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How To Create A Bootable Linux USB Flash Drive (Windows)

Updated on August 12, 2014

Bootable USB O.S. Installation:

This article will outline the procedure in order to install an operating system to a portable USB flash drive. The benefits in doing so provide a fully configured and complete operating system installed directly onto a USB drive. All changes and alterations are saved onto the USB drive and reloaded upon booting. Performing this installation provides the convenience of portability and the functionality of a full service operating system installation that is transportable, lightweight, accessible and full featured.

In this article we will demo a linux system installation to our portable media. This method is compatible with Windows/Linux operating systems. The installation will be performed in the Windows environment.


  1. In order to begin your installation you must first obtain a copy of your chosen operating system ISO file
  2. This tutorial will deal with the installation of the 'Backtrack' Linux operating system to a USB pendrive.
  3. Begin by acquiring your ISO file. Generally this will be located on the project home page of the Linux distribution you wish to configure. Reference the table above which includes download locations to some of the more popular Linux distro's available.
  4. Once you have downloaded your desired distribution you must install a software on your workstation. This will be utilized to format your removable media as bootable, and install the specified operating system. Consult 'Utilities' section for inclusions.
  5. Both programs listed will operate in the same manner. They are both stable and reputable releases commonly used for the creation of bootable USB media. Procedures for both applications will be provided in this article.
  6. Run Universal USB and select the version of OS which you will be installing. In our case we have specified 'Backtrack R2' from the available selections
  7. Next browse to where the ISO file is located on your hard disk and select it within the program.
  8. Select the drive letter where your USB Drive is inserted.
  9. Now hit 'Create'
  10. The rest of the process is entirely automated. The program will format, provision and install the operating system as bootable to your USB drive. Reset upon completion.
  11. If you encounter errors during operation attempt to 'Run as Administrator' or 'Run in Compatibility Mode'


  1. If you choose to run UNetbooin for the purposes of your installation follow these steps.
  2. Open the program. Do not select your distribution. Check the prompt which reads 'Disk Image'
  3. Ensure ISO is selected
  4. Confirm 'Type' is listed as 'USB'
  5. Navigate to the location of your ISO file and select it within the program
  6. You may chose to allocate the amount of space used for 'Persistence' which is a portion of the USB drive partition which will be utilized for saving your changes when you reset your machine.
  7. Accept and Continue. The rest of this process is automated. The program will configure your media device and installation accordingly.
  8. Note: If you are installing a distribution which is specifically listed in the selections menu than you may choose it accordingly. If not listed proceed with 'ISO' manually selected. If you experience difficulty with installation attempt manual ISO specification.

Creating A Bootable CD:

As an alternative you may opt to create a bootable CD to launch the operating system when you power on your workstation. This is known as a "Live CD" and would not make any physical changes or alterations on your hard disk. The OS would simply run off the compact disk for the duration of your session. Once you power off your machine any changes are discarded and you can either boot back into the Live CD environment or proceed to the standard operating system installed on the hard disk.

  1. To create a bootable CD you must download an ISO burner of your choice. Links available in the top segment of the article listed 'Utilities'
  2. Once installed insert a blank CD into the appropriate drive
  3. Run the software and select 'Create Data Disk/CD Image'
  4. In the navigation pane of the program locate your ISO image on disk or select 'Open' and browse to the file location.
  5. Double clicking the ISO automatically opens the file inside your burning program
  6. Proceed and select 'Start Burn'
  7. Once complete the CD will be formatted as bootable and ready for execution.

BIOS Settings:

It is important to note that your BIOS settings must be configured correctly to enable the capability for your machine to boot from either an external device or compact disk.

  1. From your machines logo screen tap F2 or search for a prompt which displays 'Enter BIOS Settings'
  2. Once you have accessed this page locate 'Boot Order' from within the BIOS Settings.
  3. You must specify which order you wish for your machine to boot according to which types of media you will be booting from. A list of available options in this screen include:
  4. Boot from HD, Boot from CD ROM, Boot from Removable Storage, Boot from Floppy.
  5. If you wish for your machine to scan initially for a bootable CD, specify 'Boot from CD' as your first device. Similarly if you wish to check for removable storage devices specify 'Boot from Removable Storage' as your first priority.
  6. Configure your preferred Boot Order. Exit saving changes. Your installation will now load and you will be launched directly into your new operating system


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