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What is it that prevents USB sticks to be booted from?

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I recently got a 64GB USB stick and planned to make it a system repair multitool, with different live images and linux and windows installers, but I seem to have found a USB stick that just can't be booted from.

Pendrive Linux' Yumi installer doesn't recognise it, and only lists it when "show all devices" is activated.

The Windows 7 USB install tool doesn't recognise it either.

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When putting an image on it with either Yumi or diskpart and xcopy, none of the three PCs I tested can boot from it, but none of them have problems booting from my small and slow 8GB stick. The HP USB format tool, as mentioned in this answer does format it, but that doesn't change anything. I tried both NTFS and FAT32, neither work.

What can possibly cause this? I always was under the impression that USB sticks are nothing but storage (like optical discs) and that it was enough to have to correct files on them to make them bootable. Could the controller inside the stick actively prevent this?

The mainboards of the PCs are the GA-MA770T-UD3 (AM3 socket, probably a bit old), the GA-Q87TN (1150 socket), and whatever is inside the Dell XPS12 9Q33. The latter two run Haswell processors with UEFI, I can't imagine that a 64GB stick would pose a problem.

I also tried formatting with the Windows tools, and tried to make a partition of only 20GB.

asked Dec 22, 2014 by iFreilicht  
Perhaps check out: What makes bootable media bootable? ( and How can I identify which of my USB drives can be made bootable (
@Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 interesting questions and good answers. Unfortunately, neither solve my problem nor do they answer my question. If it is true that the bootable flag has to be set in order for windows to recognise multiple partitions, then it is set on my drive as I tested it with two partitions, and both could be read from and written to without error.
Does Windows give you the Eject option for that drive when it's plugged in?
Yes, and the device shows up as expected. Files can be written and read with no problem at all. –
In Windows, have you tried using the CLEAN ( command in DISKPART? This should destroy all partition data and give the drive a RAW partition. From there you would need to re-apply your boot configuration to the drive.

3 Answers

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Looks like your USB stick appears as an external hard drive to the OS.

While Linux doesn't care and gives you a standard /dev/sdX device node for it, on which you can still dd almost any ISO image on (I do that with the Archlinux ISO all the time and it works perfectly), Windows obviously likes to complicate things and that doesn't work too well.

In Pendrive Linux you can try selecting "Format drive" and see if that makes a difference, also when in the BIOS or in the boot menu (press F12 to open it on most BIOSes), try selecting "USB-HDD" when booting and see if that makes any difference.

answered Dec 22, 2014 by André Daniel  
As I said, I already formatted the drive in multiple ways. Using the format drive option in PDL didn't change anything. The USB-HDD option is only available on one machine I tested this on, and it lead to the error message "No operating system found." I'm not sure what you mean by "Windows likes to complicate things". Could you elaborate a bit on that?
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Some usb stick manufacturers factory partition drives with tables not suitable for creating a bootable drive. Formatting makes no difference as it does not affect the tables, just erases the contents of the primary, visible partition. (I had issues with a "reputable" brand before with this issue.)

If you have access to a Linux box, plug the drive in, find what Linux names the device as then run "cp /dev/zero /dev/sd***" (minus the quotes obviously, and change *** to the device name given).

This wipes the drive completely (by filling it with binary zeros), file system, PTs the lot. So make sure you specify the correct device!!! Then reformat (FAT32 is better as UEFI doesn't support NTFS) and you should be good to go.
answered Dec 22, 2014 by Chris Kennett  
Don't use cp, use dd. I'm not sure what cp will do in this case but it may simply destroy the device node (and turn it into a blank file filled with zeros) instead of writing data to the drive.
Thanks for catching that, I just noticed what he said and was about to freak out D:
cp won't destroy it. It copies zeros to the drive, where as dd will delete existing content and write new zeros. Same result with a slightly different way of getting there I guess. Both ways are valid. In fact cat would work to.
Does that mean I could also use the "create partition table" feature of GParted?
Nevermind, GParted didn't work. Unfortunately, your solution didn't work either. The drive was deleted completely, including the partition table. But after reformatting, the problems all persisted.
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To be honest I recommend against such automated usb makers, one can often do exactly the same with standard GNU/linux tools, eg dd, grub and syslinux (and there are windows ports of said tools.)

But, to answer your question, it could be a number of things. Perhaps the tools in question are not designed with the idea of a 64gb usb stick in mind, perhaps the maker of said stick does something unusual to the disk to make it appear as something other than a standard usb stick.

To tell you the truth, knowing what I know now about linux, I'd just man up and burn something to a cd/dvd as a staging ground for the multiboot usb stick. If windows can't handle the job, then what is a single cd to you if you can make it do what you want it to?

Shameless plug, if you're looking to make a bootable windows7 usb stick I have a pretty popular answer on askubuntu.

answered Dec 22, 2014 by The NetZ  
I'm not sure what you're recommending. Is your proposed solution to this problem to use a CD/DVD? Because that is absolutely impractical, my pants are not designed to hold CDs in their pockets. Also, what does this have to do with Linux? And, did you read a bit about the software I used? Because Yumi uses the exact Linux tools you described, just with an easier to use front-end.
I'm recommending burning to a cd/dvd to have a usable linux userspace to create the usb, not expecting you to carry the cd around with you. And front ends are more of a pain than what their worth; if they do something wrong and the backend doesn't act properly it makes it a bit harder to debug, instead of just reading what stderr has to say about why it broke.