Why create a custom boot disk yourself when you can download one quickly and hassle free from a Web site? Many Web sites offer downloadable programs for creating custom boot disks, but of course, some are better than others in terms of their content and page layout. A quick look at some of the most popular of these sites will help you decide where you can find the best one-stop shop for your boot disk needs.

The contenders
This evaluation is far from comprehensive, but these sites were the most mentioned by TechRepublic members as their favorite sources of boot disk files and utilities. If you know of other good sites that offer boot disks for download, let us know about them, and we’ll include them in the next round-up.

I examined the offerings at the following Web sites (in no particular order):

In spite of its name, MyBootDisks.com actually offers a great deal more than just boot disk files. You can download a variety of tools, including partitioning utilities, memory management utilities, diagnostics, and BIOS tools. And MyBootDisks.com offers a wealth of boot disk files: everything from standard Windows and DOS boot disks to network boot disks. You can also download antivirus boot disks.

Here’s the caveat: For the standard OS boot disk downloads, MyBootDisks.com actually links to Microsoft’s Web site. Only the custom boot disk files actually come directly from MyBootDisks.com. While linking to Microsoft may seem like a cop out, at least MyBootDisks.com provides a single starting point for finding boot disk files.

What’s really annoying, though, are the pop-ups asking you for money to help support the site. If you don’t mind pop-ups (or if you use pop-up blocking software), MyBootDisks.com is a good place to look for boot disks and other utilities. One enhancement that I think would make the site more useful is full descriptions of all the files listed so users know what they’re getting.

Not to be confused with MyBootDisks.com, BootDisk.com also offers links to a wide array of boot disks, utilities, and other files. In addition to covering Microsoft’s products, BootDisk.com includes files for Linux. Like MyBootDisks.com, BootDisk.com sends users to Microsoft’s site for the standard Windows disks, but links to other sites for custom boot disks and utilities. It’s a simple site that is free of pop-ups.

Startdisk boasts what it calls the Ultimate Boot Disk, which is designed specifically for Windows. The Ultimate Boot Disk can help Windows users recover from crashes and repair problems that prevent the OS from booting. According to Startdisk, the Ultimate Boot Disk can help you perform the following tasks:

  • Restore system files
  • Identify hardware
  • Extract Windows CD files
  • Troubleshoot startup errors
  • Clone drives or partitions
  • Streamline the registry

In addition, Startdisk says the Ultimate Boot Disk speeds up Windows installs and includes an optional virus scanner.

The Startdisk Web site includes information about making a WinXP boot disk, partitioning drives and flashing the BIOS, and tips on which files you need to back up. Overall, this site has useful information and a boot disk file that may be worth the download.

Qual-IT offers the Instant Network Boot Disk, which, it claims, supports any NDIS-compatible network card. Qual-IT boasts that its network boot disk is the fastest and most reliable available. You can also customize the boot disk to suit your needs, and you can create separate .ini files for different configurations.

The boot disk supports all Windows operating systems and includes network-troubleshooting utilities.

Version 7.51 of the Instant Network Boot Disk is currently available on the site, and Qual-IT is working on version 7.60.

Netboot CD
Netboot CD presents you with the files to create a bootable CD. The current version available is 1.40, and the site says it supports over 170 NICs. The download includes a README file describing the contents and a number of programs and utilities you may need, including archive programs such as PKZip, a terminal program, and an Fdisk utility. All software included in the download is freeware or shareware.

Though many don’t recommend using bootable CDs, you may find this one to include a useful set of boot utilities.

BovisTech offers a variety of boot disk files for download, including TCP/IP, NetBEUI, and IPX disks.

Among the downloads is a network boot disk creation utility developed by George Bewley—he says it’s so good it may put him out of business. Bewley describes his BootNet as a flexible utility that can be modified for any NIC. Currently compatible with Window ME, 95 OSR2, NT4, and Win2K, BootNet is also being tested on WinXP and Win 98.

The Web site also includes screenshots of the utility, though when I visited the site, the screens were not displaying correctly. The current version of BootNet is 1.01.

Bart’s Boot Disks on NU2 is one of the more popular boot disk sites among the members we heard from. Bart’s downloads include a modular boot disk, MODBOOT, that allows you to add functionality by copying files and programs from modules to specific folders on the boot disk. For example, Bart explains that you can add DOS mouse support by copying Mouse.cab to a specific folder on the disk. Because of the customizability, Bart’s MODBOOT is a very powerful utility.

The site includes a network boot disk that also features a modular system for customizing it. You can use the disk to connect to network shares on Windows, Linux, or Samba machines. Bart also offers a CD-ROM boot disk and a SCSI boot disk and presents tips on creating boot disks.

Bart’s Boot Disks is a great site and possibly the only one you’ll ever need because all of the downloads allow you to customize disks according to your needs.

The easy way
If you like to be more in control of your boot disks, go ahead and make your own. But if you want to save some time and effort, creating any boot disk you need is only a few mouse clicks away.