Hardware

Illustrated tutorial: Creating a bootable USB flash drive for Windows XP Gallery

Checking for BIOS support of booting from a USB flash drive

By Greg Shultz

The ability to boot Windows XP from a USB Flash Drive (UFD) offers endless possibilities. For example, you might make an easy-to-use troubleshooting tool for booting and analyzing seemingly dead PCs. Or you could transport your favorite applications back and forth from home to work without having to install them on both PCs.

This gallery is also availabe as an article and PDF download.

However, before you can create a bootable UFD, you must clear a few hurdles. You saw that one coming didn't you? The first hurdle is having a PC in which the BIOS will allow you to configure the USB port to act as a bootable device. The second hurdle is having a UFD that that will work as a bootable device and that's large enough and fast enough to boot an operating system such as Windows XP. The third hurdle is finding a way to condense and install Windows XP on a UFD.

If you have a PC that was manufactured in the last several years, chances are that its BIOS will allow you to configure the USB port to act as a bootable device. If you have a good quality UFD that's at least 512 KB and that was manufactured in the last couple of years, you've probably cleared the second hurdle. And once you've cleared those first two hurdles, the third one is a piece of cake. All you have to do is download and run some free software to create the bootable UFD.

I'll start by showing you how to determine whether your PC's BIOS will support booting from USB and explain how to configure it to do so. Then, I'll show you how to download and use the free software to create a bootable UFD running Windows XP Professional.

The UFD hurdle
You probably noticed that I didn't mention how to determine if your UFD would support being configured as a bootable device, except that it must be a good quality unit of recent manufacture. Well, I've discovered that when it comes to the actual UFD, you'll just have to try it and see what happens. As long as you have a PC with a BIOS that will allow you to configure the USB port to act as a bootable device and you have configured the installation correctly, it should work. If it doesn't, you probably have a UFD that can't boot.

I tested three UFDs on two new computers and had mixed success. First, I attempted to use a 128 MB PNY Attache but received an error message that said "Invalid or damaged Bootable partition" on both PCs. Next, I tried a 1GB Gateway UFD and it worked on both PCs. Then, I tried a 256 MB Lexar JumpDrive Pro and it worked on only one of the PCs. You can find lists of UFD brands that others have had success with on the Internet.

Checking the BIOS
Not every new BIOS will allow you to configure the USB port to act as a bootable device. And some that do allow it don't make it easy. On one of my example systems, it was a no-brainer. On the other, the UFD had to be connected to the USB port before it was apparent that I could configure it as a bootable device. Let's take a closer look.

On the test system with a PhoenixBIOS version 62.04, I accessed the BIOS, went to the boot screen, and found that USB Storage Stick was one of the options. I then moved it to the top of the list thus making it the first device to check during the boot sequence. (This particular BIOS also allowed me to press the [F10] key during the boot sequence and select any one of the available bootable devices, so it really wasn't necessary to move it to the top.)

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...

16 comments
vindians
vindians

163 mb sized bootable win xp is enough for the installation?

thisaintmyemail
thisaintmyemail

Tried it with my 64MB drive, at 38.10%, pe2usb stopped, saying it ran out of room.

Benny7440
Benny7440

In the second paragraph of your article it's written: "If you have a good quality UFD that's at least ?512? KB and that was manufactured in the last couple of years, you've probably cleared the second hurdle" Are you sure that the quantity within the ?? symbols are correct? Because I've a 60 MB MuVo that would do & within my system it boots. Thanks for a well written & useful article...

bob
bob

Most computer bios will allow booting from CD. I carry a Bartpe bootable live CD with XP on it in my CD case. It is a handy tool. Since older pcs usually don't allow booting from a stick this option works better for me. I also run Kubuntu Linux on my laptop with WinXP on it using Virtualbox for those few Windows applications I need. Still, it is interesting to contemplate booting from a stick. Thanks for the article.

BTrik
BTrik

"UFD that's at least 512 KB"? Do they even make flash drives that small? That's less than half the capacity of a floppy disk. . .

Texas.Ex
Texas.Ex

Is this possible? The version referred to is a Win PE - not the whole XP. I'd like to put only those things XP needs to change during execution on an internal Hard Drive! Sparky

mikep123
mikep123

does it have to be server 2003 sp1 or can it be sp2?

rainmaker_68
rainmaker_68

iam using a old computer how can i get my bios to recognise my usb so that i can boot from it, also when i open mu bios setup menu alll i see is external device.

koladwd
koladwd

This is a very interesting topic. I look forward to more of these highly educative topics.

dinamic
dinamic

This article is completely useless. It might have been helpful if the software and the distribution of winXP was given.. I have already made it possible to boot from a flash drive, but it fail to load on some chipsets. However, this article might be interesting for newbies.. just bear in mind that "512 KB" would not contain even a bootable MSDOS OS with all the drivers along ;) P.S The quote is from "If you have a good quality UFD that's at least 512 KB and that was manufactured in the last couple of years, you've probably cleared the second hurdle.".

divakarvikas
divakarvikas

i want to make sandisk cruzer micro 2 G.B. flash drive bootable, please send procedure of bootable usb

Doc Disco
Doc Disco

If you are talking about using a USB drive as a boot disk, like a floppy disk, that is easily doable, but to put the entire XP program on any kind of flash card or drive, you need to reduce the operating system size. You CAN'T load a working version of XP on 256 MB, unless you have some tricks up your sleeve that I don't know about. I have a version of XP on my 2MB flash card that can perform most tasks, but takes 5 minutes to boot. Paging memory takes up a lot of write time on the card, and slows everything down. The trick is to use XPLite which is a program that removes any unused parts of XP that you don't want. If you take out behemoths like IE-7.0 and handicapped services, language services, etc. you can have a very reasonably configured XP program that will do what you need, with some room to spare for paging memory on 2Gb. I'm a DJ, and have been using the 2 GB card for a PCDJ system for some time. While bootup is slow, once all resident programs are able to run in RAM, it looks deceptively like any normal PC operation.

nectar.vector
nectar.vector

A good way to transport smaller files is Window's MediaPlayer's sync option. Simply drag and drop media files to burn window and select the sync mode to let this MediaPlayer 11 do the work for you. Can load files to mp3 player also. I love digital media !

thisaintmyemail
thisaintmyemail

@Benny7440: Same here, I have a 64MB ChipsBnk FD I could use, but I'm not sure if the author meant 512KB or MB. I've never seen a FD that small.

capper_r
capper_r

Great article! I ran into an issue with extracting the ramdisk file from win2k3-sp1. The file extracted as ramdisk.sy_ (same name as un-extracted file). When I run the final command I get an error that ramdisk.sys not found. Did the extract fail for some reason or did I make a mistake along the way?