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Create a Bootable Ubuntu 9.10 USB Flash Drive

The Ubuntu Live CD isn’t just useful for trying out Ubuntu before you install it, you can also use it to maintain and repair your Windows PC. Even if you have no intention of installing Linux, every Windows user should have a bootable Ubuntu USB drive on hand in case something goes wrong in Windows.

Creating a bootable USB flash drive is surprisingly easy with a small self-contained application called UNetbootin. It will even download Ubuntu for you!

Note: Ubuntu will take up approximately 700 MB on your flash drive, so choose a flash drive with at least 1 GB of free space, formatted as FAT32. This process should not remove any existing files on the flash drive, but to be safe you should backup the files on your flash drive.

Put Ubuntu on your flash drive

UNetbootin doesn’t require installation; just download the application and run it.

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Select Ubuntu from the Distribution drop-down box, then 9.10_Live from the Version drop-down box. If you have a 64-bit machine, then select 9.10_Live_x64 for the Version.

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At the bottom of the screen, select the drive letter that corresponds to the USB drive that you want to put Ubuntu on. If you select USB Drive in the Type drop-down box, the only drive letters available will be USB flash drives.

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Click OK and UNetbootin will start doing its thing. First it will download the Ubuntu Live CD.

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Then, it will copy the files from the Ubuntu Live CD to your flash drive.

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The amount of time it takes will vary depending on your Internet speed, an when it’s done, click on Exit. You’re not planning on installing Ubuntu right now, so there’s no need to reboot.

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If you look at the USB drive now, you should see a bunch of new files and folders. If you had files on the drive before, they should still be present.

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You’re now ready to boot your computer into Ubuntu 9.10!

How to boot into Ubuntu

When the time comes that you have to boot into Ubuntu, or if you just want to test and make sure that your flash drive works properly, you will have to set your computer to boot off of the flash drive.

The steps to do this will vary depending on your BIOS – which varies depending on your motherboard. To get detailed instructions on changing how your computer boots, search for your motherboard’s manual (or your laptop’s manual for a laptop).

For general instructions, which will suffice for 99% of you, read on.

Find the important keyboard keys

When your computer boots up, a bunch of words and numbers flash across the screen, usually to be ignored. This time, you need to scan the boot-up screen for a few key words with some associated keys: Boot menu and Setup. Typically, these will show up at the bottom of the screen.

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If your BIOS has a Boot Menu, then read on. Otherwise, skip to the Hard: Using Setup section.

Easy: Using the Boot Menu

If your BIOS offers a Boot Menu, then during the boot-up process, press the button associated with the Boot Menu. In our case, this is ESC.

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Our example Boot Menu doesn’t have the ability to boot from USB, but your Boot Menu should have some options, such as USB-CDROM, USB-HDD, USB-FLOPPY, and others. Try the options that start with USB until you find one that works.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t work – you can just restart and try again.

Using the Boot Menu does not change the normal boot order on your system, so the next time you start up your computer it will boot from the hard drive as normal.

Hard: Using Setup

If your BIOS doesn’t offer a Boot Menu, then you will have to change the boot order in Setup.

Note: There are some options in BIOS Setup that can affect the stability of your machine. Take care to only change the boot order options.

Press the button associated with Setup. In our case, this is F2.

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If your BIOS Setup has a Boot tab, then switch to it and change the order such that one of the USB options occurs first. There may be several USB options, such as USB-CDROM, USB-HDD, USB-FLOPPY, and others; try them out to see which one works for you.

If your BIOS does not have a boot tab, boot order is commonly found in Advanced CMOS Options.

Note that this changes the boot order permanently until you change it back. If you plan on only plugging in a bootable flash drive when you want to boot from it, then you could leave the boot order as it is, but you may find it easier to switch the order back to the previous order when you reboot from Ubuntu.

Booting into Ubuntu

If you set the right boot option, then you should be greeted with the UNetbootin screen.

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Press enter to start Ubuntu with the default options, or wait 10 seconds for this to happen automatically.

Ubuntu will start loading.

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It should go straight to the desktop with no need for a username or password.

