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This project builds an Ubuntu 18.04 ISO to install Ubuntu unattended (no keyboard interaction) on Intel NUC 8 Core i3 machines.

This project assumes:

  • Installation of Ubuntu via USB stick
  • ISO built on a Mac OSX machine
  • Intel NUC has a static IP assigned to it to SSH to the machine
  • A USB stick with minimum 100MB of space

The project is designed to minimize the amount of physical effort to set up an Intel NUC because the author is lazy and forgetful. Also, the author has several Intel NUCs and manually entering in configuration value is error prone. Here's what the installation process looks like.

  1. Build the stormlight.iso with preseed config and an ssh public key
  2. Create a bootable USB from the stormlight.iso
  3. Walk over to the Intel NUC, plug in USB stick, and power on the machine
  4. Wait until the machine powers itself down after the installation (roughly 10-15 mins). "Look ma, no keyboard!"
  5. Unplug USB stick and power on the machine.
  6. Walk back to your computer and SSH into the machine.

That's it!

Table of Contents

Base Operating System Properties

Once the ISO is built, the ISO installs a minimal Ubuntu 18.04 Server with the following properties:

  • Installs openssh-server package and disables password logins.
  • Creates the user hoid with sudo privileges. hoid is locked down and password is randomly generated before the next boot of the machine. The public ssh key for hoid is configured in config/authorized_keys and is required to build ISO.
  • The first nvme device is used as the root partition. The device is formatted using ext4.
  • Disables swap


stormlight-iso depends on homebrew to install dependencies.

git clone
make install-deps

Now add your publich SSH key to the repo

cat /path/to/ > config/authorized_keys

Finally, create the ISO with make


stormlight.iso is now available in the root directory of the repo.

Create a bootable USB thumb drive

I like to use balena etcher. It's a GUI app and extremely fast (almost instant). The downside is the use of a mouse. You could also use hdutil and dd to create the thumb drive, but in my tests it took 40 seconds. I'm allergic to slow, so the mouse and GUI are my preferred choice.

Once youre thumb drive is ready, you can install the OS.


There's not much to say here.

Stick the thumb drive in, boot the NUC, and wait for the machine to power down.

Once the machine has powered down, remove the thumb drive, and boot the machine once more.

Once the NUC is online, you can now SSH to the instance:

ssh -i path/to/ssh_key hoid@<NUC IP>


Customizing Preseed Configuration

If you don't like the defaults provided by this project (how dare you not like Hoid?!), then this project includes tools to help you make an ISO for your own needs.

First, know that most of the code in this repo is based around automating the steps from Ubuntu's appendix on unattended installation as well as the wiki page on CD customization. The project boils down customizing the installation by modifying a few files:

  1. Modify config/preseed.cfg (see and possibly Ubuntu's example for more information)
  2. Modify config/ if needed to suit your needs. is where the hoid user is locked down and the password is regenerated.
  3. Run make

That's it.

If you're overwhelmed, then definitely read through the Ubuntu appendix linked above.

Optimizing the Change-Install-Validate-Repeat

Changing the preseed config and testing that it works is tedious with a real Intel NUC (you know, thumb drive, walking to the machine, allergic reactions to slow, etc...). So this project includes Makefile targets to build a virtual machine (VM) using Virtualbox. The VM mimics the configuration of an Intel NUC with configuration for testing.

  • EFI enabled
  • Two storage controllers:
    • nvme for the base installation
    • ide for the bootable dvd drive (stormlight.iso is loaded here because virtualbox cannot boot from a USB at this point)
  • Port forwarding of VM's port 22 to host machine's port 2522

To build the VM, run:

make vm

This will create a VM named stormlight-nuc, create the stormlight.iso, boot the VM with the ISO, wait for the OS to install and power off, and finally boot the VM again. By default, the VM has networking configuration to allow SSH connections on your machine's port 2522. So after the build completes, execute the following to connect to the VM:

ssh -i /path/to/your_ssh_key -p 2522


This project also includes some smoke tests using bats. By default, it assumes you've built the VM mentioned above. To run tests:

make test


Pull requests are welcome!




Can I use this project to build an ISO for another type of machine?

Yes! While this project is tailored for my personal home cluster, the configuration can be modified to fit any type of machine. Simply change the files in config to match your needs and then run make.

Why is it called stormlight-iso?

The name stormlight is what I named my home Intel NUC cluster. Hence, stormlight-iso. But, "stormlight" comes from Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series -- one of my favorite authors and on-going series of books.

For my home cluster, I name the Intel NUCs after different surgebinders. :)

Why don't you use PXE boot?

Honestly, I haven't educated myself on it yet. Also, I don't have another machine to do it with. I might look into a raspberry pi in the future. For now, this works well enough that I can forget about this setup and rely on my bootable USB stick to tear down and reconfigure a machine.


Build an unattended Ubuntu 18.04 ISO for Intel NUC8 i3 machines








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