Hardware

Video: Create your own bootable USB flash drive for Windows XP

In this IT Dojo video, Bill Detwiler, TechRepublic's Head Technology Editor, explains the process and pitfalls of creating a bootable Windows XP USB flash drive. You'll learn how to configure a computer's BIOS to boot from a USB drive, how to download and use the free software to create a bootable drive, and how to installed Windows XP on the drive.

Welcome to the first episode of TechRepublic's IT Dojo show. During this weekly video, I will discuss best practices that you won't often find in the official product documentation, demonstrate advanced tips that aren't widely known but are highly useful, and share lessons learned from the experiences of real world IT pros. Our first IT Dojo episode covers a handy tip that's been a hit with the TechRepublic audience in the past.

Booting Windows XP from a USB flash drive gives you a great IT support tool. For example, you can make a troubleshooting toolkit for booting and analyzing seemingly dead PCs. Or you could always have your favorite support applications at your fingertips.

In this IT Dojo video, I explain the process and pitfalls of creating a bootable Windows XP USB drive. I outline how to configure a computer's BIOS to boot from a USB drive, how to download and use the free software to create a bootable drive, and how to install Windows XP on the drive.Once you've watched this IT Dojo video, you can read the original TechRepublic article, walk through the process in a screenshot gallery, and download a PDF version of the tip with the following resources:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

88 comments
Jayala71
Jayala71

i want to boot from external CD drive for windows XP

FeCross
FeCross

why do i get errors in pebuilder that cause the comand to create usb to be aborted?

nicsta09
nicsta09

at the command prompt portion where you expand the ramdisk command but when I enter the command it says "cannot expand a file onto itself"... what do i do now?

dildovylan
dildovylan

can i use the recovery cds in place of the installation disk to make a bootable flash drive with PE builder?

dedelarosa
dedelarosa

I just recieved a 64 gig UFD and went to set it up for using it for imaging and sytem/av tools. I have tried to install bartpe and format the UFD, but it fails. Is there a ufd size limit for bartPe? If there is, can anyone recommend an alternative free tool?

nirald
nirald

well, i think your topic is good, but the link is not working..man, the pages does not display any data

docparker_1999
docparker_1999

Where do you find it? The link was bad that was posted. Thank guys Jerry

zhogdr
zhogdr

How about a Vista bootable flash drive? Or - am I too late, as we're moving on to Windows 7?

pwatkins
pwatkins

The build worked but it fails and I receive an error (Unable to install network adapters) when it asks me, Do you want to start network support? and I select Dynamic IP Address (DHCP).

abuhamzy
abuhamzy

WHY RAMDISK.SYS NOT FOUND! I FOLLOW ALL INSTRUCTION AND I FOUN THERE IS RAMDISK IN THE FOLDER

rck
rck

while creating iso image "i am getting warning:iso name more then 32 charecters and it can cause buffer over run error....."what is this?also flash drive doesnot boot it gives disk error..i tried with 2 diffrent flah drives...any solution?

roy.evison
roy.evison

This can be done by editing the inni (bootloader) file with notepad but make sure you back up the file first otherwise if you make a mistake windows will not reboot without a floppy or cd boot disk. You will have to click 'show hidden files' and then right click on said file to put it into the text editor, Notepad and type in usb as a boot option and then save it as your new line of boot options- needless to say the bios has to support this.

clehofer
clehofer

Can this be done with windows vista?

yuganv
yuganv

Great Job but I need Help....Terminate the procedure without error !! use a 1Gb Scandisk USB! and notebook: MSI Mega Book L710 on Boot: Disk error... Press any key to restart !!! Doub: the right name is:WindowsServer2003-KB889101-SP1-x!??-ENU.exe.. OK ? I tested 3 times... with the same error !!! What is wrong ?

