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How-To Geek

Boot From a USB Drive Even if your BIOS Won’t Let You

You’ve always got a trusty bootable USB flash drive with you to solve computer problems, but what if a PC’s BIOS won’t let you boot from USB? We’ll show you how to make a CD or floppy disk that will let you boot from your USB drive.

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This boot menu, like many created before USB drives became cheap and commonplace, does not include an option to boot from a USB drive.

A piece of freeware called PLoP Boot Manager solves this problem, offering an image that can burned to a CD or put on a floppy disk, and enables you to boot to a variety of devices, including USB drives.

Put PLoP on a CD

PLoP comes as a zip file, which includes a variety of files. To put PLoP on a CD, you will need either plpbt.iso or plpbtnoemul.iso from that zip file. Either disc image should work on most computers, though if in doubt plpbtnoemul.iso should work “everywhere,” according to the readme included with PLoP Boot Manager.

Burn plpbtnoemul.iso or plpbt.iso to a CD and then skip to the “booting PLoP Boot Manager” section.

Put PLoP on a Floppy Disk

If your computer is old enough to still have a floppy drive, then you will need to put the contents of the plpbt.img image file found in PLoP’s zip file on a floppy disk.

To do this, we’ll use a freeware utility called RawWrite for Windows.

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We aren’t fortunate enough to have a floppy drive installed, but if you do it should be listed in the Floppy drive drop-down box. Select your floppy drive, then click on the “…” button and browse to plpbt.img. Press the Write button to write PLoP boot manager to your floppy disk.

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Booting PLoP Boot Manager

To boot PLoP, you will need to have your CD or floppy drive boot with higher precedence than your hard drive. In many cases, especially with floppy disks, this is done by default.

If the CD or floppy drive is not set to boot first, then you will need to access your BIOS’s boot menu, or the setup menu. The exact steps to do this vary depending on your BIOS – to get a detailed description of the process, search for your motherboard’s manual (or your laptop’s manual if you’re working with a laptop).

In general, however, as the computer boots up, some important keyboard strokes are noted somewhere prominent on the screen. In our case, they are at the bottom of the screen.

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Press Escape to bring up the Boot Menu. Previously, we burned a CD with PLoP Boot Manager on it, so we will select the CD-ROM Drive option and hit Enter.

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If your BIOS does not have a Boot Menu, then you will need to access the Setup menu and change the boot order to give the floppy disk or CD-ROM Drive higher precedence than the hard drive. Usually this setting is found in the “Boot” or “Advanced” section of the Setup menu.

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If done correctly, PLoP Boot Manager will load up, giving a number of boot options.

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Highlight USB and press Enter.

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PLoP begins loading from the USB drive.

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Despite our BIOS not having the option, we’re now booting using the USB drive, which in our case holds an Ubuntu Live CD!

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This is a pretty geeky way to get your PC to boot from a USB…provided your computer still has a floppy drive. Of course if your BIOS won’t boot from a USB it probably has one…or you really need to update it.

Download PLoP Boot Manager

Download RawWrite for Windows

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

  • Published 05/6/10

Comments (70)

  1. Michael

    Thank you for finding and publishing this info! With the economy down, a lot of people are holding on to older computers longer than anyone would like, and, of course, the older they get, the more likely they are to experience a problem. This is a great tool for the tool box!

  2. raphoenix

    Is a great tool.
    Would like to know the theory and source code behind the application.

  3. Ortzinator

    Wow, so this works even if the BIOS doesn’t support booting from USB? You said “won’t let you” so I wasn’t sure if they were separate issues.

  4. Trevor Bekolay

    @Ortzinator

    Yes, that’s right. “Won’t let you” includes not offering the option.

  5. Ironmonkey

    But isn’t this just booting from the CD tho ?

    Whatever it is thats on your USB, just burn to CD and continue with that method (instead of the double booting method as article describes).

    Or am I missing something ??