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And that’s it! From this live desktop session, you can try out Ubuntu, and even install software that is not included in the live CD. Installed software will only last for the duration of your session – the next time you start up the live CD it will be back to its original state.

Download UNetbootin from sourceforge.net

Trevor is our resident Linux geek, but always keeps his eyes open for neat Windows tricks too.

  • Published 03/22/10

Comments (42)

  1. Merlin

    It is also possible to start the installation from the CD or ISO and have the installer do it’s stuff on the USB memorykey. This will give you the possibility to install the software you want and to choose the language in which you want to use Ubuntu. Plus you can install aditional software and work on the memorykey like if it were a regular installation. Everything you do is kept on the memorykey. After all it is a regular install, only the drive isn’t a hard drive but a USB memorykey.

  2. Jean-Francois Messier

    If you are going to install as a VM, there is no use of making a USB bootable with the ISO. Just point to the actual ISO file frmo the VM configuration. The USB-based installation, using UNETBOOTIN, is great when actually booting from a USB on a physical machine. for a VM, booting form an ISO file directly would actually be faster.

  3. James Kendall

    It is easer to install to a memory stick via a live CD as this method doesn’t put options to install from the memory stick.

  4. Navjot

    Can we rename the drive from “Install Ubuntu” to anything else?

  5. calebstein

    I’d use it to install FreeBSD, because I think BSD is better than Linux. (I’d be happy to explain why, if anyone is interested.)

  6. Trevor Bekolay

    @Navjot

    Install Ubuntu isn’t actually the name of the drive; if you right-click on the drive and select “Properties” you can see that the drive label is not “Install Ubuntu.” It shows up as Install Ubuntu because all of the files from the Ubuntu CD are on there, and it includes an autorun.inf that changes the label in Windows Explorer.

    If you want to change that, you can either edit autorun.inf and change the label (or remove that line) or just delete autorun.inf from the USB drive. It won’t affect anything else except the autorun options you get when you plug in the drive and have autorun enabled in Windows.

    @calebstein

    The last time I used FreeBSD was a few years ago, and I wasn’t comfortable enough with the Unix family to be able to use it properly. I started an X-session, but it was just a window with a terminal and I balked and installed Ubuntu instead. What makes BSD better than Linux?

  7. Joel Sember

    I was trying to install 10.04 beta1 to a USB stick. The absolute easiest way to do this is to boot from the Live CD then insert the memory stick and select System > Administration > Create Startup Disk. It will even give you the option of persistence and how big to make the casper-rw file. It works like a charm, it’s as easy as you can imagine, and 10.04 is AMAZING.

  8. Khaled

    Thanks for helping us out , I am going ahead to try it .

  9. calebstein

    @Trevor Bekolay: I’m glad you asked. I understand that it can be difficult to learn, and that is why many people go to Linux. For me, FreeBSD was harder to learn, but when I learned it, it just felt more natural. In my opinion, Linux is easier to use out of the box, but BSD is much more customizable. I tri-boot Windows, BSD, and Kubuntu, and I have the easiest time with BSD. I also prefer the way that FreeBSD comes with nothing pre-installed except for the core system. It allows you to install everything you want without having to deal with the stuff that you will never use. Honestly, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and my opinion is in favor of FreeBSD.
    About your X problem, I’d be willing to help if you want.

  10. Trevor Bekolay

    @calebstein

    Do you install a Gnome / KDE desktop environment on your BSD setup, or do you use a different desktop manager? I think at this point I’d be comfortable setting this kind of stuff up, I’m just curious if there’s a different preferred interface for BSD.

  11. calebstein

    @Trevor Bekolay: I install KDE, Gnome, Xfce, Fluxbox, AfterStep, and IceWM on my FreeBSD machines, because I like choice, but I use kdm as the default login manager. For some reason though, Xorg requires a lot of setup. Maybe that is why many people don’t like FreeBSD.

