old usb keyfob page


This is the old version of the page. Please use the new version unless you have a reason not to. 

Last Updated: June 15 ’05 – updated Debian Sarge installer section for new links and official Sarge release

May 07 – added alternative HP util, alternative partition ID method

Mar. 16 – added info about embedded DSL

Feb. 04 – added warning about using HP utility, added note for non-windows users

Jan. 26 – added custom minirt24.gz to allow mounting the keyfob read-write

Jan. 23 – updated link to DSL site with an important note

Jan. 10 – updated SYSLINUX section (broken link and bad new version), msvcr70.dll added to timfobbd.zip, added section about getting your BIOS to boot from USB, updated requirements, added disclaimer, updated initial (purpose) blurb

Dec. 24 – moved the SYSLINUX operation to part A for efficiency

Dec. 2 – completely rewrote part B of section one

Nov. 30 – sectioned-off page, added Debian Sarge section


If you find this page useful, please send me an email with feedback or just saying it worked for you! Email address found on left navbar at bottom. If you really REALLY find it useful, you could donate this needy student (me) some cash using PayPal (safe and secure) to put toward my next term’s textbooks or whatever :)






I am in no way responsible if something goes “wrong”; if your keyfob becomes unusable, your toaster stops working, you suffer massive dataloss across multiple machines — not my problem. You absolve me of any liability for anything that happens to your keyfob or computer(s) by following one or more of my instructions. I am not responsible for what is found at the end of my hyper-links (links): efforts have been made to ensure they don’t contain offensive or illegal material, but if they do it is your responsibility to not accept the content. I host no illegal files on server(s) that I partly or wholly own, don’t ask me for them.





  • patience
  • a USB keyfob (flash drive, keydrive, whatever you wanna call it)
  • a computer that can boot off your USB keyfob (only newish computers can! see section about this below if you’re not sure)
  • Free space on the keyfob (if you want multiple sections, ADD the required space as there are very few bytes shared between them):
    • For DSL (section 1), ~55MB free (if you want embedded too then add ~60MB = ~120MB)
    • For Hiren’s BootCD (section 2), ~37MB free
    • For Debian-Sarge installer with “netinst” ISO (section 3), ~112MB free (note that this depends heavily on how big the netinst ISO is when you download it! Check how big the newest version is if you’re unsure and you’re contemplating this option)



Procedures in this document will erase your keyfob so back it up first!






So what’s the purpose of this document? The purpose is to make your keyfob more useful. There are many uses for keyfobs, primarily storing files that you wish to have with you at any time, like addresses or contact info, lists of your favourite websites, and so on. One really useful thing is to be able to boot from your keyfob into any kind of operating system you wish, for any purpose you desire. Booting refers to “boot-strapping” your computer, which for you newbies kinda means “what happens when you start up your computer”. For instance, the majority of you readers will be booting into Microsoft Windows when you turn on your computer; booting from your USB keyfob would allow you to boot something else, say Linux, without touching/erasing/modifying your Windows installation.






Since the vast majority of this document is about getting your USB keyfob to boot, it’s important that you can actually DO this :) To be more specific, the motherboard inside your computer needs to have a BIOS that supports booting from USB keyfobs. What BIOS is and how it works is way beyond the scope of this page, all you need to know is that it’s the thing you get into right when your computer is first powered-on, by punching a key (usually “Delete”, F1, or some other F key like F12 etc). If you know you can boot USB keyfobs, you can stop reading this paragraph and skip ahead. Otherwise, we need to determine whether you can — only “newer” computers have this ability. For instance my ASUS A7N8X-Deluxe motherboard cannot, but my IBM ThinkPad T41 (notebook) can, and so can my wife’s computer.


This part of this document will evolve over time, and is fairly scant right now, but let’s do what we can. If any one of these methods below works, you’re done, you can boot from your USB keyfob. Remember to have your USB keyfob plugged in before trying these things, it usually helps as the BIOS may give you more options with it plugged in. Also remember that at this point your keyfob probably isn’t bootable, so you can’t actually try it out until you’ve run through the steps in this document.

