Software // Enterprise Applications
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1/19/2006
10:42 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: XP On Your Thumb Drive

Fred Langa offers a step-by-step and illustrated guide on how to boot XP from an ordinary USB drive.

Making Sure The PC Is Ready
Before trying to boot from the USB drive, take a moment to ensure that your PC will do its part by checking the BIOS. Different PCs use different nomenclatures, but the BIOS setup tool on my PC had three areas to check. The first and most obvious was to make sure that "USB Boot" was set to "Enable," as shown in Screen Twelve.

Your PC's BIOS settings may differ but the key settings are usually named something like what you see here and in the next two screens.
Screen Twelve
Your PC's BIOS settings may differ but the key settings are usually named something like what you see here and in the next two screens.

(click image for larger view)

Next, under "Removable devices" (Screen Thirteen), I set the USB drive as the first drive, with the standard floppy drive second.


Screen Thirteen
Not all PC's require that you specify Removable devices; but if yours offers such a setting, see if a USB device is listed within.

(click image for larger view)

Not all PC's require that you specify Removable devices; but if yours offers such a setting, see if a USB device is listed within.

Then, under "Boot Device Priority" (Screen Fourteen), I set the USB drive as first. I saved the changes (Screen Fifteen) and I was ready to go!

The Boot Order is important; you want the USB device to be first in line. Once that's set, save your changes, and reboot.
The Boot Order is important; you want the USB device to be first in line. Once that's set, save your changes, and reboot.
Screens Fourteen and Fifteen
The Boot Order is important; you want the USB device to be first in line. Once that's set, save your changes, and reboot.

(click images for larger view)

Or so I thought. But it didn't work. My PC wouldn't boot from the USB drive.

One Final Detail
In the BIOS settings under "Removable devices," my PC had lumped the USB drive in with a standard floppy drive; and that was a clue I'd missed. The output of the USB installer, shown in Screen Eleven, showed that the software set up the USB drive as if it were a hard drive. That can be fine in many PCs, but mine -- only a couple years old, and hardly ancient -- wasn't able to handle the mismatch.

This is apparently an extremely common cause for USB boot failures, so much so that other software developers have produced fixes. For example, "Flashboot," a tool from Prime Expert, is able to make many types of bootable USB setups on its own, but also has a special feature for processing a BartPE bootable CD image to USB; and to do so in either hard drive emulation format or floppy drive emulation. Flashboot is a commercial tool costing 19.95Euros (about US$24 as I write this), but has a free trial so you can be sure it will work for you before you pay.

I tried it, and Flashboot did as it promised, getting around my PC's limitations, and letting me boot from the USB drive.

Lots Of Help Available
As with so many tech step-by-steps, spelling out all the details can make things seem harder than they really are. Of course, that's not our intent here -- we're trying to lay out the details to make the process as clear as possible.

But in the event things don't work for you, don't worry: There's lots of additional help available, including these excellent resources:

Well Worth Doing
Having BartPE -- in fact, an entire, lightweight installation of XP -- on a self-contained, zero-footprint, USB drive is a wonderful thing that opens a whole world of easier, more-portable computing, troubleshooting, and maintenance. Sooner or later, you'll have a USB drive -- and now you have the means to take XP with you, in your pocket


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum.

To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page.

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