  12. LinuxUser

    Hey,
    Thanx 4 the installation guide and everything but i’m having a problem ..
    after i completely installed and run the Linux OS the keyboard didn’t work .. it does work under windows though
    i just can’t get it working under the USB Live Linux Version :(

  13. Trevor Bekolay

    @LinuxUser

    What kind of keyboard is it? I’ve never heard of any keyboard not working properly, but perhaps if it’s a super old one using a PS/2 to USB converter, there could be some strange problems…

    Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back it?

  14. LinuxUser

    @Trevor Bekolay

    it’s a laptop built in keyboard :S :((

  15. Trevor Bekolay

    @LinuxUser

    That’s unfortunate; I’d try googling your particular laptop model and something about the keyboard not working in the Ubuntu Live CD; there appear to be some problems with some laptop keyboards in recent version of Ubuntu, and I’m not sure if they have workarounds. You might just be unlucky :(

  16. Roy

    I have a recovery disk from Dell for a ubuntu netbook. As you might guess said netbook lacks a cd drive and I would like to put the recovery disk onto a flash drive to work around this issue. Is there anything special I need to do to make this happen beyond simply copying the data/files on the cd to the flash drive (creating an iso disk image for example)? And can this spiffy program discussed above do this for me?

  17. Trevor Bekolay

    @Roy

    The program described above will do the hard work of making a flash drive that you can boot off of. Just copying the files to a flash drive will not have the same effect, you have to use the method described above or a similar method.

  18. gbou

    I did all that but in the netbootin menu, enter key doesn’t work. It’s writen Automatic boot in x second and if I do nothing, It restarts at 10 seconds.

    I have a dell mini 10.

    Thanks

  19. David

    I tried this and it worked great! However, I am looking for more or less a permanent solution. I wast to be able to use the USB stick as the primary hard drive and install drivers and programs on it. I am not able to install programs with this method. Can you give me any suggestions.

  20. Trevor Bekolay

    @David and others:

    If you want to install programs that persist on the USB stick, we just posted an article on making a Persistent Ubuntu flash drive. You can install programs and change settings, and they’ll stay there the next time you boot up with the flash drive.

  21. zainulfranciscus

    Hi Trevor,

    Great Post. I install lucid live CD in my USB by following your article. By the way how do you screen capture the BIOS Setup Screen ?

  22. Trevor Bekolay

    @zainulfranciscus

    Thanks! The BIOS screenshots in this article are taken with VMWare Player.

  23. Chad

    I followed all the steps and when i got to the Unetbootin screen after booting from USB stick when i selected default or waited for the timer to run out it just resets. Did i do something wrong or should i just try again?

  24. Trevor Bekolay

    @Chad

    If you got the Unetbootin screen, then you did everything right; why it rebooted I’m not sure. Try booting it again, and if it still fails, you can try the steps in this article to see if you get a different result.

  25. Chad

    @Trevor Bekolay it didnt reboot actually, the timer for the automatic boot reset. It looks like gbou had the same problem. I tryed the Persistent Bootable method and in the process I get a 7-zip: Diagnostic message listing several data errors saying the files are broken :(

  26. Ey

    I’m having the same problem as Chad. The timer just resets. When I made the persistent bootable it gave a compression error and halted.

  27. maine

    @ linux user, is your laptop a toshiba? I had such a problem too when i installed redhat 4 in my laptop. The only thing was that the keyboard starts working after touching like the right shift key. Just try keys on the right hand side of your keyboard. I am not so sure of the particular key.

  28. nike

    isn’t there any way beside using unetbootin and downloading 700MB of ubuntu…because i have slow internet connection so it takes nearly 24hours to download it… :( …doing from live CD would be great!

  29. brisingr

    you could download the Ubuntu by torrent but as of other ways of running Linux the live CD/USB is the best method.

  30. DaS

    Has anybody figured out how to fix the “Automatic boot in X seconds” countdown prompt error associated with UNetbootin(~ubuntu)? I have a Thinkpad X41 so I don’t have the luxury of using a Windows XP CD b/c I don’t have it and I don’t have a CD drive (?!). I d/l’d a Windows XP iso file and attempted to use the unetbootin (~ubuntu) program to copy the iso files to the usb drive/to make the usb bootable; when I use my usb drive to attempt to run Windows XP, the countdown prompt repeats itself.