  6. Gonzalo

    Love this, if it works…Currently testing it on VirtualBox (using the IMG Floppy file), but it seems to freeze on “Searching on host” and “Host 1″, using a Kingston DT 2GB with Ubuntu using UNetBootin

  7. will

    You dont need to boot from a floppy, you can install plop boot manager locally and modify the boot.ini and itll pull the files from the hard drive to boot from. I use this on my old Toughbook laptop (which doesn’t have a floppy drive) so i can boot into my Backtrack usb.
    http://www.plop.at/en/bootmanager.html

  8. Nunzio

    Great article!!

    Excellent tool.

  9. alf

    Any chance of a list of programs that won’t work with Ubuntu?

  10. Gonzalo

    SWEET BABY JESUS H. CHRIST!!! Can’t believe, but it works! On a piece of junk , P3 Slot 1 FSB100, 256 DIMM, (with a USB 2.0 PCI card for better speed), and Ubuntu via USB, but it works.
    You can’t possibly know how excited I am, this open a big door to old hardware

  11. Tej

    You could save all the work and just use UNetBootin. It worked perfectly on my old systems which did not have USB boot.

    1. Goto windows or linux and install the OS image on the USB key using Unetbootin.
    2. Shut down the system and turn it back on with the USB key plugged in.
    3. Quickly jump to the BIOS by pressing the appropriate key.
    4. The USB key will now be listed under Hard Drives or Removable Devices!
    5. Setup the BIOS to boot from the USB key and your done.

  12. OliverK

    Hehe. On my Toshiba L305d-S5904 I can’t boot from USB drive. I’ve tried all the options. Anyway, when I installed linux on my computer, it installed GRUB. I applied some GRUB-fu and wa-la, I was booting backtrack off of my SD Card.

  13. Nrehaut

    If done correctly, PLoP Boot Manager will load up, giving a number of boot options.
    I come up with the correct boot options but I can only get the highlighted option to only go from the top to the bottom. Partition 1 and Shutdown?

  14. Trevor Bekolay

    @Nrehaut

    Does PLoP show you the other choices, or is only partition 1 and shutdown listed?

  15. ThisNameIsFalse

    The BIOS images you have used to illustrate this post are, in fact, of a BIOS that should support booting from USB units.

    Insert your USB unit, enter in the BIOS, and looks into “1-Removable devices” section.

  16. Trevor Bekolay

    @ThisNameIsFalse

    It certainly does seem that way, but the BIOS being displayed in this example is VMWare’s, which does not list USB devices in the Removable Devices section. In other BIOSes, this may be true, but not in the one we’re showing.

  17. Chris James

    I can’t see plpbt.iso or plpbtnoemul.iso on the website

  18. Pam

    It may be geeky but it’s quick and easy (5 mins), so thank you so much for this article. I have an old dell with a cranky CD drive, and a corrupted OS that I just couldn’t repair. So I just wiped the HD and used this method.

  19. Eko Susilo Harjo

    Hi can you help me plz

    I want to install Netubuntu 10.4 on my laptop panasonic toughbook, i already read a manual in pendrive.com about how to install via usb flashdisk but i have trouble my toughbook can’t boot from usb, can you help me

  20. Trevor Bekolay

    @ Chris James

    The ISOs are in the zip file at the top of this page.

    @ Eko Susilo Harjo

    Have you tried out the steps in this article? If they don’t work, then where do they fail?

  21. Arthur Murgatroyd

    Can dd not be used instead of rawrite, if writing the plop ISO image to a floppy?

    dd if=plpbt.iso of=/dev/fd0

  22. Bill Strauch

    I went to http://www.plop.at/en/bootmanagerdl.html and downloaded PLoP Boot Manager 5.0.10 (stable) .
    I burned the .iso to a DVD and booted it. It comes up with a screen that does not look like your screenshot in any way. It is a full blue screen with the primary option to load Boot Manager to my hard drive. Of the various downloads at that site, which download did you use? Thank you.

  23. Harry

    I installed Puppy Linux on an old beige brick with less processing power than an iPhone, and no support to boot from USB in the BIOS. I tried using PLoP, but it didn’t work for me. Instead, I just used a program called wakePup, for booting Puppy Linux from USB without BIOS support.
    That doesn’t have much to do with Ubuntu, ut it shows what you can do with Linux.

  24. 24601

    So… instead of carrying around a cd that will let you boot an image from the usb drive, why not save some hardware and burn the image to a cd in the first place? If, as in the example given, you were going to load Ubuntu, just burn the Ubuntu iso to cd and save yourself some time.

