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My friend's laptop was in a car accident (he's fine!). However the laptop is very old its an Acer Aspire 1520 the CD-rom drive is broken and there is no floppy drive.

I made him a USB boot before I took a look at it and found that his BIOS cannot boot from USB. The only thing I have is a GRUB console but he is keen to just install XP (on USB) and use it just for Movies.

Is it possible using the GRUB console to get access to the USB and start the windows install? It's a tall order but I think this may be the way, or trying to install via LAN which I don't think will be achievable.

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I would try to get a USB cd/dvd drive and work on getting the computer to boot to that. –  jmreicha Oct 23 '11 at 15:34
This post shows the manual commands required - you just need to find out the drive number, which can be accomplished with GRUB's tab completion. –  new123456 Oct 23 '11 at 15:38

4 Answers 4

To elaborate on new123456's comment:

The USB device should be detected as a mass storage device and treated just like a hard drive. So, in grub, type root (hd (don't press Enter yet) and then hit tab once or twice to see what hard drives Grub can see. The USB device, if it's recognized, will probably be hd1. Don't specify a partition number; just add a closing parenthesis. So the line will be root (hd1). Then after that, type the following:

chainloader +1

If that doesn't work, change root (hd1) to root (hd1,0) and try it again.

If for some reason Grub can't see the USB drive, try plugging in a USB CDROM and booting off that.

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For grub2, it's similar, but not quite the same:

set boot=(hd1,1)
chainloader +1

As suggested by Jonathan, use Tab to probe for the correct numbers instead of (hd1,1).

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You can't boot from usb in grub if the bios doesn't allow for it itself. I once had to setup a sort of recovery partition on a hard disk containing the win7 setup disk contents, install grub, and then used that to boot the win7 setup partition to install it to the rest of the hard drive.

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The chainloader +1 thing might not work if the BIOS isn't good at booting from a USB key (which was why I was wanting to use Grub anyways).

In this case, there's some deep magic at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Grub2/ISOBoot that works, at least for Ubuntu. The crucial bit is mucking with the grub command that identifies the vmlinuz file, passing the iso-scan/filename argument. Somehow, that helps it figure out that the entire boot filesystem is stuck in an ISO file. I don't know how the heck it works, but it does. These are (approximately) the Grub 2 commands I used:

loopback loop (fd0,msdos1)/path/to/iso/file
linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/path/to/iso/file noprompt noeject
initrd (loop)/casper/initrd.lz

The /path/to/iso/file should be the path to the ISO file on the USB key. The (fd0,msdos1) identifies the USB key. Tab-completion is super-helpful on the loopback line, and not useful for the arguments to vmlinuz.

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