  • See if your BIOS has a “boot selector” on bootup that doesn’t even require you to enter the BIOS to change anything. On my IBM ThinkPad T41 I can press F12 when it initially powers on, and it’ll pop up a list of devices I can boot from (I just select USB FLASH HDD and i’m done). On my wife’s computer she hits F8 when it powers on, and she gets a similar menu to choose from. See if you have something like this (look for “boot menu” or something in your motherboard’s manual or whatever).
  • Try entering BIOS and telling the computer to try booting from your USB keyfob first. To enter BIOS, try hitting “Delete” (sometimes marked “Del”, on the keyboard directly to the left of the “End” button if you have a standard english keyboard) or “F1″; consult your motherboard manual if you can’t figure out how. Now, you’re looking for an area where you set the boot device order (like first try floppy, then try CDROM, then try hard-drive aka HDD). Sometimes you’ll find a single row in some advanced page of the BIOS where you change an option like “A/C/SCSI” to “A/USB-HDD/C” or something like that, other BIOS’ will have an entire page devoted to the task. My mobo (A7N8X-Deluxe) has a page where you hit + or – on the numpad to move things up or down (things at the top get tried first), and you hit enter to change devices in the categories. What you are looking to do here is to make sure that your USB keyfob gets booted from before your hard-drive (HDD) does. Your USB keyfob may be called one or more of many things: USB, USB-HDD, USB-FDD, USB-ZIP, USB-FLASH, etc. Sometimes some BIOSes will work with USB-FDD whereas others will only work with USB-HDD, you’ll have to experiment (doing so does NOT harm the computer in any way; if you get a failure you’ll just see “SYSTEM COULD NOT FIND BOOT DEVICE” or something similar, and you then power off your computer, get back into BIOS, and try something else). Before you change the boot device option, remember what it was before! Write it down so you don’t forget – you’ll need to reset things back to the way they were if you don’t want to be able to boot from USB. After you’ve changed the option to what you want to try, you’ll need to exit and save your changes. Usually there’s an option that does this – just hitting “ESC” repeatedly exits without saving, bad.




I’ve received an email from Roger Ligustrom, who has an ASUS M5N laptop and couldn’t get it to boot from USB. It turns out his laptop was finding the USB keyfob and labelling it as a normal hard-drive in BIOS. He suggests exploring the lists of hard-drives your BIOS shows (if it lists things this way) and making sure your USB keyfob isn’t chucked in there. If it is, you’ll see the brand-name of your keyfob (ie. if you have a Mini-Cruzer made by SanDisk you might see “SanDisk Cruzer Mini” or something like that)





A very few readers have expressed frustration that this tutorial is written primarily for Windows users. There’s a good reason for this: with no offense meant, Windows users are generally less informed than Linux users are, and have more difficulty with the process. That’s why these instructions are written for people using Windows (who want to try Linux out by booting from a keyfob and not reinstalling their main O/S). That being said, it is very easy to apply these instructions to Linux. Here are some suggestions.


  • The good news is, unless you have done something odd or have trashed your ‘fob, most likely you’ll already have an MBR on your ‘fob from when you bought it that works fine. So, you may well be able to skip part A. If you get to the end and things don’t work (syslinux never comes up when booting from the fob) then you’ll have to investigate further. I’ve noticed that syslinux says it includes a basic MBR in the normal syslinux download, and Xavier Bassery writes,

    Here is an excerpt of a nice howto on the subject http://darkdust.net/marc/diskimagehowto.php :