KKJ7191
KKJ7191

Interesting, but I have read that XP frequently writes to the drive from which it was booted. What does that do to the life of a USB memory drive. For an application run on office and home PCs 24 hours a day how frequently does the USB drive have to be changed to avoid losing data?

james.goodwin
james.goodwin

It looks good but I still need to carry around Bart's bootble CD. It does add another USB flash drive to my pocket. We need to see, "How to manage several USB flash drives" or "How to install multiple bootable OS's on a flash drive"

kaheru81
kaheru81

I had a laptop computer with no CD ROM (and no floppy drive). I had always been wondering how to format and reinstall windows XP on it. Can I use this method to install Windows XP on it or are there other better way?

tyleriam
tyleriam

You can easily extract using WinRar. Save lots of mucking around for people who don't know about Command Prompt. It is also quicker in my opinion.

Rowan Hawkins
Rowan Hawkins

If you launch the service pack from the command line, there is a switch which just unpacks it. I believe it is /u. This is a step that would be used prior to slip streaming so the SP can be merged with later patches for a single install. On a lighter note, I've never tried installing a bootable XP cd in a Macbook Pro, Especially one running 10.4 like yours is. I'd never want to do that to a defenseless macbook pro. edit: The correct option is "-x", it will prompt for a directory to extract to. This works with most patches. You will have to download the the files rather than using windows update.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Everything digital has a BIOS in it.This includes the USB stick.The size and speed are adjustable from this BIOS.I suspect that a program like the Dell Diag program,when booted from a CD,uses the BIOS location as its RAM disk location.The files on the CD are not visible from the OS.(So how are these files written?)When the CD boots a RAM disk is created in the BIOS.I wanted you to see another example of RAM disk.One of these days we'll get the virus in the BIOS out and all heck will break loose!

Texas.Ex
Texas.Ex

Is there a way to put the original XP (not the reduced PE form) on a cd the one could then run from? Said another way, can you put the FULL XP on a CD (or a DVD if it won't fit) and then run the computer from the CD? TIA, Sparky

suniltr77
suniltr77

Can a bootable USB be used for reinstalling/formatting a PC. My XP has been corrupted to such an extent that a healty CD drive is undetectable under the My Computer. I am unable to boot from the drive.I am unable to read any CD/DVD etc.By whatever method I apply for correcting the installation(restore/upgrade/reinstall/D to D recovery) it is booting from the normal XP.

dukethepcdr
dukethepcdr

Neat idea. Sounds like more trouble than it is worth if it only works on some computers with some USB sticks and you have to use trial and error to see if you have the right computer and/or USB stick. We need a more fool proof solution than that.

Bill Ward
Bill Ward

Bill, you do realize there is a trademarked company named IT Dojo in Virginia Beach, Virginia, right? And that naming your column that is probably Trademark infringement? I'm not involved with it in any way (except that I've used them twice), but before you get into a legal battle over the name of your column, you might want to rename it...

rideoutm
rideoutm

This need to be updated to doing this with a USB drive not just flash. Something like a 320gig USB drive as to allow multiable image files on the drive for use in re-imaging many different computer setups.

techrepublic2
techrepublic2

We use BartPE all the time when working on clients' machines where there are issues with Windows (2000 or XP) running correctly or where the main drive's integrity is suspect. Our first step is always to boot with BartPE and then run Drive Snapshot to image the boot and data partitions onto an external drive - then we can work on the system knowing that the client's data is safe and that we canm always fall back to the original drive image if something goes *really* wrong. The ability to boot from a USB stick (machine BIOS permitting) would be very handy.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

You don't specify, but an ISO image is designed for use with Nero or some other CD buning software. It is identified as an actual image of a CD, and can be selected as the image to use when creating (or burning) a CD. The verbage would be something like "Burn this image to CD". An ISO image and a bootable USB key are not compatable to my knowledge since I do not believe it's possible to burn an image to a USB key with CD/DVD burning software. It's not identified as a media recognized by this type of software. But since things are always changing, if someone knows otherwise, please feel free to correct me.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

