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Boot any and all ISO images from USB drive #

I spent days looking for a way to boot any and all ISO images from a USB drive. I envisioned being able to simply copy any bootable CD or DVD (Windows installers, OS X boot discs, Linux Live CDs and recovery discs like Knoppix, etc) to a USB drive and boot it normally. Some of the possible solutions I found included:

The more robust solutions were generally quite tedious, and none of them worked for all ISO images, as explained here: Boot "any" ISO image or boot "all" ISO images.

Having recently stumbled upon a floppy drive emulator, I started looking for a USB CD/DVD drive emulator and finally found a way to boot any ISO image from USB drive: the iodd 2501 (newer Zalman models available - see update 5 below). It is a 2.5" SATA drive enclosure with an LED display to select the desired ISO image. Simply create a "_ISO" directory in the drive root and dump your ISO images inside. That's it! The enclosure also has a write protect switch and eSATA support.

The iodd 2501 has booted every ISO image I have thrown at it, on both PC and Mac hardware. When I first tried using the device, the LED would only report "NO-_ISO", despite having followed the instructions exactly. It turns out that formatting as FAT32 in OS X's Disk Utility was the problem; I simply used fat32format under Windows and the problem was solved (NTFS and exFAT are supported with a firmware upgrade).

I purchased mine from LinITX; they've got detailed instructions, videos, and great customer service.

UPDATES:

  1. John Rothlisberger wrote in to ask if ISO images can be changed on the fly during an install. After testing with a Windows XP Media Center Edition 2 disc set I am happy to report that they can.
  2. Curtis Reno has started a neat project to build an open source USB CD emulator using inexpensive components. Announcement | Fourm
  3. isostick is a similar CD emulator that uses microSD cards and a USB Flash drive adapter. Sadly, it only supports FAT32, though large ISO files can be split.
  4. Finally got around to updating the firmware on my original iodd 2501. Since the English support site is gone now, here are the necessary files and instructions in case anyone else needs them (current as of May 2013).
  5. Zalman (which took over iodd development) continues to improve the hardware, recently adding hardware encryption and more. Current models include the ZM-VE400, ZM-VE300, ZM-VE200 SE, and ZM-VE200.
  6. The only problem I've encountered with these virtual ODDs is booting some Dell models when a physical ODD is present; simply unplug the physical ODD to circumvent.

/misc | May 08, 2010


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