Tip: Boot from USB Key Addendum

Update 12/28/10: updated download links.

Previously, I posted a couple small guides on bootable USB drives, but recently I’ve been receiving reports that the utility mentioned in the guides is not working correctly. In all fairness, the utility was created only for use with a certain type of drive, and whoever made it hasn’t updated it, so problems with newer, unsupported drives are unavoidable. A newer, better utility is now available from HP, the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool. (Don’t worry, it can be used with non-HP drives, verified with my Sandisk Cruzer Mini.) The HP utility will allow you to easily create a bootable USB drive, provided you have a disk available with the proper DOS system files, for example a Windows 98 boot floppy. If no boot disk is available visit bootdisk.com for some downloadable images, or simply use HP’s included DOS files.

To clarify the process, I’ve decided to post an update on how to manually make a bootable USB drive.

First, there are a few system requirements that must be clarified:

  • Obviously, your computer’s BIOS must allow booting from a USB device. Most recently manufactured computers allow this functionality.
  • You’ll also need a bootable floppy disk or CD. For example, you can use a Windows 98 CD or a Dell Resource CD.
  • You will also need a utility with the ability to create a master boot record, create and set active partitions, and format and transfer boot files. The DOS fdisk and format utilities that are present on the Windows 98 CD will handle this perfectly.
  • A USB drive that is capable of being made bootable. There are a few that have strange partition structures that do not allow for making bootable partitions. Contact the manufacturer if you’re not sure your USB drive is bootable.

Now that we have all the prerequisites taken care of, let’s get to how to actually make the drive bootable:

  1. Make the USB drive the first drive in the drive sequence. This is necessary because fdisk will not allow a partition to be active (bootable) unless it’s the first drive. This can usually be accomplished by plugging the drive in, powering on the computer, and going into the BIOS to change the boot sequence. If this is unsuccessful, simply disabling or unplugging the other drives in your system (except the CD-ROM, of course!) will do the trick.
  2. Boot the computer to a DOS shell from the bootable floppy or CD with the USB drive plugged in.
  3. Run fdisk.
  4. Set the primary partition on the USB drive to active by using “set active partition” (option 2) in fdisk. If you don’t already have a primary partition on the USB drive, use fdisk to create one.
  5. Exit fdisk.
  6. Reboot the computer to a DOS shell from the bootable floppy or CD with the USB drive plugged in.
  7. If you want, use the DOS command dir c: to verify the contents of the primary partition on the USB drive.
  8. Format and copy the boot files to the primary partition using the DOS format /s c: command.
  9. Run fdisk /mbr to write the master boot record to the USB drive without altering the partition table.
  10. Restart the computer, this time booting from the USB drive. If everything went well, you should see the C:> command prompt.

If everything didn’t go as well as planned, feel free to post in the forums for help.

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196 thoughts on “Tip: Boot from USB Key Addendum

  1. I’m having the same problem as “Leo” mentioned….have you found any solution? Here is the problem description.
    “Hi, I try to format the USB key to FAT32 in Windows XP before I run any bootable tool.
    However, it returns format unsuccessful. Since then, the USB key doesn’t response anymore.
    Any idea will be appreciate!”

    I’m using a DELL USB Memory Key and tried in XP and Windows 2003 in all USB ports.

  2. Follow the steps on my webpage.DON”T FORMAT IT IN WINDOWS XP!> Go to http://www.geocities.com/cwwilson721 Follow the instructions STEP BY STEP. It will work.

    If anybody needs anymore help, reach me thru Yahoo,MSN or AOL Messengers with the username cwwilson721. If I’m around, I’ll help you out. Just state in the first message that you need help with the USB

  3. Thanks, but the steps mentioned on your webpage requires the USB key to be detected by the XP Operating system. The main problem that i’m facing is that the USB key is not detected at all after the unsuccessful format in windows XP. The same USB key was working well before that. I tried in other machines as well but no use. Can you please help/mail me at talk2ananth@yahoo.com if you have any solution to this?

  4. First: Sorry about the broken links on my webpage. The editor I was using didn’t do them correctly
    They should all work now
    Second: NEW UPDATE. Now can create multi-boot USB device. I wrote this page at 4am,so it
    may not be clear. E-mail me if you need help
    Third: AK, sorry bud. Looks like you fried it. Try to boot to DOS with a bootdisk, and see if you
    can use fdisk or format it there. Try the fdisk, may just not be seen, but is detected.

    Website: http://www.geocities.com/cwwilson721
    E-Mail: cwwilson721@yahoo.com
    Y!Messenger, AIM, and MSN Messenger ID: cwwilson721

  5. Great webpage. Lost all the files on my Cruser Mini, (thanx to a dumb co-worker), and couldn’t format it with Windows XP. SanDisk support has yet to respond to my several requests for assistance. That little HP utility did the job – no problem!

