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Boot Windows XP From a USB Flash Drive

Boot Windows XP From a USB Flash Drive

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Published by Ali TekBoi

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Published by: Ali TekBoi on Mar 16, 2007
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06/19/2014

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Takeaway:
You can't boot Windows XP from a floppy disk the way you used to be ableto with DOS. One handy way to easily boot XP is by using a USB flash drive. Here's howto make it work. _______________________________________________________________________  _ Almost everyone who has worked with computers for any length of time at all has runinto at least one situation in which a problem left a PC unbootable. What if you couldreturn the machine to a bootable state just by inserting a USB flash drive though? Believeit or not, it is actually possible to install a bootable copy of Windows XP onto a flashdrive and then boot a PC off of the flash drive. From there, you can use applications thatyou have installed on the flash drive (anti virus, anti spyware, disk repair, etc.) to fix thePC's problem. In this article, I will show you how.
What's the catch?
As with most cool new techniques, there are a few catches. For starters, not every PC iscapable of booting from a USB flash drive. For the most part, computers manufacturedwithin the last two years are generally able to boot from a flash drive. Older systems mayrequire a BIOS update, or might not be able to boot from a flash drive at all.Another catch is that not every flash drive will get the job done. The primary factors thatlimit your use of a particular flash drive are capacity and speed. Technically, speed isn'treally a limiting factor, but booting Windows will be painfully slow unless you use aflash drive that supports USB 2.0.The flash drive's capacity is actually a limiting factor though. Surprisingly though, thereare size limits on both the upper and lower end. Your flash drive can't be too large or toosmall. There isn't really a documented minimal size for a flash drive. You just needsomething large enough to hold Windows XP and a few applications. As you probablyknow, Windows XP normally consumes over a gigabyte of disk space. Later I will showyou how to use a free utility to trim the excess fat off of Windows XP and make it awhole lot smaller. Even so, I still recommend that your flash drive be at least a minimumof 256 MB in size.As I mentioned, there is a maximum size for the USB flash drive that you can use.Currently, USB flash drives exist in sizes of up to 4 GB, and 8 GB flash drives areexpected to be available by the end of the year. As nice as it would be to have 8 GB to play with, the flash drive that you use for this project can be no larger than 2 GB. Thereason for this is because you will have to format the flash drive using the FAT-16 filesystem, which has a 2 GB limit. Presently, you are stuck using FAT-16 because mostcomputers will not recognize a flash drive as being bootable if the drive is formatted withanything other than FAT-16.
 
Preparing your Windows installation CD
One of the requirements for creating our bootable USB flash drive is a Windows XP withService Pack 2 installation CD. If your Windows XP installation CD doesn't alreadyinclude Service Pack 2, then you will have to make a CD that includes Service Pack 2through a technique calledslipstreaming.
Other requirements
In addition to your Windows XP installation CD, there are a couple of other things thatyou are going to need. For starters, you will need the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool.You can download this tool for  free. Another utility that you are going to need is Bart's Preinstalled Environment BootableLive Windows CD / DVD, or BartPE for short. You can download this utility for freefrom theBartPE Web site.In addition to the software requirements, you must verify that the PC that you will beusing to create the Windows deployment has 1.5 GB of free hard disk space (minimum)and supports booting from a USB device. I also strongly recommend that the PC berunning Windows XP Service Pack 2. Prior to Service Pack 2, Windows XP sometimeshad trouble interacting with USB storage devices.
Formatting the flash drive
 Now that you have all of the prerequisites taken care of, it's time to actually start settingup our flash drive. The first step in doing so, as strange as it sounds, is to format the flashdrive. Windows will actually let you format a flash drive in the same way that you formata floppy disk. However, formatting a flash drive in this way will not work for this project.Furthermore, using Windows to format a flash drive directly has been known to destroysome types of flash drives.Instead, you must format the flash drive by using the HP USB Disk Storage Format Toolthat you downloaded earlier. To do so, simply open the utility, select the device followed by the FAT file system option and click Start.Once the device has been formatted, you must make it bootable. To do so, you must copythe BOOT.INI, NTLDR, and NTDETECT from the root directory of your PC's boot driveto the flash drive. These files are hidden by default, so you will either have to configureWindows Explorer to show hidden files (including protected operating system files) or you will have to open a Command Prompt window and use the COPY command to copythe files.
 
If you choose to use the Windows Explorer method, then open Internet Explorer andenter C: into the address bar so that you are looking at your local hard drive. Next, selectthe Folder Options command from the Tools menu. When the Folder Options propertiessheet opens, select the View tab. Now, just select the Show Hidden Files and Folders anddeselect the Hide Extensions for Known File Types and the Hide Protected OperatingSystem Files check boxes. Click OK to continue.
Booting from the USB flash drive
 Now that you have formatted your USB flash drive and installed the boot files onto it, thenext thing that you must do is to configure your PC to allow you to boot from the flashdrive. This is all done through the computer's BIOS Setup. I can't give you specificinstructions for this part, because every computer is different. I can give you a few pointers though.You can access your computer's BIOS by pressing a specific key immediately after youturn the PC on. The key varies, but it is usually either [F1], [F2], or [Delete]. Once youare in the BIOS Setup, you should verify that all of your computer's USB options areenabled. This might include things like support for legacy USB devices or support for USB 2.0. If there is a time out setting for USB devices, you should set it to the max toinsure that the system doesn't time out while waiting on the USB device to boot. Next, find the section on boot device priority. Normally, a USB flash drive (which isusually listed as USB-HDD, but may be listed as a removable device) will have a verylow boot priority. If the USB flash drive's boot priority is lower than the hard disk (listedas HDD) then the only time the computer would ever boot off of the USB flash drive is if the system were to fail to boot from the hard disk. You must therefore rearrange the bootdevice priority so that the flash drive has a higher priority than the hard drive.
Configuring Windows
 Now that we have finally made it through all of the prep work, it's time to start setting upWindows. As you have probably already guessed, the process of installing Windows to aflash drive is quite a bit different from your normal, run of the mill installation. There area couple of reasons for this.For starters, a full blown Windows XP deployment takes up over a Gigabyte of hard disk space. When you are installing to a flash drive, disk space is a scarce commodity. Even if you have over a Gigabyte of space on your flash drive, you probably don't want to use itall on Windows. It would be nice to have room to install a few applications. Therefore,you need to trim the excess fat off of Windows.

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