Bootable USB drive guide
Reviewed by: hardnrg
Reviewed on: October 7, 2006
Guide by: Steve Goossens
Date: October 7th, 2006
Many of us today have computers without a floppy drive and some tasks such as updating the motherboard bios or trying a set of custom graphics card bioses become laborious. Maybe you have a computer that doesn't have an optical drive for one reason or another. How about if you could put ALL your bios files for your motherboards and graphics cards, as well as utilties like Memtest86 and SATA2 firmware tools, all on one single USB drive? Sound good? Great! On with the guide then...
What you will need
Here is a list of the minimum requirements for this guide:
- A motherboard that supports booting from USB devices
- A USB drive
- HP USB Bootdisk utility - Download
- Boot files - Download
First take your USB drive and make sure that if it has anything important on it, that you copy it over to your computer. Better still, copy the whole lot into a new folder on your computer called \usbdrive_files\ or something because you're going to be wiping the usb drive clean (so if you copy the files over now, you can just copy them all back after formatting).
Download the HP utility and install it. Download the boot files and extract them to a new folder.
Guide by: Steve Goossens
Date: October 7th, 2006
Making it bootable
Insert the USB drive into a free USB port. A bootable drive needs a few basic files on there so now you will need to start up the HP USB Bootdisk utility and you will see the following screen:
HP USB Bootdisk utility
- Select the USB drive
- Select FAT as the file system
- I recommend labelling your usb drive to distinguish it from other drives
- Tick/check this box
- Click the [...] box and browse to the folder where the boot files are located (the extracted files)
- and finally click the [Start] button
The following dialog box should appear:
Did you select the correct drive?
Double check that you selected the correct drive and then click the [Yes] button. After a few seconds another dialog box appears to show you the results of the formatting:
Making it Useful
Ok, so now you have a bootable drive, but if you look in Explorer you will probably see what appears to be an empty drive:
This is because most people (including myself) choose to keep the default Windows setting that hides protected system files. In Explorer, if you go to Tools > Folder Options... > View, and scroll down a few lines you should be able to find this line "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)" and disable it:
Disable system file protection (hiding)
Click on [Apply] and [OK] and you should then see the files that were added when formatting using the HP utility:
The system boot files on the usb drive
These are the files that let the drive be bootable. Go ahead and re-enable "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)" to avoid deleting important files. This was just to show you where the files are, and also lets you confirm that the system files are indeed on the usb drive.
So now the drive will act like a bootable floppy disk or bootable CD. All you have to do is put some files on the disk and you will be able to access them from a DOS prompt. You can of course use the usb drive as a storage drive, so you can pull all the files back over now if you saved them to your computer earlier.
Here is an example of the types of files you can put on your drive:
Typical files and folders for a bootable disk
You should note that for bios flashes you will need the bios rom files and the corresponding flash utility. This applies to motherboards and graphics cards.
Also on the usb drive I have put the latest version of Memtest86+ which you can download here - choose "Download - Pre-Compiled EXE file for USB Key (Pure DOS)". Memtest86+ is based on Memtest86, but runs under DOS as opposed to Linux, so it can run off a bootable USB drive with DOS system files!
The other folders on the drive contain a set of custom bios files for my 7800GT cards with different settings in them so I can quickly try out a number of different settings that can only be changed by editing the graphics bios! (Note to owners of the 7800GT: This makes light work of trying out different values for geometric delta)
So you've made it bootable and you've got some useful files and utilities on the drive now. The last step is going into the motherboard bios (CMOS setup) and making the usb drive the first boot device. This will differ from bios to bios, but most of you should be able to figure it out. Here is what I have to do:
Insert the USB drive into a USB port if it isn't there already. Power on or reboot the computer and enter the bios.
Go to "Advanced BIOS Features"
Go to "Hard Disk Boot Priority"
USB drive at Priority 5 (lowest)
Here you can see that my usb drive is at the bottom of the priority list (number 5) so I press [PageUp] a few times to get it to the top of the list:
USB drive at Priority 1 (Highest)
Save and Exit the bios. This resets the computer and, if you set the bios up correctly, it will boot from the usb drive and you should get a DOS prompt with a C:>\
C: should now be your usb drive. You can confirm this by typing dir and seeing if the files and folders are the ones that you put on the drive earlier.
Now you can use the programs on the disk exactly as if you had just booted from a floppy drive!
(Note: I have to remove the USB drive to boot my computer normally, and when I want to boot from the USB drive again, I have to go through the BIOS to change the priority each time. Luckily it only takes a few seconds and I find it a lot less hassle than alternative bootable media)
Now you are only limited by the size of your usb drive as to how many bios files and utilities you decide to store on the drive! No more burning CDs, no more messing about with floppy drives, no more searching for that Memtest CD you burnt months ago!
- Put all your bioses and utilities on one usb drive
- No floppy drive? No optical drives? No problem!
- Create a set of bios files to easily swap and test different settings and overclocks
- You can still use the drive for general storage
- You may have to enter the bios each time you want to boot from the usb drive