If what you are refering to Roy is editing the boot.ini file to point it at a removable media like a USB key or CD/DVD, I would like to see how you accomplish that considering that XP will not install to a removable media. No version of Windows NT ever has. Secondly, by it's nature Windows is not static and makes constant writes to the HD. You can establish, or set, a static swap file, but it would still have to be able to write to it. If you are running it from a read only media that would be an interesting accomplishment. If I have misunderstood something than I do apologize. And if you want to invest some time in trying install Windows XP to a removable media, please, knock yourself out.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

This article, forum, video, is not suggesting that you are installing Windows XP on a CD, DVD, or USB Flash drive. It is talking about creating a "Windows XP Preinstallation Environment", aka WindowsPE. Windows XP DOES frequently write to the hard drive, and it would impossible to run the OS from a read only, or removable media.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

Your best bet is an external USB DVD or CD ROM drive, booting from it with the Windows XP CD. You can make a large USB external HD bootable. You could then take an image of your machine with Ghost and store the image on this external USB drive. If the machine dies you can boot to the USB drive, run Ghost and reimage your machine. This process is part of our disaster recovery plan.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

For the record the BIOS is ROM (Read Only Memory). Yes, it can be flashed and updated. But it cannot, and is not, in any way used for RAM drives. RAM drives are called "RAM drives" because they are created in RAM. Once the machine is rebooted the RAM disk is lost, gone, until it is recreated. Diagnostic programs like Dells, either boot from another partition or from a dual boot (IBM) secondary OS environment. When you boot from a CD, programs are loaded into memory (RAM). RAM disks are only created by specific commands at boot up. Unless a BIOS update program were infected with a virus, it is not possible to infect the BIOS. It's Read Only Memory.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

The short answer is no. The NTFS file structure can't boot from a removable drive or media, that's why there's WinPE and such.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

My apologies, I read through your post too fast. You should be able to boot from a CD ROM drive. Check your BIOS settings for a setting that either enables this, or puts the CD in the list of bootable objects. You have to be missing something in the BIOS, or you have a bad HD, CD ROM, and/or a bad controller.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

If you want to format your drive, why not just boot from the Windows XP CD? You can remove, format and create partitions before reinstalling the OS. Everything you need is right there.

marklnewton
marklnewton

I also at first glance thought this was a great idea. I have been using the BartPE as a bootable Windows enviroment from a CD for a while. After weeks of messing around I got it to work (before this article) on a USB flash drive. The problem with this is in fact that it will not work on all computers. However the bootable CD will work on virtually all computers. It is not however as portable and you can certainly have more programs on your stick than a 700mb CD. I can say however that this is an awsome tool for removing malware or windows crashes from a PC without having to mess around with the non-gui repair console. Boot to BartPE and load AVG, and a few other utilities such as registry editors and you can remove virtually anything without any problems.

iM2501
iM2501

just checked out drive snapshot! perty kewl thanks for the tip..

roy.evison
roy.evison

Dear Veteran, I am relyably informed that this is possible, despite the fact that microsft say it cannot be done, for obvious reasons. Using Notepad (text editor) copy your existing inni file and then edit your existing original to boot from a USB. Don't use Windows so never actually tried it but then why risk ?170 worth of tackle?

dunham_john
dunham_john

I wonder and think likely that some current BIOS' are based on NVRAM and not ROM, making them writable through system hooks. If this is true, it explains the smaller size of BIOS updates (smaller and appearance-wise, more modular).

Texas.Ex
Texas.Ex

Thanks, DV, for taking the time to reply - unfortunately, I guess I'm missing the point - perhaps that's because I have only just begun to investigate this - plus, I'm looking for a permanent way of running Windows, not just for testing! I gather that you are saying that the BIOS will not allow removable media that is organized in the NTFS format to boot? Does that mean that removable media can only be formatted in NTFS? Does that include all removable media - CD, DVD, USB Sticks and USB Hard Drives? Again, TIA. Sparky

