Posted by: kurtsh | July 16, 2012

HOWTO: Create a bootable USB flash drive that boots to the .ISO file of your choice

imageOne of the coolest things a IT person should have in their toolkit is a big-ol’ USB drive that has a bunch of .ISO files on it that will allow you to install the operating system of your choice on to any computer.  The trick is getting the computer to boot up on your USB flash drive… then giving you the option to select what .ISO image to start.

For example: 

I have a single 16GB USB flash drive that has the .ISO images for:

  1. Retail Windows 7 Ultimate + SP1 x86
  2. Retail Windows 7 Ultimate + SP1 x64
  3. Volume-licensed Windows 7 Enterprise + SP1 x86
  4. Volume-licensed Windows 7 Enterprise + SP1 x64
  5. Volume-licensed Windows XP Professional + SP3 x86

I’m able to boot up on this drive and I’m presented with the 8-bit menu similar to that which you see above that allows me to select what .ISO image to boot to.  The software then emulates a CD/DVD drive and mounts the .ISO for you automatically then boots the system up as if you were booting to a CD/DVD of the .ISO you selected.

Fortunately, this is actually really trivial to configure.  In order to produce such a drive that will allow you to select what .ISO file to mount and start up on at boot time, you need a tool called YUMI – aka “Your Universal MultiBoot Installer”.

imageYUMI is a standalone Windows-based executable that doesn’t require any installation.  It can even be run off of your USB drive itself.  Simply follow these steps:

  1. Plug in your USB drive
  2. Download the YUMI executable and run it.  Acknowledge the Terms of Use to continue.
  3. Select the drive letter of the USB flash drive you plugged in earlier.
  4. In the List, scroll all the way down the dozens of OS distributions to the section at the bottom entitled, “Bootable ISOs”.
  5. Select “Try an Unlisted ISO”
  6. Click on the “Brows to and select the ISO” text field and select the .ISO file of your choosing on your system.
  7. Click the CREATE button.

If your USB drive is new, the YUMI setup program will:

  • Make the USB drive bootable
  • Install the YUMI boot/option software along with SYSLINUX and some other boot level emulation software necessary to allow you to boot to .ISO files
  • Create configuration/menu entries for the .ISO you selected
  • Copy the .ISO file to the USB flash drive
  • Provide you with the option to return to the YUMI setup program to select another .ISO to add to your USB flash drive.

Once completed, you’re done.  If you want to go back later and add additional .ISO files to your USB drive, simply plug your USB drive in, run YUMI again, and select another .ISO file to add.  YUMI will automatically recognize that it’s been previously installed and will simply copy the .ISO over and make the necessary menu configuration changes to allow you to boot to the new .ISO.

NOTE: YUMI is a little convoluted in that it has a ton of provisions in there for installing/booting to Linux distributions.  If you don’t care about any of that and just want to focus on .ISOs, there are other tools like XBOOT that exist that focus exclusively on .ISO booting:


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