Bootable USB Sticks

This has been bugging me for years but I never really had a real reason to find out more about it: how to make a USB Stick bootable? Well, now I have not one but two reasons, so I decided to give it a try – and this is why:

  1. I need to install a new version of Windows 7 so I downloaded the ISO Image from the MSDN Account. However, writing it to a DVD (again) takes time and resources, given that I will forget where I put the DVD once the system is installed. Hence, having it on a USB Stick will save time and a DVD.
  2. I want to backup my ASUS EEEPCs Harddisk, before  installing the new OS – and I want to completely image it, just in case. However, the EEE PC does not have a DVD Drive and therefore, the imaging software cannot be started (it’s on CD).

One of the first things to do was to create an active partition with the appropriate file system – everyone can do so using the Windows GUI but the command line tool is also interesting, so I decided to use that one:

  1. Open a Windows Command Prompt
  2. Type diskpart to start the Partition Editor. It will scan your system drives and then provide a prompt, DISKPART>
  3. Type list disk to list all drives on the computer.
  4. Identify the USB Stick (primarily by looking at the Size column. Note the associated Disk Number from Column one. My stick showed up as Disk 2.
  5. Select the appropriate USB Stick by typing select disk [Disk Number]. So in my case, sel dis 2.
  6. Type list partition to list the partitions on the active disk. My USB Stick has one primary partition, Partition 1.
  7. By typing select partition [Partition Number], the particion becomes active. In my case, select partition 1.
  8. Now, the selected partition is formatted: type format fs=FAT32 label=”MYLABEL” QUICK OVERRIDE. That performs a quickformat on the partition, labels it MYLABEL and overrides any current mounting. Obviously, this creates a FAT32 file system, you had to type fs=NTFS to get an NTFS file system.
  9. Type active to make the selected partition an active partition.
  10. Type exit to leave the partition manager.

With the USB Stick now formatted and containing an active partition, I started to copy the files from my CD onto the USB Stick (in this case, the Paragon Software. One can now try to boot from that USB Stick, provided the computer’s BIOS supports booting from USB devices. However, even if supporting “Boot from USB”, you may not see success right now: my BIOS does not really use the “Boot from ext. device” function to book from USB – it displays the USB Stick under the HDD Priority list but it does reset it every time it sucessfully booted! Therefore, I need to go in and check that the USB Disk is really the first HDD to boot from!

Having prepared all that, my EEE PC started the USB Operating System without any problems…

Additional Note: In the meantime, I came across USB Sticks that failed on Step 7 of the above procedure. So in order to continue, the following must be done:

  • 6a: Type clean to erase all information from the USB Stick. Make absolutely sure you have the correct disk selected!
  • 6b: Type create partition primary to create a new primary partition on the USB Stick.
  • 6c: Continue the above process, re-starting with Step 6.
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