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

There isn't a whole lot of mystery as to which machines will boot from USB, it's in the BIOS. If it's in the list of boot sources, or when you hit (usually) F12 to see a boot menu, you'll know. Sometimes it requires looking at the legacy hardware settings. I've been using bootable flash drives for a couple of years and haven't had much for issues with it. Actually, HP had a utility out 3 years ago for creating a USB flash drive. Works great for imaging machine with Ghost. Whatever you like, whatever your used to, it doesn't matter. As a side thought: I wonder if it's possible to read a Windows forum without hearing about friggin' *nix? If you don't know anything about the subject matter, go to a different forum!

cmatthews
cmatthews

No there are no BIOS using the CMOS-NVRAM for executable code - just variables for settings like hard-drive parameters, the date, the time, etc.. However, your comment on small size would relate more to new BIOS setups. Newer BIOS are split in 2, 3 or even 4 areas: (I've used servers that archive up to 4 BIOS versions in flash) Here's an incomplete overview of the parts: 1) A non-erasable area: (usually 256 or 512k) This always starts the machine no matter what - it just makes plain sense so users don't mess things up. If the second part is incorrect or has a bad check-sum at boot, at the very least it allows for recovery by booting from USB, floppy or even other options (see below). 2) Flashable area: (usually 256 or 512k) this is where the real BIOS goes and this is the part that gets updated when you upgrade your BIOS. 3) User area: Custom Logos can be used at bootup (eg: so users can be reminded who they're working for or see a picture of their pet etc.) instead of seeing the usual techno scrolling on the screen (the TAB key still permits viewing behind the logo if required). 4) Temporary upgrade and backup area: Some machines do not permit flash to be done with any floppy or CD program. Instead, they look for image(s) placed in this area by a user friendly (OS based program) and, at the next boot, it does a check-sum on the image and BIOS (area 1) asks the user if they would like to upgrade. Usually what is in area 2 is swapped for what is in area 4 and marked as a backup (in case of failure and the user wants to restore the old BIOS). In the end, the real core of most BIOS's are still only 512k, but since most flash chips are 1, 2 or even 4Mb, the manufacturers have found some clever methods of putting all that flash to good use - and when a high-end ASUS board can retail for $300+, users begin to expect it.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

Hey don't worry about it. Just remember to do it, or see it done, before you repeat it. I spent a lot of time with DOS 3.3 and 5.0, but I didn't have all the answers then either. In fact I didn't have ANY! You learn as you go. The Windows XP boot.ini file identifies the "Disk" and the "partition" of a fixed disk which contains the OS system files. If the BIOS of the computer does not identify the drive as a fixed disk, Windows cannot be installed on it. It?s pretty much cut and dried. More than likely it has the most to do with the HAL. Since Server 2008 does not use a HAL, that may be a different story. We?ll see. Windows PE (Bart PE...same difference just "Bart" using WinPE) is a Windows Preinstallation Environment. It is a command line window, not an actual "Windows" environment. It's like DOS. It allows you to run command line apps by hand or by script like "partition" and "format" with the appropriate switches. System Center Configuration Manager 2007 (formerly known as SMS) uses WinPE to boot a system, partition a hard drive, and format it, to get it ready for imaging as part of a Task Sequence when deploying an OS to a "bare metal" system. You cannot load an OS into Read Only Memory. ROM is used for staticly programing chips (like the BIOS), not for an interactive OS. Yes, you can program a ROM chip, but it is a single act. It's entire life is spent doing whatever that programing tells it to do. XP (and most if not all OS's) are constantly changing. Hence, virtual memory and the "swap file". Windows does not load all, and or, every, program into RAM. It can't. Hope that clears it up a little.

