to scramble the whole mess.

But really, it’s the data, not the devices. You can always download a fresh install iso and go through the motions like first time. But if your data is kept separate, it kinda makes you get this weird idea about how things might turn out to be someday, or at least it does me.

I think the world should be other than it is, i think i should be able to walk up to any laptop, desktop, tablet, or cellphone, for example, and stick my data in, and run my programs off the sdcard, along with my data, and be happy and fatter than Santa, cause everything i care about is in one place and i control it, no matter whether there’s a backup #14 on some cloud, and i can run the same code anywhere with or without a network connection and get the same results and stop learning every new GUI fad that comes along and lasts for just long enough that management starts getting embarrased by the complaints. Old people, go figure.

If you replace SD card with Google Account, then you can almost achieve that with Chromebooks I would say. Well, but that’s a different story…

When you live 30 miles from the closest supermarket, and an hour from a “city”, sometimes what you have for “connectivity” is a little icon that ays “No Signal”. Clouds are great for backup, on-hand-data is great for getting stuff done. imo.