A Free Utility that Creates Bootable USB Drives

Bootable Linux Live CDs such as those offered by Ubuntu and Mint are a great way to try Linux without interfering with your Windows installation. They are also a handy tool to have on hand as they give you access to your Windows data without the need for Windows. This can be invaluable should your Windows system become unbootable or infected by difficult-to-remove malware.

CDs are however an inconvenient format to carry around. USB Flash drives are a better solution as they are smaller and give better performance.

Getting USB drives to boot reliably is something of a black art as there is no single technique guaranteed to work across all systems.

I experienced this myself in the last few days while trying to create a bootable USB version of CloudUSB, an Ubuntu based version of Linux designed to offer a portable computing environment with secure web based storage of confidential data. No matter what I tried I couldn’t get my USB drive to boot on my laptop.

Success finally came when I used UNetbootin, a free utility that specifically designed to create bootable USB drives. UNetbootin is available for both Windows and Linux and can create bootable drives of all the major Linux distros and other operating systems including Windows as well.

UNetbootin does not require installation. When you run the stand-alone .exe file you are presented with this screen.

You can select from nearly 40 different kinds of Linux distro. For each distro you can select multiple versions. UNetbootin will then download the selected distro and version.

Alternatively you can use a local ISO disk image of the operating system you want to use. This is what I did as I had already downloaded the ISO image.

Once you have selected your image just click OK. UNetbootin will now transfer the files to the USB drive you selected and make it bootable.

When the process completed I rebooted and found the USB drive would still not boot. I then used Windows to mark the USB drive partition as “Active” and after that it was plain sailing.

The method for marking a drive partition as active depends on the version of Windows you are using. Mostly this can be done from the Disk Management applet within the administrative tools section of the Windows Control panel. If that’s missing from your version of Windows then you can do it manually using the diskpart.exe program from a command window. For instructions see here.

Although UNetbootin is a terrific tool for creating bootable USB drives there are still no guarantees a bootable USB drive will work on your system.

Just too much depends on the particular BIOS in your PC, the particular hard drive controller and more. It’s just yet another area of computers that is fraught with issues. Maybe one day it will all be sorted out.

Here are some tips that might help:

  1. Format your USB drive to Fat32 before using UNetbootin.
  2. Ensure your BIOS boot sequence is set to boot from USB drives first.
  3. If the drive won’t boot try hitting F12 during the boot to bring up the boot device selection menu. Then select your USB flash drive.

If you have any suggestions feel free to leave a comment below.

Gizmo

 


Unetbootin

Download link: http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/

Download size: 4.36 MB (Windows version)

System requirements: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7, or Linux

 

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Comments

by Mazzy (not verified) on 6. September 2012 - 17:09  (98877)

unetbootin worked perfectly to create a bootable pen drive instal Ubuntu on ASUS EEPC with cedar trail processor.

I had to format the pen drive with FAT 32 to remove all preinstalled stuff that seems to come at times with pen drives.

After that, pressing ESC while booting presents the option to boot from USB . From there on it was almost painless.

Installed UBUNTU 12.04.

by Vijay Devakumar (not verified) on 10. March 2012 - 8:44  (90169)

Look at Sardu. You can create a multi-OS pen drive with this tool.

by bhtani on 26. January 2012 - 13:01  (87829)

Apart from Unetbootin, there is Universal-USB Installer. (1.8.7.9 is the latest version as I post) and also Jolicloud USB creator(yes it can handle a few other iso)..

by Mig (not verified) on 1. November 2011 - 4:15  (82510)

Hi guys!PLLEEEEEASSEE reply to me ..im in deep shit!yesterday i partitioned my harddrive which had windows xp and vista in two separate partitions.i formated the new patition and copied all the contents of a bootable usb with linux to the partition and immediately used disk manager to mark the partition as active.i rebooted and now i cannot get the computer to start!anyone with an idea?a lightweight bootmanager that specifically focuses on marking partitions as active?i just need to find a way to undo what i did please!i need a small bootable image please

by MidnightCowboy on 1. November 2011 - 5:09  (82513)

Please post these details in our forum and someone will be able to help you.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/freeware-forum/general-computer-support/

by bethsnaper779 (not verified) on 16. July 2011 - 3:44  (75598)

A Free Utility that Creates Bootable USB Drives are better technique guaranteed to work across all systems. UNetBootin is one of the best software to make Bootable USB Flash Drives and absolutely free for use. It is always easy and worked perfectly.

by MidnightCowboy on 16. July 2011 - 5:55  (75606)