    5. Install master boot record (found in SYSLINUX source directory).

    $ dd if=mbr.bin of=/dev/sda

  • In part A you can run the Linux version of syslinux, which works perfectly. I remember having to use one of the options when I ran syslinux in Linux, like -s or some other cmd-line option. Anyone who figures this out, email me.
  • In part B you should be able to follow the fdisk instructions with no problems, from your own installation of Linux.
  • In part C you can mount the DSL ISO without using the Windows Daemon-Tools program; simply mount the file as a loop-device: mount -o loop /path/to/DSL.iso /place/to/mount – you may need to specify -t iso9660 or something close to that if your kernel/distro didn’t autodetect the filesystem type.
  • Getting Hiren’s BootCD installed to your ‘fob in Linux should be exactly the same as doing it in Windows, just make sure you download and use all the modified scripts/files that i’ve prepared for you (as opposed to trying to do it yourself)
  • Getting Debian’s Installer installed to your ‘fob in Linux, again, should be exactly the same as doing it in Windows.





User-Suggested Alternatives



This new section will make my life easier when users email me with tips on how to make this somewhat painful process easier. Ideas/suggestions here are meant to be alternatives to the methods I outline below. That being said, I have never tried these methods and don’t know that they work. If you want to try these shortcuts, they’ll probably work and they’ll probably be faster too!



Chris suggested this method of making your keyfob bootable

  • Download an alternative HP utility (~28mb, big!), found here
  • Follow Chris’ instructions below
    At Welcome screen of HP Flash Drive Boot Utility click on "Next" "Find" screen, select correct "Drive Letter" and click on "Next" "Task" screen, select "Create New or Replace Existing Configuration" and click on "Next" "Filesystem" screen, select "Create New Filesystem" and click on "Next" "Geometry" screen, select "With Partition" and click on "Next" ** Drive is being formated ** "Configuration" screen, select "HP Firmware Flash Package" and click on "Next" ** Copying files ** "HP Flash Drive Boot Utility" screen, click on "Finish"  Open up drive in "My Computer"  Delete everything except for the "ldlinux.sys" file.  Open up DSL iso with Daemon tools, UltraISO, WinImage, etc. Copy all files to root of USB drive Move files in USB drivebootisolinux* to root of USB drive Delete empty boot folder and isolinux.bin file from root of USB drive Copy over minirt24.gz file with one that has read-write capability Rename isolinux.cfg to syslinux.cfg




Sergio B. suggested this method of changing your partition ID (replaces section 1 part B)

  • Use ptedit to directly change your keyfob’s partition ID from Windows. This is free from Symantec (well read license agreements contained to make sure, but hey they have it available on public ftp). Choose either the DOS version or the more useful Windows version – if those links don’t work try changing the capitalization of “ptedit” from all-caps to lowercase or vice-versa. Thanks Gayle!
  • For more information on how to use the utility (try reading section 1 part B anyways) or if those links don’t work, try reading the article about ptedit32 here






TDot’s method



  • SECTIONS 2 AND 3 ARE DEPENDENT ON SECTION 1 ! Both sections 2 and 3 presume that section 1 was completed successfully. If you only want section 2 or 3 (hiren’s bootCD) then go through section 1 first and delete the KNOPPIX directory when you’re done section 1.
  • Section 1 is about installing DSL on your keyfob, which stands for Damn Small Linux. This is a distribution of Linux that is usable straight from your keyfob, ie. you can boot into and use Linux from your keyfob directly. DSL is based on Knoppix, a Debian-style Linux distribution that is bootable from CD, but is much smaller (DSL is around 50MB, Knoppix is usually 700MB)
  • Section 2 is about installing Hiren’s bootCD on your keyfob, which is a handy collection of MSDOS-based utilities that make life much easier. With this installed you can boot from your keyfob into MSDOS, and then use Hiren’s bootCD. You can still boot into DSL with section 2 completed. Note that Hiren’s BootCD is an illegal collection of copyrighted materials, so you must not actually ever download Hiren’s bootCD without first buying all of the software it contains (Norton Ghost, Partition Magic, hundreds more)! I am not endorsing software piracy, I am simply providing information on how to use your keyfob in a certain way — I believe that useful information should and must be published on the internet for all to see.
  • Section 3 is about installing the “Debian-Sarge installer” on your keyfob. This means that you can boot off your keyfob into a Linux installer, and use it to install Linux on any machine. This is handy if you’re installing Linux on multiple machines or at friends’ houses etc.