  25. Alan

    @ 24601

    Yes… but only if you have a working CDROW and your BIOS allows booting from a CD, some older machines don’t have this. If not, you can use this method to give you the ability to install from a USB or working CD. I had an old IBM netvista with a busted CDROM drive and no boot from USB. Thankfully the floppy still survives so this helped me immensely.

    Thanks!

  26. Secc

    Hi, Firstly great article. I am interested in this especially for older hardware but also netbooks. I want to copy my windows 2k, XP, vista and Win7 (all legal!) and also my repair boot cd *.iso’s like Hirens etc to an external hard drive and have this offer to boot from USB to offer am nenu to choose which *.iso to boot from – is this possible?

    Thanks

  27. Baylynx

    I have an older laptop – Compaq 2103us. The Boot Menu doesn’t offer an option to boot from a USB drive. I tried to create a Live Ubuntu CD, but I’m getting I/O write errors on the internal cd drive and several attempts failed. I created Live Ubuntu on a usb stick drive (2gb Sandisk Cruzer) and selected Removable Devices to boot first… but no luck.

    Will your instructions to Put PLoP on a Floppy Disk work with an external floppy drive? I have one, but will need to travel to another location to pick it up, but I’m unsure it will work as BIOS may not recognize that either. I would like to try the method described in the following comment posted on May 6, 2010:

    Tej

    You could save all the work and just use UNetBootin. It worked perfectly on my old systems which did not have USB boot.

    1. Go to windows or linux and install the OS image on the USB key using Unetbootin.
    2. Shut down the system and turn it back on with the USB key plugged in.
    3. Quickly jump to the BIOS by pressing the appropriate key.
    4. The USB key will now be listed under Hard Drives or Removable Devices!
    5. Setup the BIOS to boot from the USB key and your done.

    Can someone expand on Tej’s instructions and provide more details. Specifically, I don’t understand what is meant by installing “OS image on the USB key”.

    Thanks.

  28. Vince086

    I would love to try this on my only computer but, the 2 CD drives aren’t working and the floppy drive never worked. Lucky me!

  29. azizrahman

    gr8 application, it worked like charm, andi sucessfully installed windwos 7 from my 4gb sd memory card..
    thanks for sharing

  30. Clarence

    Everything worked well until it did not find any of my usb drives. Any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks
    Clarence

  31. Clarence

    Follow up on previous message.

    I get the following:

    Loading ECH1 Driver
    Searching on hosts
    Driver removed
    Loading UCH1 driver
    Searching on hosts
    Host 1
    Port 1: No mass storage device
    Port 2: No mass storage device

    *** Boot Error ***
    No boot device found, Please retry

    Do the usb drives need to be preped in some way.

    Thanks,

    Clarence

  32. ztx

    yea great man, i’m trying to boot from usb because I am too lazy to get cd’s, so this really helped me out. unggg, hnggg.

  33. Tylor Lavoie

    For me all I get is ………………………….._ on my boot screen. Any ideas?

  34. galhnos
  35. eko susilo harjo

    @ Trevor Bekolay i don’t have Floppy disk drive n CDrom how i can get it? i only have USB my laptop is Panasonic Toughbook CF-18

  36. Trevor Bekolay

    @ eko susilo harjo

    If your CF-18 doesn’t have an option to boot from USB in the BIOS, you might have to get an external CD-ROM or floppy drive.

    See this page for more details.

  37. Rajeshg

    Dear Sir

    i am rajeshg, i have used IBM Thinkpad 560Z Laptop, 64MB RAM, 20GB HDD,

    But USB not working then my OS is corrupted. How can solw the problem

    thanks

  38. Sajjad

    Oh
    Great I used it’s nice but what to do when OS is corrupted I think you will think about it & will provide me the solution.
    waiting for your solution
    please reply me on my mail address if some one can handle this problem.

  39. Haris

    Sir i have no floppy drive and no CD rom . And when i use rawwrite sotware, it demand floppy drive.. CAn you help me?

  40. Michele

    I have that same BIOS shown in the 1st picture on an older pc and it does boot from the BIOS.

