Sign up ×
Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What's the best way of placing a bootable ISO on a USB drive? ISOs such as a live Linux preview disk, Windows installation ISO, etc.

share|improve this question

16 Answers 16

If you format your USB drive to FAT32 (NOT exFAT or "Large FAT"), you can actually manually copy over all the files from the mounted Windows 8.1 installation .iso to the drive.

Then boot from this USB drive in "UEFI mode".

The UEFI BIOS seems to know the FAT32 format and is able to find the file "efi\boot\bootx64.efi" and boot from that just fine. I don't know about the details.1

Note that under Windows, you will have to use "diskpart" to format a large (e.g. 64 gb) memory stick to FAT32, the GUI will not let you. The Mac GUI lets you do it.

1 Well here's a reference just in case:

The (U)EFI system does not look for a boot sector, instead it looks for a file located on a FAT formatted disk. ... Some (U)EFI implementations just boot from the file /EFI/BOOT/BOOTX64.EFI."

share|improve this answer


This is my favorite program for this task as it has lots of options and does not require installation.

  1. When you start up Rufus any pen drives you have plugged in to the computer should automatically appear in the Device box at the top. You can plug in a USB stick and it will find it after a couple of seconds-without you having to restart the program.
  2. Leave the second box as it is and change the third one to NTFS.
  3. Leave the cluster size as default and change the volume label to whatever you want to call it.
  4. After you have done that make sure the check-box saying 'Create a bootable disk using:' is checked and select ISO Image. Then click the little button on the right of it to choose your ISO image.
  5. If you want to see what's happening during the process click the log button at the bottom.
  6. Now you can click Start and hopefully your USB drive should be formatted and the ISO should be extracted to it.
share|improve this answer

WiNToBootic for Windows:

WiNToBootic is a freeware that allows you an easy creation of bootable Windows USB hard or flash disk from an ISO image, CD/DVD or Folder. This product is focused on creation of boot disks based on Microsoft Windows NT 6.x OS family (Vista, 7, 8, Server 2008, Server 2012).

enter image description here

share|improve this answer

For Linux distros specifically, I've used LiLi(Linux Live USB Creator). It's pretty user-friendly and optimized specifically for Linux Live images.

From their website:

Free and Open-source

LinuxLive USB Creator is a completely free and open-source software for Windows only. It has been built with simplicity in mind and it can be used by anyone. All you have to do is to pick up a Linux in the list and give it a try. No reboot needed

No reboot needed

Are you sick of having to reboot your PC to try Linux? No need with LinuxLive USB Creator. It has a built-in virtualization feature that lets you run your Linux within Windows just out of the box!

Supports many Linux distributions

Wow! Did you see that never-ending list? They are almost all there: Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, OpenSUSE, Mint, Slax, CentOS, ArchLinux, Gentoo, PCLinuxOS, Sabayon, BackTrack, Puppy Linux ..


Having a Live USB key is better than just using a Live CD because you can even save your data and install software. This feature is called persistence (available only on selected Linux).

SmartClean & SmartDownload

SmartClean uninstalls properly any previous Live USB installations and SmartDownload lets you download any supported Linux in 2 clicks automatically selecting the best mirror to download from.SmartClean also lets you clean your USB key in 1 click.

And a lot more !

Intelligent processing: LiLi works with many Linux, even if they are not officially supported

Hidden installation: LiLi hides the Linux installation, your USB key stays clean

File integrity: tells you if your ISO is corrupted

Keeps your data on your USB device (formats only if needed)

Intelligent formatting: can format disks bigger than 32 GB

Auto-update: automatic updates when new Linux distributions are available

Also works with .IMG files (experimental)

share|improve this answer

My free Easy2Boot Project may be what you are looking for. For Linux livecd isos you just copy over the ISO file and it will boot 99% of them (over 100 tested so far). Easy2Boot will also boot Windows Install ISOs and allow you to install Windows to a hard disk directly from the ISO. It also has automatic F6 mass storage floppy generation, so you can install XP from an install ISO to an AHCI or SCSI target system from an unmodified MS XP install ISO. It also will cope with ISOs like Hirens Boot CD and Ophcrack. Easy2Boot also can support booting of linux livecd's with persistence too (e.g. Backtrack 5, Ubuntu, Fedora, etc.) by adding a .mnu file (example files are supplied in the download).

share|improve this answer

YUMI is a MultiBoot Live USB Creator that can be used to quickly and easily build custom bootable USB Flash Drives containing multiple Live Linux distributions, Windows installers, Antivirus tools, system diagnostic, and troubleshooting software of your choosing.

