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Booting Linux from USB Storage devices

Booting Linux from USB Storage devices
How to boot distributions of Linux from a USB Storage device

If you want to install Linux or use a live version (running from a CD/DVD without installing) but you don't have any writable CD/DVD's, you can try booting from a USB stick.

Not all computers are able to boot from USB devices. You may want to check that this is possible before following any further steps. If you're unsure or can't find any information confirming if your hardware can boot from USB devices, you can still follow these instructions, as you'll soon find out.

What you'll need:

  • USB stick/pendrive/storage etc. The size of this depends on the distribution of Linux you want to use. 4GB or larger is usually sufficient. Make sure that you backup any data you would like to keep from the USB stick.
  • An .ISO of the distribution of Linux you want to use. Usually free. A Google search will return various results. (You can also use UNetbootin to download a Linux distribution. See below.)
  • UNetbootin. can be found here.
  • Windows XP/Vista/7


1. Download UNetbootin and the distribution of Linux you want to use.

2. Plug in the USB stick and open up UNetbootin.

3. Select a distribution from the drop down list if you currently don't have one downloaded.

4. If you have downloaded one, select Diskimage > click browse ( ... ) > locate the downloaded .ISO and click open. You'll now see the path in the box. In this example, I'm using Backtrack 5. In previous articles, Backtrack 4 was mentioned, 5 is an updated version.

Booting linux


5. Select type.  In this case, it's a USB Drive and the drive letter is F: Always double check this as after you click ‘OK' it will format the drive regardless of whether or not it's a system drive. Once you're sure it's the correct drive click ‘OK'.

6. It will start downloading the file if you've selected a distribution from the drop down box. It will then copy the files and install the bootloader

Booting Linux 2


7. You'll then be asked to ‘Reboot Now' or ‘Exit'. If you want to test you bootable USB Stick immediately then click ‘Reboot Now'.

8. To boot from the USB stick, you'll need to open the boot menu as the machine boots. The key for this depends on the manufacturer of the hardware. When the boot menu has loaded, use the arrow keys to select ‘USB Storage', ‘USB Device', ‘' etc. and press enter. The machine should now start to boot from the USB device.





Why don't I have an option for a boot menu/boot menu doesn't appear?

You may need to enable this option in the BIOS.

My USB device doesn't appear in the boot menu.

Your hardware may not support booting to USB devices

I can boot from the USB Device but it hangs whilst loading.

Try re-downloading the .ISO and creating the USB stick again using UNetbootin. Your hardware may not be supported by the distribution of Linux.


For more information regards UNetbootin and the supported distributions of Linux, visit


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