    Thanx a ton for taking the time to post on the web!

    DanS

  6. CWW:
    Thanks for the info, but perhaps you should try another web host! I get the following when trying to connect to your site:

    “Sorry, this site is temporarily unavailable!
    The web site you are trying to access has exceeded its allocated data transfer. Visit our help area for more information.
    Access to this site will be restored within an hour. Please try again later.”

    Looks like you need more bandwidth! 8-O

  7. Sorry bout the “Bandwidth” error, but it’s a free site. Am working on trying to get the files on another server to help out. The info will still be at geocities, but the actual files will be at a different server
    More neews: Working on a network bootable version….problem is, the drivers needed are so many….Have to think on it awhile
    In the meantime…Thanks to those who have sent e-mails, both good and bad. And to everybody: Send an e-mail, good/bad/just have a question. I’ll try to answer

  8. What about the Windows Ultimate Boot CD 4 Windows? Do you think a bootable CD of UBCD4WIN could be copied to a USB active FAT partition and it actually work? I think that would make for a great recovery tool.
    For those asking about booting up to USB on something other than C drive – I don’t think so. If you boot into an operating OS using a CD rom, it creates a C drive that it uses. Yet, if you access and install XP onto the actual PC itself, when it reboots it installs to the computer’s primary active HD…C. Ugh, I hope I got that all right.

    Booting into a Windows XP Preemptive Environment would be awesome. How can this be done? Anyone know?

    Thanks much!

    Eis!

  9. As an add-on to those looking to boot Ghost or a similar imaging application from their USB key, Acronis TrueImage 9 has support built-in. Simply run the RescueMedia wizard and choose your USB key, and it will format and install all the necessary files for you.

    It only uses about 16mb of space on the key, so if you have a larger capacity device, you could even store the acronis image file right on it.

    http://www.acronis.com/

  10. As for the Ghost question and creating a boot disk for it, here’s what I’ve done since I don’t have a floppy.

    Start, Programs, Administrative Tools, Computer Management, Disk Management

    Change your USB drive letter to A.

    Run Ghost utilities to create a boot disk.

    That being said, I’m going to try Acronis.

  11. If you are having problems formatting USB / flash devices or memory cards with NTFS on XP (SP2) there is a simple solution. From a command window (DOS / CMD) in XP, use the CONVERT command.

    Example:

    CONVERT H: /FS:NTFS /X

    H: of course being the USB / card device

    You can type CONVERT /? for all options / help.

    Hope this is useful.

  12. It should be possible to boot into a *kind of* XP environment – I’ve got a XP Emergency Repair Disk CD which boots into XP fine – if only this could be replicated on a USB stick – I’m aware this is missing certain XP components but booting into Win98/ME/DOS for me on a USB stick is a bit of a backwards step? I think Longhorn may allow USB booting but then how will Microsoft take care of the Licensing/Activtion issues this will cause?

  13. A million thanks! I now have a bootable 1G Lexar JumpDrive Sport Ghost USB drive that allows me to ghostcast my images accross the network. Good bye 3.5″ disks – which always go bad.
    1. Created my temporary bootable ghost floppy (with the proper NDIS NIC drivers of course)
    2. Ran the HP utlity within WinXP Pro SP2 – used floppy mentioned above for system files
    3. cmd | Copy a:\*.* :\*.* – Overwrite all (this copies over the NIC drivers for ghostcasting)

    Since we deal with many different NIC drivers I plan to create a batch file which will allow us to select the set of NIC drivers we wish to load. Once I have this complete, I should be able to walk up to any of our 300+ workstations, stick my USB drive in, reboot and image things directly to and from our server.

    Thank you, Symantec, and HP.

  14. Sweet Jesus, Thank God i found your site through a link on PCStats in their “USB Memory Drive Projects” guide.

    I have been looking for HP’s USB tool, and the Bootfiles, it is almost impossible to find them, even while searching on Google.

    And Since I dropped floppy drives completelly(3 years now), this has been one thing that has irked me, the ability to Flash Bios more than anything, considering the fact that Floppy drives are old, and need to be dropped, companies seem to not be moving the ease of Flashing Bios/booting from Floppy when most Motherboards now support it, let alone the possible Floppy corruption because its based on magnetic disks…

    Since i had built this computer, about 3 months ago, and due to the house fire which basically caked the old computer in water/tar/smoke, this has been something that has bugged me, because on the previous computer and one of my backup CD’s I had both the utility and bootfiles, so it was easy to flash with a Flashdrive…that one also had no floppy drive…

    Thank You a million peices, and thanks for HP for having the brains to even supply such utilities, that even Microsoft will not supply for ease…

  15. N. Schultz, can you said to me how you proceed to make your USB stick “network bootable” ?

    Thanks

  16. We have been trying to make a bootable usb with ghost. And it works fine, it boots dos from the usb key and we can run ghost. However ghsot does not seem to have any network support. Peer-Peer is blanked out and you are only able to select local. Which files are required to for the ghost with network boot? We have tried about 15 times now and no luck. There doesn’t seem to be any guides or instruction on making a bootable usb ghost with network support anywhere.

