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Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to Boot from USB Disk

Lots of people have been wondering if there is an easier way to reformat their computers without going through any hassle. If you're anything like me, you'd most probably have a CD album full of important CDs, which you'd leave at home and won’t carry with you all the time. And when you want to give your computer a full system format, you'd be searching your CDs again. Either that, or you'd most probably clear 7GB off of your C drive (assuming you gonna install Windows Vista), and mount an ISO image that consists Windows Setup files using a third party software like Daemon Tools or PowerISO and go for a non-clean format.

I used to do this before finding out an easier method. Why not use your USB instead? Just plug in your flash drive / thumb drive / pen drive / whatever you call your USB drive into your USB port, re-boot your computer and reformat your PC on the go. Better yet, keep the device as Windows Installation Drive. Whenever you feel like reformatting your system, just plug it in and reformat your computer. Easy uh? I’m going to show a step by step tutorial on how to do this. It can be done for Windows Vista or Windows 7, since it has guaranteed positive results so far. I have not tried this for Windows XP yet, so don’t come complaining to me.

  • A USB Drive: Thumb Drive, or External Hard Disk, which is more than 3GB.
  • Windows Vista/Windows 7 Installation CD or Equivalent Image files (ISO, DAA, etc)
  • USB Port
  • A system that actually does support either one of the OS

Step 1:
Connect your USB Device to the system

Step 2: Download and extract USB Disk Storage Format

You’ll have to run this in administrator mode. Right click and choose Run as Administrator.

Step 3:

  1. Choose the appropriate device from ‘Device’ label.
  2. Leave the ‘File System’ label as FAT32
  3. Click Start
  4. Close when done

Step 4:
Download and extract Grub4Dos. It is very important for you to extract the entire folder instead of running the file straight away. Again, you have to run this in administrator mode.

Step 5:

  1. Check the ‘Disk’ Label. And choose the appropriate USB drive.
  2. Leave ‘File’ Label unchecked.
  3. At the far end of the label ‘Part List’, click Refresh.
  4. Choose ‘Whole Disk (MBR)’ under this title.
  5. Click Install.

It won’t take long till you get a confirmation message in command prompt. Click ‘Quit’ when you are done.

Note: If at the beginning of step 5 the Label Disk shows no entries, that means you are not running in administrator mode.

Step 6:
Remember the folder that you had to extract for Grub4Dos archive in step 4? Open that folder, find for two files named ‘grldr’ and ‘menu.lst’. Copy these two files and paste it in your USB drive. You are almost there now.

Step 7:
Now, insert your Windows Installation CD for the very last time into the CD Rom. If you have ISO image of Windows Installer, this is the time for you to mount it. As for me, I normally keep image files of my important CDs. Load/Mount it, open the installation folder/CD Rom drive, and copy every single file there, and paste them into your USBb drive.

 The final state of your USB drive should look something like this:

Easy, right? Oh, of course you need to change your Boot Priorities. Set the system so that it’d boot from the USB drive. There is no definitive manner, as setting up the Boot Priorities is machine dependant. But to give you a clue, when you a restarting your computer, press the button that you need to press in order to enter into the setup screen. This key is normally displayed on the first screen when you are rebooting your computer. It goes something like: “Press F2 to configure Setup Menu” or something like that.

When you are in there, find for Boot Sequence or Boot Menu or Boot Priority or anything that has the word ‘Boot’ in it. There, you will see a small list, which has entries like CD Rom, Hard Disk, Floppy and things like that. Find for USB drive and press the necessary keys to bring this particular entry to top. It would be a good idea to have the USB drive connected before you go into this setup. Also, it is advisable for you to disconnect all the other USB storage devices when you are doing this.

If you do this right, the setup will bring you into a blank screen, in which you can choose a list of Windows to install. Just Choose Windows 7, and go with the flow. You can unplug the USB Device after the system reboots for the first time (or before).

I hope this tutorial will help you to setup you own bootable USB drive. With the physical size of USB disks nowadays, imagine the possibility. You could keep an entire Windows 7 in a small USB Drive, and keep it in your wallet or something. Cool huh?

WARNING: This tutorial is meant for those who have experience in re-formatting computers beforehand. It shows only the ways to use a USB drive to reformat a computer, not the actual process of reformatting the system. It would be a good start for the beginners to learn from here, provided that you have nothing to lose. If you have valuable information or data in your computer, things can get terribly wrong if they don’t get backed up. So, try it at your own risk. Make sure you know what you are doing. And, Good luck.

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