Creating an USB boot key the easy way

NetBooks: as long as everything is working fine — great; but what if you cannot boot anymore from your OS ? Usually this is Windows XP, and you don’t have a build-in CD-ROM to use a rescue bootable CD, or use the Windows XP CD to try to repair your XP installation.

This is where a bootable USB key would come in very handy ! The faster you could make one, the better !

I’ll describe some easy methods to create such a bootable USB key.

1) Creating a bootable Linux USB key using UNetbootin

The principle is very simple (more instructions on http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/):

– Download UNetbootin, from http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/.

UNetbootin

– The downloaded file can directly be executed (no need to install it — note, I downloaded the Windows version; a Linux version is also available).
– Select a Linux distribution from the Distribution pull down list.
– Download the ISO file (URL: see Homepage).
– Insert your USB key.
– Select the downloaded ISO file in Diskimage and select your USB drive letter.
– Click OK, and all necessary files will be copied … after some time the USB key will be ready.
– You will be asked to reboot your PC. This is only necessary if you want to test the USB key at this time. If you don’t want to to this right away, you don’t need to reboot now.

– When you reboot, with the USB key inserted, and select USB Disk as boot option, you will boot to the selected Linux distribution.
– I tested Damn Small Linux and Ubuntu: especially Ubuntu is recommended if you’re not used to work with Linux (like myself). It’s very user friendly: it automounted my harddisk, automounted another USB stick which I inserted, to simulate recovery of a crashed OS (I copied some data from my HDD to the other USB key), wireless NIC, surfing on a wireless network using Firefox, … all went smooth and simple.  The last time I tested a Linux distro was a while ago: I was a little surprised; this was my first experience with Ubuntu, really recommended.  After installing it on a 1GB USB key, there was 265GB free. DSL (Damn Small Linux) is really small: this distro was approx. 50MB !, but not easy at all to work with.

2) Creating a bootable USB key with Vista WinPE 2.0

Sounds too beautiful ? Well it is in fact.

I found a description HERE. If you follow the instructions, it will work: the USB stick will boot … it will look like booting Vista, but you will end up with a command prompt.

The good news is that you can easily add portable applications which you can for example find here: http://www.portablefreeware.com/. For instance, I added freeCommander. You’ll have to create a batch file, or manually type some commands to go to the folder and start freeCommander though …

Another thing: WinPE starts in X:, which is a RAMdisk. The drive letter of your USB key is the drive letter following after your CD-ROM (since I have partitions C:, D: and E:, and CD-ROM F:, the USB key was G: …), so it may be different for each system.

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