Texas.Ex
Texas.Ex

Hi, again DV: (Too Much of a Newbie at this, anyway) - My question comes because I seem to remember that an early suggestion to prevent virus infestation was to put the OS into ROM. That would ensure that each boot would be fresh. Updates could be handled "off-line". What I have been thinking about doing was placing an installed XP onto a CD-RW, a DVD-RW, a USB Stick, or a USB Hard Drive (that could easily be made "read-only" (except for the things that the OS must change regularly, like the pagefile, the registry, etc. which would go on a local hard drive as it is now). I know of the BartPE (and others - the subject of this Thread) but as I understand it this is a much reduced OS. I'd like the full-fledged thing! Thanks again, Sparky

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

Well, actually it's the nature of the OS (Windows XP) that will not allow the use of removable media as a permanent location for a fully installed and configured OS. The BIOS can/does impact what devices are available AS boot devices, but it's the OS that ultimately controls the ability. The USB flash drive boots to DOS, not XP. The only viable solution in your quest is to establish a dual boot configuration. XP does have dual boot functionality, and I believe it makes the offer at set up if it sees another OS, but I have not worked with that particular to speak authoritatively on it's setup/creation. Plus I'm sure there are limitations as to who it will "play nice" with. Hope that makes sense. But please let me know if I have muddied the water more.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

That's your opinion and your entitled to it. I have never needed, or used, linux to fix a windows problem. I have no interest in starting. Narrow minded? Maybe, on this issue. I'm also not going by an owner's manual for a minivan to work on my pickup truck. Again, just an opinion. Do what works for you.

Haas
Haas

Not windows or linux. An IT professional uses all available tools to provide solutions and fix problems. If you can't use Linux, you should not be in IT and if you can't use Windows you would not be working in IT either.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

That is a true statement. You do need to recreate it. In the capacity in which I use a USB boot device I have a folder in which a .bat file looks when I reformat and basically, recreate the USB bootable flash drive. I modify the files within this folder and launch the .bat file. The whole process only takes a minute or two at most. USB 2 is obviously faster. I've done a lot with .bat files over the years so dissecting the file to understand the process it was using was reasonably simple, but simple is a relative term. This is not the best thing since sliced bread, but it's better than boot disks and bootable CD's which require the same recreation. Plus, flash drives are cheap with large capacities. I used to have to carry a bag with 3.5 floppies and CD's, now I have a 2gb flash drive in my pocket to do most of the same things...and more. The tool I use to make the USB bootable was created by HP (of all people) and it works very well, even with large capacities. There are a few caveats to be aware of, but they are minor, and worth it. Your virus update scenario would require only a couple of minutes. And for me, that includes updating several locations across the US and Mexico. The base files are only a couple of mb. Background knowledge of setting up a boot menu in DOS is pretty helpful, but not difficult either way. In the end, your point is valid. This does not look like your HD OS, but that's MY tool. I think this forum is talking about a more advanced version.

tom
tom

At first I thought this USB Windows Boot device would be a true operating system install similar to the way you can create a working bootable operating system on a Mac computer. For example, you can install the Mac OS onto an iPod and then pick to boot the Mac off the iPod (or other USB device). This is a true Mac OS installed operating system. This can be useful if you are trying to determine if you have an OS problem or a hardware problem as well as managing files and scanning for malware. Unless I am missing something, the problem with this method is that anytime you need to update your boot device you need to recreate the image and burn a new disk or USB image. Minor things such as virus updates would require a new image--or am I missing something...

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

Well, I guess it depends on how well a person knows their subject matter. I have never had the need to boot from a different OS to save a Windows machine in over 12 years. And in a secure environment it?s a bit contradictive to use an open source code OS. It?s like putting out the welcome mat. I don't really care how people do their job, or what they use to accomplish it, if I don't have to deal with the consequences. My point is simply that it's a forum question about a Windows issue and somebody's answer is always to use *nix. For most people that is not an option. Besides, I can fix a Windows problem with Windows tools, I don't need *nix. And I'm willing to bet that most techs in a windows forum aren't looking for *nix answers. If you think that *nix is the answer to Windows, hey, knock yourself out. But it would appear that the business world isn?t convinced yet.

terry.floyd
terry.floyd

If you are a Desktop Veteran (or especially a Server Veteran), you can't do your job without knowing something about other Operating System environments. A bootable Linux disk can save your bacon when Windows decides to crap out on you (which it does fairly regularly). I use Windows all the time, and Macs pretty frequently, but when I need something in a hurry and don't have the time or budget to request a Purchase Order, the Open Source world often provides the answers I need to get the job done.

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