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PC hardware--CPU & Motherboard & RAM/Questions ab. a multi-prog., bootable thumb drive


Hi, Bob -

You've helped me out a lot, before - you're REALLY a super expert.

I have a software question, please.

Would you tell me if this is possible, & basically how to do it, or if you could lead me in the right direction.

I have a 64GB (I may want a 128GB, though) flash drive. I want to put Hiren's latest Boot Disk; UBCD; other suites like those; several of my fav. live Linux distro .iso's; a folder full of DOS command tools; and a folder full of standalone .exe's (like these USB "" or "" suites);

You know, just an "ultimate" toolbox of recovery tools, maintenance tools, network tools, office apps, Linux distros, etc.. etc..

There are some on ebay like this, but for that price, I decided that I could just figure out how to do this myself.

I have read several different articles on making bootable USB drives, but they all vary a little bit. I know that there are a few good freeware apps that will convert the .iso on the drive into a bootable .iso (IF you just have ONE .iso), but I still haven't found the way to do multiple ISOs with additional folders full of other programs, like I described;
Also, to have one (a flash drive) with Write-Access (and the ability to mount the hard drive of whatever computer that I am on).

How would my computer (Win 8.1 / Lenovo Y40 / brand new, has pretty much ev.thing on it) boot it? Would I need to do something during boot-up, to get a 'Boot Menu', or should I have one main program on the drive that somehow boots up the computer, and then allows me access to all of the other .iso's and programs? What's the best way to go about that?

Also, I'd like to have Write-Access to the drive, so I can save files to it. Is this possible? And, again, the ability to mount other drives, with R/W access. (If simply Hiren's program is on the drive, I can do all that, though).

Do I first format it as FAT32 or NTFS? Anything else I should do, to begin with?

Sometimes, these "Make a Linux Live Distro (.iso) Bootable" -or- just the  "Make an .iso Bootable" programs limit you to only SOME .iso's. It would seem to me that if ONE .iso or Linux .iso file can be put on a flash drive, and be made bootable, (OR be "launchable/executable" AFTER booting, hence being able to put multiple .iso's on one thumb-drive), then ALL .iso's should be able to be made bootable. An .iso is an .iso, is an .iso, isn't it??

Last, if I add a folder (or maybe I'm supposed to put them in the root?) of "standalone" .exe files, like are on these "" / pendrive sites, do I have to make sure that they are "truly standalone?"

In other words, you know how some of the so-called standalone apps need additional .dll's? or they modify the registry? Where-as others are 'truly' independent, need no other files to operate, & don't touch the registry?

Do I need to ONLY add those 'truly portable' .exe's, or can I / should I add somehow that (.pas ?) extension (or it may be a "prefix-extension" <pas.program.exe> to each .exe - like I believe that does their apps?  (Or should I just "borrow" those sites' (free) "already-configured/packaged" standalone programs, to put on MY drive?

And do I just throw them (the .exe's, or .pas-exe's; & CMD tools) into a folder? Or root? - Same with the .iso's - where exactly do I PUT all of these prog's, ON the drive?

I'm sorry to ask so many questions. I think you can probably pretty much figure out what I'm TRYING to do - even though I did a horrible, scattered job of trying to explain it.

Any help that you could give me in making my own "ultimate, multi/many-program, bootable USB thumb-drive", I would appreciate very much. I've always wanted to do this, but never knew how.

Or I would be happy if you could just answer PART of my question(s) - I know I asked a LOT of things!

Surely, it couldn't be THAT difficult, though like I said, they are all over eBay for sale from people who have put them together - customized them with whatever programs they wanted on them, and are selling them.

I KNOW that YOU know how it's done. You've helped me with some REALLY tough computer problems, and questions, in the past - with great ease. And your great, detailed explanations have ALWAYS helped me / worked perfectly. In my opinion, you're the top expert on this ENTIRE website, out of some really good ones. I'd like to tip you afterwards, if you have a PayPal button. If you do, I'll see it when I rate you, I guess.

No hurry at all! Please take your time. I expect to give you a long, great review (& nom.), too, like I always have.

I appreciate your time & help, enormously!


Generally speaking what you want to do is made complicated because you want multiple, independent, bootable OS images embedded alongside a variety of bootable utilities. The other thing to consider (and why I don't like USB flash drives as bootable recovery devices) is that many older computers have issues (or are wholly incompatible) with booting from USB mass storage, whereas booting from a CD or DVD is generally not a problem even for machines from the mid 1990s. This is partly why things like UCBD are so popular and enduring; they "just work" on a very wide variety of platforms.

