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Stretch installation: thumb drive recognized as /dev/sda

I installed Stretch on my Thinkpad from a USB flash drive. Only after the
installation, during the first boot did I notice that something was wrong. GRUB
failed to load the kernel and after a short diagnosis I learned that for some
reason, the Debian installer saw my USB thumb drive as /dev/sda and the SSD as
/deb/sdb. This caused GRUB config to be wrong when I removed the flash drive
after installation.

I did some testing and apparently, if I booted the Debian installer from my
Thinkpad X220's only USB3 port[1], it would be recognized as /dev/sda, and if I
used a USB2 port, it would be /dev/sdb.

Doesn't the Debian Installer/GRUB not use UUID? What caused the problem here?
I've never experienced such a fail before or since but it did cause some
confusion and made me reinstall.

[1] FWIW, apparently only (some of?) the i7 models of X220 have a USB3 port.

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