Agree. I use UNetBootin on both Windows and Linux.

by Dream (not verified) on 16. July 2012 - 7:09  (96256)

I tried to make a bootable backtrack USB and it never works it shows a screen that that says Linux an the copy rights the wont do anything please help (this is with unibootin I tried older an most recent versions)

by MidnightCowboy on 16. July 2012 - 7:48  (96257)

Unfortunately we are not able to provide individual support here in the comments, only in our forum. That said, BackTrack is a specialist Linux distribution and the best place to post your issue is in their own forum.

http://www.backtrack-linux.org/forums/forum.php?s=536cbad0948aff27ea1292...

by cj (not verified) on 9. May 2011 - 10:40  (71678)

Gizmo, for reasons beyond my comprehension my pc would not boot yesterday. It turned on and I got nothing--except the fan and intel logo. 'F' keys didn't even have the courtesy to flicker. But Unetbootin saved my bacon, on the very first try. I had no clue what I was doing, but opted for the Smart Boot choice and bingo!

I must admit that for reasons beyond my comprehension I looked all over the net for 2-3 hours --stomach churning--before turning to this site. Not one that I googled offered such a simple non-geek solution. I don't know what you and your team will do for an encore one of these days, but it is exciting to wait for it.

Thank you.
CJ

by elecpic (not verified) on 6. January 2011 - 6:13  (63922)

There's quite a lot of "bootable device creator" nowadays. They are pretty useful to try Linux distributions, but also to create bootable rescue/utility device. Many runs on Windows or Linux, others on both and there is DasBoot for Mac OS X.
Generally, they are oriented for one purpose as to boot live Linux distributions, but some are very versatile and supports many kind of boot images like some Antivirus Rescue disk ISOs, LiveXP, BartPE and more. It could be very interesting to have a Gizmo review page for them.

Of course boot-land.net (now Reboot.pro) is plenty to get technical information on this topic. More specifically I would refer to http://reboot.pro/forum/95/ for what they called "USB FORMATTING utilities".

Here is a beginning of a review of some tools : http://reboot.pro/9460/

There is a brief comparison list of "Live USB tools" from Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_USB_tools but that's not like a Gizmo review ;)

The list of tools from Wikipedia is incomplete. There is more utilities of the same kind :

- MultiBootISOs
PenDriveLinux.com provides another Windows utility which allows you to create a usb device to boot multiple .iso files. It is mainly oriented to boot Linux distributions ISOs, but could works for other types of OS. Have to test...
http://www.pendrivelinux.com/boot-multiple-iso-from-usb-multiboot-usb/

- RMPrepUSB
This Windows utility seems very complete. It was originally developed for RM Education, supplier of educational software in the UK and the US. It is now distributed free for private use.
http://sites.google.com/site/rmprepusb/

-PEtoUSB (a bit dated)
A Windows utility developed to boot BartPE from USB, but I heard that it can be used for other types of system like WindowsPE-based one. It is limited to FAT16 which does not handle file larger than 2 Gb.

That was a preview, there is more utilities and so much information about them to regroup in a complete review...

by ianjrichards (not verified) on 7. January 2011 - 2:01  (64019)

Hey Elecpic, you clearly know this stuff. Why not join us as a volunteer editor and help create the very review you suggest. Contact me via the site contact form and I'll set you up. - Gizmo

by Steve2926 (not verified) on 30. December 2010 - 19:48  (63568)

It has been found that if you create a 2nd hidden partition on a USB drive, then some BIOSes see them as a hard drive and so will boot from them correctly, when they would not boot before. To partition and format a USB drive you can use RMPrepUSB and tick Boot as HDD option which adds a small hidden partition to the USB drive.

by Flippo (not verified) on 21. December 2010 - 11:02  (63032)

So true. Don't you get what Anonymous (06/08/2010 - 13:58) is trying to say? (grin) He says that it's too simple to use for Pro's. Yeah, well: that's probably true. Just pushing some buttuns isnt normally what linux users prefer to do. They want to type in some terminal screen or whatever, just do it the hardcore way and so. So this tool is indeed too simple to use for them. True. He's right.

But for Lunix noobs like me its handy and nifty. Puh.

Got only one complain: how come you can only select a few predefined distro's and not one (or two) of your own choise. Other live cd creators can do that with one iso, even if i want one thats not in some predefined list, so why can't multi boot thing do it with more then one? I presume it's possible to create a multiboot usb drive with self- choosed iso's, so why dont this multi boot thing let me? Are they beeing sponsored by those distro's or what? Like: "Dont put any other di's in that list or else..." ??