    How?

    Plug in your USB drive, turn on the PC…–> Press F10 to get that boot menu as shown above..–>
    Press 2 to select the Hard Drive Option ..–> You should see your Hard Drive and the USB drive. Move the USB drive to the number 1 position. Save your changes.

    The machine will reboot and now boot from the USB drive. I just did this yesterday on an old Laptop that I wanted to install Linux form the USB. It worked great!

  41. Diana

    HELP I ruined my bios. Before it had the option to boot from the usb but I half installed windows from my usb and the battery ran out, now the bios no longer gives the option to boot from the usb and I have no operating system!! what can i do please help.

  42. Vanja

    I burned the Plop Boot Manager 5.0.11-2 image on CD, and all going well until I select to boot from USB. Then initially goes well find and recognize USB then go loading boot sector and the freeze.

    Loading echi driver
    Searching on hosts
    Host 1
    Kingston
    Datatraveler G3

    I have tried various Linux distributions and various brands of USB stick, always the same.

    Desktop PC , ASUS motherboard which has the option to boot from USBZIP and USBFDD.

    Sorry for bad English is not my native language.

  43. Patrick

    Pls, how can this configuration be carried out on a system that failed to boot? Or is the installation done from bios?

  44. sajjad

    Ok it is working if I do not have floppy disk and Cd rom what i should do I had a mathod of boot.ini and extracting plop in drive C: now I have forgot about the way I had done before I now need this mathod please help me plz help

  45. Xantes

    OK, OK… but how can you solve the problem when a laptop(most commonly an old one) doesn’t have a CD ROM drive(being broken or missing) and obviously doesn’t boot from an USB either?! Is their a solution for that?!

  46. Mark

    Before I go through all this rigamorole, I’d like to ask one question. My computer recognizes usb floppy, usb zip and usb CDROM but not a USB thumb drive. I’ve tried using all of the various usb types but none read my thumbdrive for booting purposes. Will this allow me to boot with a thumb drive? thanx in advance.

  47. Gilbou

    Tried on IBM Thinkpad X30. Doesn’t work.
    I copied Ubuntu 10.10 on a USB key (from a working Ubuntu 10.10 I created a Ubuntu installer USB). I boot the loader, it shows up. It tries to search using ahci and ehci and after displaying “host 1″ then “host 2″ it remains stuck. I tried to force USB 1.1 in mode 1 and mode 2 but nothing works.

    Machine has no CD Rom drive, I got none. Can’t boot anything but floppies.
    So I can’t install Linux on it. And since most modern Linux does not offer to install from Floppy and then doing it thru http://FTP... I’m stuck.

  48. Victor

    Works great!
    Just tested it with Virtualbox, it booted from my Win7 USB pendrive without any problems :)
    Keep the great work.

  49. Bruce

    Oddly enough, my old Netvista didn’t recognize a PLoP floppy disk as having a boot-able OS on it (although a more recent Intel-based machine happily booted it). So, I burned a CD with the PLoP iso, and it booted and worked great. I can now boot USB drives on the old Netvista. Many thanks for the great tip!

  50. Debraj

    This solution works with “usb storage drives” and but not “usb external cd/dvd drive”

  51. Marvin

    some people would seem to have missed a big point here.
    yes, PLOP does what it says on the tin
    but it does so much more …

    i have a 64 bit system which doesn’t seem to like some 64 bit distro’s.
    my kids have a couple of laptops, one rather old.
    my disabled m8 has a siemens (i keep his system running).
    each release of ubuntu, i download AND BURN TO CD
    Xubuntu – 32 bit (for kids)
    Ubuntu – 32 bit (for m8 & me if 64 bit is iffy)
    Ubuntu – 64 bit (for me to try)
    i also like to look at a few other distro’s, e.g. my machines currently on PinguOS
    and i want to look at Mageia when it’s fully released.
    plus various flavours of rescue disk!
    … that’s quite a lot of cd’s burned & often binned shortly afterwards.
    with this PLOP boot manager i can now burn the images to 3 or 4 old pendrives
    … which i can RE-USE!
    resulting in no more wasted cd’s; helps my finances; cuts down on the need to re-cycle; helps the environment; reduces climate change; allows me to “loan” more money to my kids.
    what more could anyone want?