DSL VERSIONS – important information, read carefully!



As of DSL version 0.9.2 there seem to be a few different “versions” of DSL. For my instructions to work you must grab the “normal” version, ie. named dsl-x.x.x.iso, not a version that contains the word syslinux or anything like that (even though we are using syslinux to complete the installation). The reason for this is because the syslinux version doesn’t contain the boot directory, so it’s missing a whole bunch of files we use. Oh, and this link gives you a choice of a whole bunch of mirrors — here in Waterloo the dsl.thegeekery.com is a great mirror (300kB/sec maintained).



Embedded version: As of DSL version 1.0rc1 there is an “embedded” version, which is quite a cool thing: it allows you to run DSL inside windows, without having to reboot! It does this by using QEMU, an open-source program that translates calls at the CPU level from Linux to Windows. The upshot of which is you get Linux running inside a window — not like Cygwin which is a bunch of programs that look like Linux but are really specially compiled versions to run on Windows. I’ve taken a snapshot for you, here. Doing this requires NO EXTRA WORK, as the kind folks at DSL have done it all for you! (Please consider donating to them) To install the embedded version, proceed as normal at first – download the “normal” version as mentioned above (because the embedded distribution doesn’t have the needed boot directory), and complete section 1 entirely. Then download the newest embedded version (.zip file), and copy over the QEMU subdirectory and dsl-linux.sh and dsl-windows.bat files, all to the keyfob root directory. Try double-clicking the dsl-windows.bat file, it should start up for you! Note that this requires an extra ~60MB for the QEMU/harddisk file. Also note that you can still boot off your fob to natively start DSL, which is faster than using QEMU to run it under Windows (by a factor of 5-10 times).



With your keyfob plugged into a WINDOWS machine, while booted in Windows, do the following parts.



    PART A: Getting your fob’s MBR / boot-sector properly written



  1. Start DSL (Damn Small Linux) downloading.
    Download DSL here: DSL
  2. Go here and start Daemon Tools downloading: Daemon Tools
  3. Go here to get the HP program and click DOWNLOAD: HP fmt util. I’ve received an email from Dan who had a bad time with the HP tool. It worked fine for me, but you should be aware of what happened to him: I think you should know that the HP formatting util that rebuilds the mbr on the fob is buggy and dangerous. I loaded it, pointed it to my attached fob, and clicked format. It jumped drive letters to an attached drive and wiped out the fat tables in an instant. I believe it automatically jumps to whatever is the first USB device drive letter. I was able to restore the data thanks to a powerful utility I keep on hand for such disasters, but others might not be so lucky. I’m don’t blame you for this happening one bit. I just suggest you add a warning to your instructions to have no other usb attached storage devices other than the fob for this step.
  4. Install the HP program
  5. Take Dan’s advice to heart, and remove all attached USB devices that have storage other than what we’re formatting.
  6. Start the program, for “Device” choose your keyfob, for “Filesytem” select FAT (not fat32!), for label put dadskeyfob or something; don’t enable quick format, don’t enable create dos startup wank
  7. Hit go or whatever, let it format. You don’t actually care that this is formatting the drive, the important thing it’s doing is rebuilding your MBR properly for your keyfob.
  8. Grab SYSLINUX, from here. Note that I use version 2.11 which is where the link goes, whereas the newest version is 3.x — i’ve had a report from jhoff80 that syslinux 3.02 didn’t work for him whereas 2.11 did. Therefore i’m recommending that you stick with 2.11! Expand the ZIP file to a directory, and open a command-prompt there (or manually run cmd.exe and change directory to where you extracted it)
  9. Type the following carefully with your keyfob plugged in, where X represents the drive letter you can see your keyfob as in Windows explorer: syslinux.exe X:   (note the .exe is mandatory, otherwise it picks up the .com version which Windows can’t run!)
  10. Verify that you now have “ldlinux.sys” on your keyfob! You may need to turn on hidden/system/OS file-viewing to see this. Read further down, instructions on how to do this in Windows XP can be found further on in this document. 