More info can be found here:

share|improve this answer

Another software I am using. I used unetbootin but when I restart what I see is not interface for heroncd but interface for unetbootin.

share|improve this answer

Look at the open-source, fast, free, easy and small Rufus:

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
nice that looks very similar to the old HPUSBFW.EXE , though that may have only done it for making a bootable usb from a floppy. this thing you mention looks great – barlop Jun 21 '12 at 16:24
+1 for open source. I'm very skeptical of freeware that isn't open source. – Phil Apr 9 '13 at 14:38
Open source, but Windows only. – techtonik Jun 24 '13 at 19:10
very nice piece of software, was looking for something as minimalistic and technically capable as this – XXL Sep 3 '13 at 19:08
[NB: I am the author of Rufus] @BrainSlugs83, Memtest86+ and other ISOs based on El Torito boot images and are a bit more tricky to support. I have an enhancement lined up for that, just haven't had a chance to work on it yet. Note that a lot of times, you can just format the drive as FreeDOS with Rufus and then use 7-zip to open the images and extract the content, though this won't work in this case, as the images are not DOS based. – pbatard May 29 '14 at 14:11

UNetbootin works very well, is easy to use with a simple wizard, and supports a broad range of Linux distros.

To install Windows from a flash drive, here is a post explaining how to install Windows 7 from a flash drive.

share|improve this answer
It should be noted that unetbootin fails at creating bootable media of some distributions - even those explicitely listed as supported. If that happens, there are other available: Free USB installer - Tuxboot (Clonezilla, Gparted live etc.) - Linuxlive USB creator - – Woozy Luke Jan 3 '12 at 18:41
Agreed with Woozy; unetbootin doesn't always work (the os x version has never worked for me). For Mac Users, I wrote a blog post about this a while back because I got tired of having to hunt this down elsewhere every time:… – peelman Jun 21 '12 at 18:26

To create a bootable USB drive from Windows (any) installation disks, use WinToFlash.

It doesn't get any easier.

alt text

WinToFlash is freeware and portable.

If you only have the ISO, mount it as a virtual CD/DVD drive (e.g. with WinCDEmu)

For Linux distros, use the previously recommended UNetbootin.

share|improve this answer
Malware Alert! Do NOT download WinToFlash from BetterInstaller! BetterInstaller infects your system and all your web browsers with a glut of MyStart Search toolbars and plugins, and reconfigures the default search provider to MyStart for the search box, address bar, etc. Just uninstall everything that says "MyStart", right? That's not even the tip of the iceberg. Several of them have sneaky names like "New Tab" (one of the Chrome extensions). It even sets MyStart as your homepage/new tab page. It's an enormous PITA trying to get rid of every trace of MyStart once it's raped your system. – rob Jan 13 '13 at 9:03
This may have been a good answer in the past, but Rufus is smaller, open, and, ahem, actually works given an ISO like the question asks, which the current version of WinToFlash does NOT do. – David Duncan Feb 17 '13 at 7:01
WinToFlash didn't work for me (plus all those adware installers), and neither did Rufus. Win32DiskImager, on the other hand, worked like a charm. – Logos May 5 '13 at 13:40
@rob I wish I read your comments before trying it out. BTW, would a system restore solved the problem? – Shamim Hafiz Mar 21 '14 at 12:17
@ShamimHafiz if you were restoring from a full backup, that would have solved the problem. But the normal System Restore feature that just rolls back your system files did not help. – rob Mar 21 '14 at 14:13

Why don't try Unetbootin?

