Thursday, March 3, 2011

Booting From USB

Flash drives, thumb drives, memory sticks. They go by many names, and are an extremely useful piece of technology. But did you know you can boot your computer from a USB drive without even touching your hard drive or CD drive? This tutorial is going to show you how to easily turn an ordinary USB drive into a mobile hard drive, complete with an operating system. In this case, I'm going to show how to put Ubuntu, a Linux distribution with a very user friendly interface, on it. This way, we won't have to deal with the licensing issues that accompanies doing this with Windows. This is really useful because when you use other people's computers, knowing you are in a safe environment.

Step 1: Download the ISO File

The .iso, or disk image file you are going to download carries the entire operating system in it. What we are going to do is download it, then "burn" it to the USB similar to the way we burn a CD. The difference is, the USB is rewritable, faster, and can hold much more data.

1. Download the image file from here. From here, you can select the version you want (10.10, the most recent, or 10.04, the long term support version). You also must select which type you want: 32 or 64 bit.

Step 2: Download Universal USB Installer

We are going to download a small executable to install the image to USB.

1. Download the program from here. No installation is needed.

Step 3: Burn the ISO to USB

Here, we're going to take the Ubuntu ISO we downloaded, and move it onto the USB so that we can boot to it.

1. Plug in the USB drive and turn the Universal USB Installer program.
2. In the first drop down box, select which distribution and version you want to install. It must match the ISO that you downloaded.
3. In the next drop down box, select where the ISO you downloaded is.
4. BE CAREFUL ON THIS STEP. You need to select which USB drive you want to install Ubuntu to. ALL INFORMATION ON THE DRIVE WILL BE LOST, so make sure you a) copy information off it before you burn it, and b) don't select your hard drive!
5. Mark the check box saying "Format". This will make the install much cleaner.
6. Depending on how large your USB drive is, you can set aside space on it to save changes every time you boot and shutdown your USB drive. Make sure you leave around 1 GB for the filesystem that the operating system will use.
7. Press "Create" and give it a few minutes.
8. Shut off your computer completely.

Step 4: Booting From USB

Now we're going to boot into Ubuntu using only our USB drive!

1. Plug your USB into a port.
2. Turn on the computer, and press F12, or whatever option BIOS tells you will allow you to change boot options.
3. Select "USB" or the likes from the list of boot options. Other options should include HD (your hard drive) and CD (the CD drive).
4. That's it! You've successfully booted into Ubuntu on your USB drive!

From here, you can experiment with many Linux distrobutions easily, knowing that it can't harm your computer. Speaking of which, I suggest not mounting your hard drive unless you know what you're doing. Once you mount it, it becomes similar to the way a USB drive would be on your computer normally; you can access, modify, and delete data. So be careful! Enjoy


  1. That seems really useful and only a bit tiresome :)

  2. So you carry your entire computer on the USB or what's going on with that? Just so you can use your own OS on anyone's computer?

  3. Yes you can take your OS whoever you go and boot on anyone else's computer, so that you know the system you're on is safe. It saves all changes you make to the USB system just like a computer would, so it's there next time you boot on the USB.

  4. Very useful, and this trick has helped me retrieve important files on a crashed windows system before!

  5. great blog, I wait for next post

    + follower:)

  6. Wild! That's some high-end hacker stuff you're talking about.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. So like my photos from my daughters recital are on my flash usb stick can i still make operating system? I have a mac if that helps.

  9. Yes you can. Just copy them off the USB drive first, then install the OS. After it is installed, you can put the photos back onto the USB in your user's home directory. Hope that helped

  10. Always good to have one laying around

  11. Great guide, I actually did something similar in college for fun. Worked out pretty well.

  12. I've seen people use them as basically install devices when reloading os's but I've never thought of actually bringing it around with me. This seems cool.

  13. I should have done this when reformating my pc. It was a waste to reconnect the dvd drive.

  14. I love this type of thing.
    For instance booting a 'live OS' from an Ubuntu CD is genius.
    Exact same concept but burn ISO to CD. CD! The OS is < 800MB.
    Check it (and USB boot) here:


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