Booting a USB flash drive without BIOS support
January 20, 2008 7:54 AM   Subscribe

How do you boot via a USB flash drive using a floppy?

A friend of mine has a fairly old computer which has Windows 98 pre-installed. As you may suspect, the OS just ends up getting dozens of spyware. I wanted to reinstall Windows, but the CD-ROM drive doesn't work. My friend is willing to give Linux a go, but for this, I need to be able to boot from a USB flash drive even if the BIOS doesn't support it.

I heard it's possible. First, I've installed Ubuntu 7.10 on my USB flash drive following the instructions:
USB Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon install

That seems to work. I can't boot my Mac mini with it, because it's using MBR for its partition map, and not GUID. However, when trying a virtual machine and an image of my drive, it works fine.

I'm been looking around since an hour, and I can't find any solid solutions for this yet. I have other things to do today, so I thought I might as well just ask here.

My friend's computer has 256MB of RAM and a 80GB HDD. The CD-ROM drive is dead, but there is a workable floppy drive and two USB ports. The BIOS supports booting from floppy, CD, and HDD, but not from USB.

My USB flash drive has 1GB spread across two FAT16 partitions. The first partition being bootable, with Ubuntu 7.10 installed, and 750MB of space. The second partition takes the rest of the space and is not needed.

I personally have no floppy drives, but I can easily get access to one at work.

Is there any way I can use a floppy disk to start up Ubuntu on the USB flash drive? Are there any pre-made floppy disk images I can simply download and transfer to the disk?

Thank you in advance for all your help!
posted by remi to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Won't load for me right now, but maybe Linux on a disk might be something for you to try?
posted by slater at 8:00 AM on January 20, 2008

Dude... just spring for the cd drive. They're like, really cheap. You might even be able to harvest one from a dead machine or something. Probably save ya a ton of time/effort.
posted by ph00dz at 8:26 AM on January 20, 2008

Response by poster: To slater:
Their Web site seems to be dead. But I get the impression it's more like a Linux distro on a floppy than a bootloader on a floppy.

To ph00dz:
If the computer was a standard ATX tower like most people have, that's the first thing I would have done. Unfortunately, it's an old Gateway computer which is using, I believe, a laptop-size CD-ROM drive.
posted by remi at 8:45 AM on January 20, 2008

remi.... even so, take the cd-rom from your computer and put it in your buddies.... temporarily.
So you don't even need to worry about how big it is. When you're finished with the install remove the CD drive.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 9:06 AM on January 20, 2008

A computer only boots once- you either boot the floppy or the USB, not one to the other. It's a function of the BIOS of the machine at hand.
posted by gjc at 9:17 AM on January 20, 2008

Response by poster: To TuxHeDoh:
Sh*t... You are ph00dz are right. I can just plug in another drive, no matter what size it is, just dump it wherever inside the computer, and simply install whatever I need!

Can't see why I didn't think about that earlier... Maybe I'll do this instead. Thanks!
posted by remi at 9:17 AM on January 20, 2008

loadlin will allow you to boot linux from within dos. Once you're in linux you should be able to do a linux installation.
posted by rdr at 9:31 AM on January 20, 2008

Get a IDE cable that will be long enough and you can set the full size cdrom deck on top of the case, I've had to do this with countless crappy mini gateway cases. My fave is when they have the tiny HDD mounted upside down flush against the top of the case where there is a clearly labeled hole on the disk stating "DO NOT COVER THIS HOLE"
posted by prostyle at 9:33 AM on January 20, 2008

Response by poster: It's true. A computer only boots once. My terminology wasn't correct. But loadlin sounds interesting. I think I used that when trying to start Slax once.

posted by remi at 9:48 AM on January 20, 2008

You could also put SYSLINUX on the floppy, which works much like loadlin. Also see the Booting From Floppy To USB article on the Debian Wiki.
posted by zsazsa at 12:29 PM on January 20, 2008

Cool, man. Let us know how it goes...
posted by ph00dz at 4:55 PM on January 20, 2008

You can install FreeBSD via two floppies and an internet connection.
posted by rhizome at 11:06 PM on January 20, 2008

« Older What do I need to know to make a last-minute trip...   |   Anyone know the name of that mid 1990s Cracker... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.