UNetbootin allows you to create bootable Live USB drives for Ubuntu, Fedora, and other Linux distributions without burning a CD. It runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. You can either let UNetbootin download one of the many distributions supported out-of-the-box for you, or supply your own Linux .iso file if you've already downloaded one or your preferred distribution isn't on the list.

unetbootin selecting an ISO image unetbootin writing to USB drive

share|improve this answer

Check out the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. This is a Microsoft-produced tool on CodePlex for mastering USB flash drives for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 from a DVD ISO.

The Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool allows you to create a copy of your Windows 7 ISO file on a USB flash drive or a DVD. To create a bootable DVD or USB flash drive, download the ISO file and then run the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool. Once this is done, you can install Windows 7 directly from the USB flash drive or DVD.

share|improve this answer
It's a great tool, I use it a lot. But it only seems to work for Microsoft ISOs. It does not seem to work for common third party ISO images like Memtest86+, etc. – BrainSlugs83 May 19 '14 at 5:44

Some ISO images already have the appropriate boot sector; for example, Arch Linux ISOs. In this case, all you need is to write the image using dd ... of=/dev/sda or similar. (Using a partition, sda1, will not work.)

But if the ISO image is not specially prepared to be used from a USB drive, you will have to copy the .iso file to the disk as an ordinary filemount, cp, all that – and install a bootloader such as Syslinux or lilo or GRUB. (There already are several pages on the Internet on this topic.)

share|improve this answer
@Jom: Also, when you write something to the entire drive (e.g. dd ... of=/dev/sda), all "preparations" would be simply overwritten. Used in this way dd overwrites whatever partition table or boot sector may have existed. – grawity Apr 24 '11 at 14:50
Debian has quite a good resource on this here. Specifically they go into how to do it the 'hard way'. – boehj Apr 24 '11 at 17:19
dd .. of=... only works for Hybrid iso images. There's a isohybrid utility in syslinux package that can be used to convert regular ISO to hybrid ISO. – plaes Feb 27 '13 at 10:05

If you want to get really fancy, the Sandisk Cruzer U3 emulates a USB CD-ROM drive for it's "U3" utilities, in addition to being a standard thumbdrive (yes, it shows up as two different USB devices).

Of course, people have subsequently figured out how to install custom ISOs into the virtual CD device.

In any event, it's really awesome, because it is even recognized by the BIOS as a CD-Drive.

share|improve this answer

Look at UNetbootin,

UNetbootin can create a bootable Live USB drive, or it can make a "frugal install" on your local hard disk if you don't have a USB drive. It can load distributions by automatically downloading their ISO (CD image) files, or by using existing ISO files, floppy/hard disk images, or kernel/initrd files, for installing other distributions.

Update: Unetbootin is freely available from Sourceforge (thats the link I gave).
If you need additional binaries you can either repackage the ISO you are using or (if its not required at boot time) pick it up after the boot completes from another partition made on the same flash drive.

Couple of links that might be a useful as reference,

  1. Create a Bootable Ubuntu Live USB (Ubuntu Feisty reference)

    Instructions on how to update the Live CD and modify it's contents are also given.

  2. melux: a custom ubuntu iso creation script

    Melux is a Bash script which automates the creation of custom Ubuntu ISO images. It does nearly everything you would ever need to do: creates necessary working directories, mount-loops the original ubuntu iso, copies its contents, mount-loops the squashfs file, copies its contents in a new dir and chroots in it where it modifies sources.lists and resolv.conf so that the chroot system is usable, and then presents a nice menu for the user to select which package groups to add.

share|improve this answer

For Linux Live USB drives, I'd recommend using Pen Drive Linux. They tell you how to make pretty much every distribution bootable from a pen drive, and they link you to the tools needed.

For Windows-based bootable USB drives, you'll need to add the bootmgr compatible code with bootsect.exe, then you can simply copy an entire Windows CD/DVD to the USB drive. Guide for Windows 7 found here.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.