Solving USB Boot Problems

In "What’s Behind The USB Drive Revolution" ( ) we began an exploration of the different types of compact, removable drives— sometimes called pen drives, thumb drives, jump drives, keychain drives, and so on— that attach to your PC via a USB port. Usually, these devices electronically disguise themselves so the PC they’re attached to treats them as a kind of floppy drive, but they add vastly more storage than any floppy can: USB pen drives typically add anywhere from 16 Mbyte to more than 4 Gbyte of portable storage to your system.

Almost any USB-equipped PC can read and write files to these devices, making them a nearly universal tool for moving larger files around without a network, or even serving as a backup medium for selected files. Most newer PCs also can boot directly from these devices, and that brings us to today’s topic.

In theory, making a USB drive bootable should be utterly simple: After all, a USB drive presents itself to the system as a kind of floppy-like medium, and every PC for the last 20 years has known how to boot from a floppy. But, naturally, it’s often not that simple: There can be problems on both the software and hardware side of making a USB device bootable.

On the software side, there can be issues with finding the correct, essential boot files in the first place. Some OSes— many Linux distributions, for example— lack a simple, obvious "make boot floppy" menu item; you may need to cobble together a boot floppy on your own, or download a preconfigured boot floppy image that may or may not contain the exact files you need and want.

Windows can have problems, too: For example, in newer versions of Windows, your main OS may use NTFS, but the OS’s &

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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.