My advice would be to determine what utilities you need beyond what UBCD offers (and you'll see why I'm picking UBCD in a minute), determine if they can run as bootable applications (something like GPU-Z, for example, is a stand-alone exe but it cannot boot the system), and integrate them into your own UBCD slipstream (directions for that are available from the folks who make UBCD: It would be, for example, fairly straight-forward to integrate things like a Windows/DOS boot-disk if you already have those images, or other bootable applications beyond what UBCD includes. However keep in mind the age of the machinery and software you're meaning to work with - while UBCD includes a basic FreeDOS bootable, the installer for Windows 95 will not work with it as it cannot mount or boot from a RAMdisk (and you will get an error to this effect if you attempt to use UBCD to initialize a Windows 95 install); you will need the floppy image. By contrast, a modern OS like Windows 8 will install directly from its DVD media, handle all of its own partitioning and formatting, and does not need any sort of pre-build environment unless you're doing large-scale system integration (and Microsoft has toolkits that address that for specific versions of Windows).

I would then separate bootable OS discs (or flash drives) to separate media - in my experience it simplifies the troubleshooting process greatly if you have a "low level diagnostics" disc (like UBCD), and a "high level diagnostics" disc that is a Live CD (or multiples, if you have to work with multiple platforms). With an OS like Puppy Linux you could easily integrate that on a Live USB drive, including adding new applications and essentially creating a portable operating environment (where you can just carry the flash drive with you, and boot up your "desktop" wherever you have a machine that will run it).

Finally, it is generally also helpful to a disc of specific Windows (or linux, or whatever) applications that are useful for troubleshooting - this is where things like GPU-Z, 3DMark, etc can be stored. Some of those applications will require installation, some will not - in many cases the applications that need to be installed (benchmarks, diagnostics, etc) rely on both registry entries but also being located on the system under test's fixed disk (for example 3DMark scores are influenced by the disk they're run from, so creating a bootable version wouldn't give you accurate scores).

I know, this ultimately ends up producing 3 (or more) discs or flash drives for diagnostics instead of a diagnostic swiss army knife, however it is much simpler to work with (especially out in the field), and long-term becomes easier to update/maintain specific aspects (for example as your bootable OS of choice is updated, you can just update that media versus the entire package). It also helps to spread out the risk of loss - if you lose this swiss army knife you've lost everything all at once, whereas losing one of your Linux Live CDs doesn't mean UBCD is gone, for example.

I'll also add that while I'm not personally familiar with Hiren's Boot CD (that is, I have never used it myself), I know that it has a somewhat nefarious reputation due to the liberal use of unlicensed commercial software (also known as "warez" in some circles), which may get you into trouble depending on where you live and where you need to use the utility. I don't encourage software piracy as a matter of practice, but I would say that should be doubly stated if we're talking about commercial applications - that is, if you're doing help desk support at a large corporation, or in-home IT support, I wouldn't use or distribute anything that you don't have a proper license for (as you are risking your livelihood in the process). I do not mean to sound like the harbinger of doom in stating this - it's more caution born from experience than anything else.

Some other generic technical points:

- Not all .isos are bootable. An .iso is just a container format for a disc image. Some contain bootable discs, some do not. For example you could create a 600MB text document of nothing but the character X, save it to a CD-R, and then rip an .iso of that. That disc, and the image of it, would not be bootable.

- Mounting disks on the host computer is dependent on the application you're using - many Linux Live CDs can attempt to mount the disk of the host machine, but may fail (or not have complete read/write capabilities, or may cause data corruption if read/write is attempted) due to file system incompatibility. The same warning is true of disk maintenance utilities (like SeaTools) - they are inherently capable of destroying data on the host machine when they mount the disk. Generally I'm not a big fan of mounting the host machine's disk for diagnostics beyond the hardware OEM's test utility as a result (that's something like SeaTools), but even then you still are mere keystrokes away from flushing all of the data.

- Formatting the drive as FAT32, NTFS, ext3, UFS, etc is all dependent on the software it holds. Pre-built images will have (okay, "should have" - we're assuming the image author knew what they were doing) the correct formatting on the image. As far as a drive for generic storage, FAT is generally the best choice, but it does limit efficiency and size compared to something like NTFS (NTFS, however, tends not to work very well outside of Windows NT - newer versions of OS X and some Linux/BSD distros have limited read/write capability, but going with something like FAT ensures more or less "everyone" in the x86 world can read the data with minimal risk (in years past, many of those "read/write NTFS on *nix" systems had huge disclaimers about how experimental the feature was, and that the developers weren't responsible when the application destroyed the data, the partition, the disk's MBR, etc and required a complete zeroing and re-partitioning of the disk)).


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I have nearly two decades of experience in IT, computer repair, and related fields and will attempt to provide the most solid, brand-agnostic advice when it comes time to purchase a new computer, or upgrade an existing machine. I can answer anything from the seemingly basic to the downright complicated - and will do my best to provide this information in a clear and concise manner.


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