Personal Tech Pipeline | Langa Letter: XP On Your Thumb Drive

White Papers

Sponsor Resources

Free Newsletter GlossaryContact UsAbout Us
Players & CamsPhones & PDAsHome & AutoOnline

January 23, 2006

Langa Letter: XP On Your Thumb Drive

Courtesy of InformationWeek

Page 1 of 4

Fred LangaChances are you already either have a USB "thumb" drive, or you will have one in the near future--these little solid-state flash memory devices are inexpensive, nearly ubiquitous, and very, very handy. Not only can they replace floppy drives for casual file transfers, but the larger capacity thumb drives also can serve as the basis for an excellent, fit-in-your-pocket software repair kit, letting you diagnose and repair PCs, including those that might otherwise be unbootable or that are locked by password or other problems.

We've discussed USB drives before in "What's Behind The USB Drive Revolution". We also looked at ways to make a USB drive bootable from DOS in "Solving USB Boot Problems". We've also mentioned ways to boot from Linux (such as is discussed in this HowTo or in this Google search.) If you missed either of those earlier articles and references, this would be a good time to click back and catch up so we'll all be starting on the same page.

But when we left off our discussion of USB drives, there was no good way to boot XP from a thumb drive because of the way that XP takes over USB control as the operating system starts -- in effect, XP tries to take over the USB system it's already using to boot from, with unpredictable results.

Since our earlier discussions, three things have happened that can make it much, much easier to get XP to boot from a USB device. First, Microsoft released new software that can manage the USB handover much more smoothly. The new software is part of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003, but can work fine in booting XP and even Win2K from USB. (We'll tell you how to get free copies of the new software in a moment.)

The second piece involved Bart Lagerweij and his justly famous "BartPE" software: The BartPE software is a free and powerful way to create custom bootable, self-contained XP CDs that are ready-to-run and that come with a full battery of software tools for PC diagnosis and repair. The BartPE XP CDs are like the "live" versions of Linux -- everything runs right from the CD. (See "A Must-Have Repair And Recovery Tool").

Bart produced a new USB installer for his tool, making use of the files that came in SP1 for Server 2003. The installer is actually a highly-automated series of scripts that can build a self-contained USB-bootable version of the BartPE XP repair and recovery environment. This gives you what's arguably the most powerful recovery and repair tool ever -- and a self-contained version of XP -- that can fit on, boot from, and run on a modest 256MB USB thumb drive!

The final piece fell into place when some other software authors helped resolve some of the most common remaining issues, so that XP-boot-from-USB now can work in many, many cases.

What Works, What Doesn't
Before we get too far, it's worth noting that there are some kinds of boot-from-USB problems that software fixes can't cure. For example, not all PCs (especially older ones) support boot-from-USB in the first place: If the system doesn't allow it, it's game over. (If your PC supports boot-from USB, it'll be an option in the BIOS setup tool.) There can be compatibility issues with USB 1.0 and 2.0 hardware, and with "High Speed" versus "Full Speed" or "Low Speed" support. And so on.

More subtly, some systems that support boot-from-USB may do so either via hard drive emulation or floppy drive emulation by the USB device; but usually not both. If you try to use a USB drive that's emulating a hard drive, but your system only supports floppy-drive emulation (or vice versa), you may be out of luck. Alas, many PCs aren't labeled as to which forms of USB boot emulation they support, leaving you to experiment. (More on this in a moment.)

And there also can be issues in the USB devices themselves. For a list of many USB drives that are known to work with Bart Lagerweij's tools -- as well as many known not to work, see post #17 in this thread.

Yes, it's a little confusing, but don't worry: If you're not sure that your PC and/or USB drive is suitable, you can simply go ahead and try the full XP boot method we'll discuss: If it fails, it most likely simply won't work. It should do no harm.

But if you want more surety, it may be worthwhile to try any of the simpler DOS boot tools mentioned in "Solving USB Boot Problems". A USB drive that can boot from DOS probably can be made to boot from XP. But a USB drive that won't even boot from DOS probably will be very difficult, at best, to get to work with XP. Thus, running a quick test with the DOS-boot tools can help you decide if it's worthwhile to try the longer, more complex XP boot method we'll now describe.

E-mail This Story
Print This Story
Reprint This Story

Page 2: next page

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Get the latest Personal Tech news, product info, and trends every week.

Related Content

  Right-click and choose Copy to extract RSS Feed URL  Personal Tech Pipeline's Main RSS Feed
  Right-click and choose Copy to extract RSS Feed URL  Personal Tech Pipeline's Blog RSS Feed

Keeping Up To Date On Enterprise Server Tech?
Review our compilation of columns on server security, database software, and Linux issues.
Unleash the Power & Opportunity of Grid Computing
Experts will identify trends in grid computing, provide
examples and examine solution options.
Using Current Performance to Shape
Future Results

Hear new strategies for improving business
performance and results.

Editor's Picks

Apple posted this week its first-ever full-length movie -- the made-for-TV Disney Channel original movie "High School Musical" -- on iTunes for the price of $9.99. What do you think of this pricing for downloadable movies?
Love it! The price is lower than I would expect.
Like it. The price is about right.
Dislike it. The price is is a little too high.
Hate it! The price is way, way too high.
Neutral. It depends on the movie.

In search of personal tech products? See our new Product Finder, where you'll find personal computing devices, communications solutions, security products, and more.

Transform your IT infrastructure with IBM
Successful CIOs see IT as a prime stimulus for business innovation-and themselves as key participants in a process that develops business and IT strategies in concert. Read an executive summary and register to download the full IBM paper.

Symantec Backup Solutions
Desktop to Data Center Protection. Explore the Official Symantec Site.

SEC & HIPAA IM Compliance
Satisfy regulatory and compliance requirements for instant messaging.

Secure & Easy Console Management with Digi CM
The Digi CM console server provides secure, intelligent & easy access to network devices with a serial console port. With Digi CM, you can securely monitor & control servers, routers, switches & other devices even when your network is down.

Learn how much you save with open source.
Find out how much of a financial impact open source can have on your enterprise. Get these tools now, compliments of JBoss. Go!

Buy a Link Now

Top ten search terms from the TechWeb TechEncyclopedia
How does your pay rate? Check the InformationWeek Salary Survey
Mobilized Solutions Guide: Find and compare solutions for your business
Top Requested White Paper Categories from TechWeb White paper Library
Top ten search terms from the TechWeb TechEncyclopedia