Or is there any other good reason for it? (Maybe like that option is there but i didnt see it.) Teach me.

by brunetu on 26. June 2010 - 9:54  (53175)

I remember I had issues with Unetbootin in the past, but I understand they have fixed some bugs and the issues have been overcome.

I don't think I've managed to create Live distro USB's with it. One tool I've found that worked for me with several live distros is LiLiUSB Creator (Linux Live). When you have a 1GB pen drive, it is useful.

And about booting from USB drives on old PC's: mine is an IBM system from 2001, and it doesn't even boot some CD's (depending on their boot method). Here's how to do it on ANY PC: burn a CD or make a bootable diskette of PLoP boot manager, then boot from it and tell it to boot the USB. It's free and small and you will find it easily on Google. Or just install it on the hard drive (advanced)!

by Anonymous on 16. June 2010 - 21:48  (52281)

Can I use it to make installers of XP?

by Anonymous on 14. June 2010 - 4:27  (52073)

I already knew about UnetBootin and downloaded it some time back. But I don't remember if it looked like it would work for me. I have tried out several Linux Based USB Distro Burners and manual methods. They all were pretty complicated and the resulting USB Drive (Well I actually was trying it with a Flash Drive in a USB Adapter) But they wouldn't Boot or even be recognized by any of my machines. Could have just been my Adapter - Flash Drive Setup. I didn't have a real USB Drive back then. So, I read on and there are some great tips in this article. I now have a new addition to my Computer Arsenal. A newer one that should boot to USB well and 3 new USB Sticks. I think I will download the newest version of UnetBootin and try it out and see how it does for me...

Thanks,

Don

by Anonymous on 10. June 2010 - 19:04  (51850)

Very useful utility to know about.

by MilesAhead on 9. June 2010 - 18:12  (51753)

If you are interested in bootable USB I recommend this site:
http://www.boot-land.net/forums/

The most fun I had in awhile was making a "boot key" that mimicked the old Linux boot diskette. If you multi-boot your Windows PC you can find step by step how to create a boot USB key with the boot manager screen for that particular machine. Afa making the USB bootable there was step by step instructions using diskpart. It wasn't difficult at all. The only hazard is to make sure you format the correct drive. Get the USB key, not C:. :) You'd have to be pretty careless to make that error though.

You can boot the USB key and select the OS to boot even if your boot manager on the HD got hosed. Once you are in Windows then it's easy to fix your boot manager.

by Anonymous on 9. June 2010 - 4:48  (51694)

really useful piece of advice

by Anonymous on 9. June 2010 - 1:53  (51680)

Don't forget Linux Live USB Creator
http://www.linuxliveusb.com/

by Anonymous on 8. June 2010 - 16:30  (51641)

Boot Multiple ISO from USB (MultiBoot USB)

http://www.pendrivelinux.com/boot-multiple-iso-from-usb-multiboot-usb/

by Anonymous on 8. June 2010 - 15:50  (51638)

This tool is an excellent way of making a Fedora Live bootable USB drive. I've had no problems with it at all.

https://fedorahosted.org/liveusb-creator/

by eddt on 8. June 2010 - 13:59  (51633)

Looks like a very hand tool - will have to give it a try!

by Anonymous on 8. June 2010 - 8:04  (51612)

Unetbootin is the de facto standard for creating bootable USB sticks on Netbooks.
It is extremely easy to use and very reliable. I have used it for my two AspireOnes since early last year, for installing versions of Ubuntu Netbook Remix and EasyPeasy. These two OS are performing much better than XP on these machines.

by Anonymous on 8. June 2010 - 4:10  (51603)

Can it be used to make a bootable XP installation?
Then I can use the USB to install XP if I have no CD/DVD room

by Anonymous on 8. June 2010 - 3:45  (51602)

Too complex for real use.

by Anonymous on 9. June 2010 - 2:31  (51683)

"Too Complex"!?!

It couldn't be simpler.

When I trialled it, the progress bar froze but I let it be and the task completed fine.

Nice find and the fact that there is no install is a bonus.

Thanks Giz.

by Anonymous on 8. June 2010 - 13:58  (51632)

I dare to say the opposite: it is too easy to work with. It does exactly what it says and nothing more. Still, this is a tool for pro's...

by Anonymous on 8. June 2010 - 4:25  (51604)

Totally untrue. I used it just last week to make a bootable USB of LinuxMint 9.0. It was easy and worked perfectly.

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