    Any help would be appreciated

  17. I have everything working for a Ghost bootable USB (to replace using floppies) except it thinks the UBS drive is C:. Anyone else have this problem?

  18. Hi,

    I have my USB-Key Bootable but I require it to boot the drivers for an additional USB HD. When it starts to load the additional drivers it hangs the PC when it detects the DataTraveller too. Does anyone know of a way to solve this problem?

    Thanks,
    PJ

  19. I have got the same probleme as ws2000.
    Since my notebook does not have a floppy, i have tried to do what I did with a floppy but with an usb pendrivre..to ghost an entire disk…but no success…
    I effectively boot on usb but all my hdd partition has desapears…
    I am searching for 2 days (4-5 hours a day) on all web site…like boot-disk.com..using stuff like duse or hp tools, ghost utility to ghost from an external usb.
    …very boring …
    Floppy is not useless as many people thinks…I have got so many since floppy disapears from laptop…
    So, if someone know how to boot from an usb (preserving hdd partitions)

  20. Instead of using FDisk and being forced to move the USB to the first drive, you can use GDisk.exe, which will allow any drive to have the MBR installed.
    There are shareware versions of GDisk.exe available.

    I love True Image and it works great – they have a trial version you can download and use.

    But if you want to do the entire thing manually for a specific process, the initial article is great.

    Thanks.

  21. Ok here’s the deal, some how when Installing a program on my laptop, it froze, I canceled it and it deleted all the files it installed. After doing so I power cycled the laptop, and when I rebooted it, the CD-Rom drivers were gone. I’m trying to reflash the comp to read it, I’ve found the files, it says I need a bootable Floppy/Memory Key. I’m using memory keys, well trying to. My laptop has no floppy drive. and appearently the Cd-Rom isnt working. Anyone have any ideas on how to help me?

  22. I am trying to FORMAT my drive from a Compact Flash memory card through USB which is not working, and I can not get my computer to go to BIOS so I can start it from USB. Any body know how to make my TOSHIBA laptop to go to BIOS and/or how to Formated through USB. help Please!

    Thank you

  23. I have a 2gb Sandisk Cruzer mini thats is formated as a fat drive and boots ok into hirens bootcd 8.1.

    it also contains a ton of portable apps from portableapps.com and other places for use within windowsxp at work.

    I used the hpformat util and a floppy formated from within xp as a boot disk to get the boot files that worked.

    Now Im Happy.

  24. hi i tried but it says my pendrive dont hav fat32 partition, even though i formated it as fat32 in win xp

  25. If anybody want the older files from HP site, just hit on revision history link in the new page.

  26. I need to install win xp without a floppy disk and finally :
    “You’ll also need a bootable floppy disk or CD. For example, you can use a Windows 98 CD or a Dell Resource CD”
    well, thanks !
    Google should find me another page !

  27. I followed this link posted earlier:
    http://home.graffiti.net/jaclaz:graffiti.net/Projects/USB/USBstick.html
    then
    http://www.bay-wolf.com/downloads.htm
    then
    http://www.bay-wolf.com/utility/usb_memkey.zip
    installed and ran
    Memory Key Boot Utility V1.0.6

    used it to format a SanDisk Cruzer Mini 128MB USB Key

    downloaded http://www.ntfs.com/downloads/readntfs.zip, copied READNTFS.EXE (NTFS Reader for DOS) in the zip to my usb key.

    finally works on a DELL Optiplex GX620, with a NTFS partition.

  28. Allright I have a Scan Disk Cruzer (1GB)….none of this works..and I am trying to get Norton Ghost to fit onto it and so I can boot to it…but allas no cookie…

    help asap

  29. I have a 1gig mobilemate that I used hp usb disc storage format tool on and loaded pc dos on it and ghost. It boots my
    laptop well but when I go into ghost it no longer shows the real c drive that I would image to in case of crash. My laptop has 2 hdd and the image will be stored on d but c will be primary,and thats the one I need to see in ghost but the boot stick has taken c. please help. thanks

  30. I have a 1GB USB key with 4 partitions, in order:

    Linux
    UBCD
    DOS
    Misc

    I’ve got GRUB working to allow me to boot SysLinuxOS from the first partition and some DOS diskette images from the third. What I’d also like to do is put the contents of the Ultimate Boot CD on the second partition, so that I can boot to it accessing its contents from the USB stick. Does anyone know how I can go about this?

    Thanks.

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