  52. Andrei

    perfect, i tried installing bodhilinux on an old pc, that didn’t recognize my usb on boot. Thank you!

  53. Valentine

    how do I get to this area so that I can format my system.

  54. Tim

    Have been trying to boot an old Packard Bell laptop from USB for ages (Windows 7 kept bombing during installation from DVD) and it had no option in the BIOS for USB or removeable. Booted from PLOP cd and hey presto, there was the option to boot from USB! Brilliant. Windows 7 then installed without a hitch. Thanks a lot for the tip.

    Tim.

  55. Eden

    Does the .iso have to be done using a software like disc image creator or RawWrite for Windows or can we just put a .iso file as-is?

  56. Cory

    To all those mentioning the useless “double steps” of booting from a CD into USB, here is the reasoning: I use Backtrack 5, which keeps a persistent copy of itself on a flash drive. Meaning, if I save a file, and restart, it will still be there. With a CDROM, I cannot do this. Some computers cannot boot from USB (Hence the purpose of the article). Any questions?

  57. Eytan

    Is there any way to set it so that it automatically boots from USB?

    I have a FreeNAS server with this problem. Whenever there’s a power outage or it reboots I have to manually boot to USB.

  58. Namelessguy

    When I Download plpbt-5.0.12.zip , there are multiple ISO files that are named plpbt.
    but there is no plpbtnoemul.iso …

  59. Ripps

    Does not work booted from cd menu came up, hit USB and………. Nothing just a black screen
    Checked if it was the bootable USB on another computer and it worked fine
    Clearly not 100%

  60. weliot

    This is great, many thanks. I have 2 old laptops with non-functioning CD drives. Using an external USB drive and your instructions can now boot both from a USB flash drive. However, the procedure is slightly different for the two laptops:

    1. Medion Laptop. Just as in your instructions I select USB and press return and the USB drive boots.

    2. Toshiba Sattelite Laptop. If I select USB and press return the system freezes whilst loading EHCi drivers. The solution is not to press return after selecting USB, but instead do SHIFT+U. OHCi drivers are then loaded (for USB 1.1) and the USB drive boots.

  61. weliot

    I meant “using an external USB floppy drive”.

  62. Raymond

    thanks a lot this worked like a charm!!! albeit it a bit different than the instructions. What I did was:

    When I let the CD load PloP manager and chose my flash-drive the manager did not do anything I seemed to just have frozen. I was bummed out thinking it wasn’t going to work. My boot options were already set to CD first.

    To get it to work I restarted the computer and pressed ESC it loaded up a boot menu (not the BIOS menu) and it had my flash-drive name as one of the options. I chose it and then I went to a black screen with white letters and I had a couple options. I chose option 1 and it started the set up. Once it finished it restarted itself and the instillation continued and then went to windows.

    It worked perfectly on 6 year old Compaq Prescario SR10NX

    Thanks!

  63. Wossen Demiss

    I like this trick…bt i still have a prbm! I’m trin to format my desktop bt still i can’t boot from cd-rom… I used the F12 key to boot from cd…bt when i select to boot from cd it shows “selected boot device not avelible” could sm1 help? Pls

  64. Megan

    Hey OliverK!! What the heck is “wa-la”?

  65. Ravi Dutt

    But my cd-rom and floppy are also out of order and no usb boot support then how can i use this software to install xp?

  66. Ranjeet Kumar

    I Am Really Thankful That I Got The Way How To Update Bios Without Windows..

  67. laurent keiff

    Great post! Worked like a charm on my IBM X30. I can now install whatever Linux distro I fancy without messing around with the HD!
    Thanks a lot.

  68. Chris Lowe

    Thanks worked Great for my dell Lattitude C810 laptop that the bios Had an
    “Attitude about bootin from a usb!!!

  69. das

    what if there isn’t cd and floppy?

  70. studyete

    I don’t have CD or Floppy, that’s why i want to install XP from usb, i’ve made my usb flash drive. It’s running fine with my desktop. but when i try to install xp to my laptop. hard drive won’t show up. What can i do?

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