    For more context around my problem, I’m trying to fix my IBM (Lenovo) Thinkpad X41. I was using it one day and got an error message when I clicked on my volume icon. I thought I encountered this error in the past (in which I’d just restart my computer & it’d go away). When I restarted my computer, I got the following error message at startup:

    Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt:
    \windows\System32\Drivers\Isapnp.sys

    Now I can’t start/use my laptop. So, that’s why I want to copy the XP iso file to my usb drive to repair my system. If anybody has answers, please shoot me an email at b.dasean_s@yahoo.co.uk, and please use plain english (I’m not a techie). Also, if your solution is for me to open up my laptop and do some hardwiring or to write some random code, please do not waste your time and energy replying (lol).

  31. Aarón

    This works on Mac? How to boot a usb on an Imac?

  32. Ishara

    I have got everything ready, but I dont know how to connect to internet using Ubuntu Live (to download the packages from repositories.) Wireless is disabled and Ethernet connection wont be detected.Using AspireOne netbook.

  33. Kevin

    I’m getting an error that my bootmgr is missing. Is it fixable? I’ve done everything here, so I’m not sure whats wrong..

  34. emeryjay

    I have a everex laptop and when i try to download ubuntu from my usb. the screen keeps telling me that windows installation cannot proceed. thats as far as i can get on my laptop now.

  35. jean

    i had windows and im recently downloading the ubuntu does everything from photos to softwares go ?? plz reply ASAP

  36. john eck

    did the ubuntu thing to a 4 gb usb device .. program used was 10.1 x64 since i have win 7 64 bit sys..
    All seemed to go well and my w explorer listing is almost exctly like the screen shot you show for 9.1
    bit , my bios can not see the usb drive and so i can not load the system .. Knowing me i assume i screwed up so I did it again with the same results .. I had a usb floppy connected and the dos on board would load .. i unplugged this device and now get only an entry saying “removable drives” no acknowlegement that the usb flash drive is available to the bios .. TNX … John

  37. Alexander

    I suppose the “pros” only comment back as far as their knowledge goes, and then they just stop replying. Disappointed with the lack of resolution to the problems presented in this thread.

  38. vikrant jain

    after this ubuntu instalation , how we can change the window password

  39. Kevin

    @john eck
    A similar thing happened to me. I had ubuntu installed on my netbook dual boot with Win 7. I decided to try FreeBSD. After deciding I didn’t have time customize and setup everything on there, I wanted to try Fedora. But something happened with / during ? the FreeBSD install and my netbook no longer has the ability to boot from a usb drive.?!
    After flashing a new bios, and many tests ( all BIOS settings were verified, usb disk works on other systems etc), I was only able to install ubuntu from my flash drive by using EasyBCD ( in Windows) and having the app install Plop, http://neosmart.net/dl.php?id=1 . The Plop boot manager has the ability to make systems bootable from usb devices. http://www.plop.at/en/bootmanager.html

    I am not affiliated with either product. I am only a fan of EasyBCD and relieved of my desperation thanks to Plop.

  40. GDM

    No offense but this program stinks its useless to me to date. I have yet to date create a usable boot thumb drive using it either in download or ISO mode. This is using multiple flash drives and iso sources.
    Maybe it’s a Microsoft Windows 7 thing. But Unetbootin refuses to create anything boot able in my case.

    I’ll keep looking to future releases in the hopes they get whatever it is straight. Whether it’s a bug in running in the windows 7 environment etc.

  41. Dave

    As GDM said. Its not working for me either. I follow all instructions. The computer doesn’t recognize a USB to boot from. :(
    Sometimes i get an error from Windows 7 that something was wrong with boot up, and it give me option to start windows normally or fix problems then start windows.

  42. glenn

    just a quick question i got everything working i got to as far as the unetboot boot screen where you have the option to choose default or wait out the 10 sec countdown either option i choose the countdown just resets to 10 secs and i can get past the inital screen any help is appreciated

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