Making a bootable USB Key

Hello fellow Puget enthusiasts! My name is Kyle, welcome to my first ever entry on this blog. My job here at Puget is to take your newly built system and prepare it for the real world. Mainly, I'm in charge of installations and testing. This includes OS and application installations, all software updates, installation of any additional hardware we may have been waiting for and any specific customizations you the customer may have requested. From there I do a full range of testing, both the physical and logical. This is done to ensure that your computer meets our high standards. One thing I quickly came to discover is how much of a headache the installation department can be if you don't have the right tools. Yes, a trusty screw driver is important, but a trusty USB key is irreplaceable (until you make a new one).

So let's jump right into it. I'm here today to show you how to create a bootable USB key which, when placed in the right hands, can do almost anything. From my key I can boot into DOS and run any DOS based application/utility I may need. I can also load grub4dos which allows me to boot .iso files among other things. This article simply shows you how to make your key bootable. I'll put together some more blog posts in the future, and highlight some of the useful things these can do.


Step 1: Obtain a USB key.

I've seemed to have quite a bit of luck with making my keys bootable with this method. If you read around the internet you'll find warnings about keys that don't work well as bootable devices. So far, Memorex and Kingston keys have worked flawless for me. If you're concerned about getting the wrong key, I've also found that the Puget key which we have available for around $8.00 works fine with my method. Okay, so now that you have a USB key and it's time to see what it can really do.



Step 2: Obtain the Necessary Applications

The method I recommend has, at least for me, proven to be the simplest of many methods available. There's no scripts or DOS commands to use, just point and click. HP at some point in time made a great utility for creating bootable media. It's called "HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool – v2.1.8" and it will soon be your best friend. Before doing anything else, I recommend making a folder, preferably on your C drive and label it something like "USB". This will be your working folder which will help you stay organized. The easiest place to find this HP utility is on CNET or simply click here. Save it to your newly created folder and run the installer. I believe it will load a shortcut onto the desktop which you may want to copy to your new working folder for ease of access.

The next part of making your key bootable involves deciding which OS to base it off of. For me, the choice was simple. I want the one that just seems to work with everything. Surprised as you may be, this turned out to be Windows ME. I'll spare you the details, just go with this one. The easiest place to find this is here at Under "Non-Windows Based Image Files W/ImageApp" click "WinME" and download it into a new folder named "WinME" in your working directory.

Extract the files from your newly downloaded ZIP file into its current directory. The folder should look as follows after this:

The important file in here is the WINME disc image file. Now, if you know how to manage disc images and have a preferred software for mounting them feel free to use it and copy the files into a properly labeled folder in your working directory. For the rest of us, I found a free and easy to get the files you need. ExtractNow is a simple to use utility which extracts files from disc images without the need to mount them. You can download it here. Run the installer.


Step 3: Make your USB Key Bootable

Now it's time to put all of these applications to good use. We'll start with ExtractNow. Start it up and then click and drag the WINME disc image file into the window and click extract.

This will create a new folder within your WINME folder named…oddly enough…..WINME. At this point, if you haven't done so already, plug in your USB key. [WARNING: All data on this key will be lost when you make it bootable!] Now start up the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool. You may have to right click on this application and select "Run as administrator" for it to run correctly. The application will look like this:

Select your USB key in the Device drop down menu, set FAT 32 as the File System, name the drive if you wish in the volume label section, check Quick Format and Create a DOS startup disk boxes. This will allow you to point the application towards the folder you created with ExtractNow. It will probably look like this:

Click start and then click okay. If you receive a message similar to the following then your key is now bootable:


Congratulations! You just made a bootable USB key. Now try it out. Most newer motherboards come with a boot selection screen which you can access by hitting a specific keystroke (commonly F8) during post. After which you can simply select your key from the list and boot into a WinME based DOS environment. Stay tuned for additional installments in which I'll show you some of the many benefits gained from having a bootable USB key.