    PART B: Correcting your fob’s partition ID



    This part deals with a problem that the HP utility has; it sets the partition ID of the partition it creates to HEX code ‘e’, which means “W95 FAT16 LBA”; this doesn’t work on many machines because the BIOS expects HEX code ’6′ (“FAT16″), like for instance, all three of my machines. The goal of this part is to change the partition ID. Historically this has proven the hardest part of this whole webpage for some users, so I’ve spent almost a full week working out how to make it all possible without having to download and install Linux. Basically, I couldn’t find a windows-native utility that allows you to change the partition ID of a USB keyfob, *while still booted in Windows*. Read on…



  11. Download the handy boot-disk image and installer that i’ve kindly put together for you, from here.
  12. Extract the contents of the zip file somewhere, and double-click (execute) write-bootdisk.bat. It’ll ask you to put a floppy disk in the drive, THE CONTENTS OF WHICH WILL BE ERASED (don’t worry about formatting); follow the instructions. When the window closes (or if you’ve executed it manually from the command prompt whenever it finishes) and the floppy-LED goes out, continue.
  13. Remove ALL devices connected to your computer via USB (ok so if your mouse is connected via USB, first shut-down windows and power off your PC, then remove it too). I mean everything: USB printers, USB mice, your USB keyfob, everything. If you have a USB keyboard remove it too, and get a USB-PS/2 adapter (one should have come with your keyboard hopefully).
  14. Boot your computer from the floppy disk. Hopefully your BIOS is already set up to do this — if not, make it so (how to do this is out of the scope of this page!).
  15. Eventually you will see a prompt, “Hit ENTER to activate this console”: hit ENTER.
  16. Plug in your USB keyfob. You should see some text appear on the screen! It might contain the words USB Mass Storage. It must display something along the lines of “sda1″ on the screen, which might for you be sdb1 or sdc1 or sdd1, you get the picture. I’ll presume from hereonin that it’s sda1, if not then substitute what you got. If you don’t see anything, you’re outta luck – I tested this on two machines, a P2 400 and a P4 3ghz, both worked flawlessly for me – send me email with your system specs.
  17. Type /sbin/fdisk /dev/sda (note the missing 1 at the end, this is intentional) and hit enter
  18. You’re now in Linux’s fdisk utility. Hit the following keys then ENTER:
    1. t
    2. (You should now be changing the type of partition 1 because it auto-selected partition 1 since you only have one partition. If you have more than one partition, which you shouldn’t unless you’ve deviated from my instructions, select the first one)
    3. 6 (which is FAT16)
    4. p
    5. You’ve just printed the proposed new partition table to the screen. See the boot(able) column? Make sure your first (hopefully only) partition has an asterisk (*) there. If you used the HP utility it will already be bootable. If not, hit ‘a’ and make it so.
    6. w
    7. You should now be out of fdisk (w does write + quit). Remove the floppy from the drive, and turn your computer off (don’t worry about shutting down properly, just switch it off, it hasn’t touched your hard-drives)
  19. Plug in all of the USB devices you unplugged, leaving your USB keyfob still plugged in.
  20. Reboot back into Windows! 


    PART C: Putting DSL onto your keyfob properly



  21. Hopefully by now DSL has finished downloading. Extract it somewhere, it makes an .ISO file around 50mb.
  22. Hopefully by now Daemon Tools has finished downloading. Extract it somewhere, and install it. By default it will add just one virtual drive to your computer
  23. Right-click the red lightning-bolt in your systray (it’s Daemon Tools silly), and mount the DSL .ISO file by going “Virtual CD/DVD-ROM”, “Device 0…”, “Mount Image”, select the DSL .ISO file
  24. Go to the drive you’ve just mounted (might be like F: — you can tell which it is from Daemon Tools, the one BEFORE you clicked “Mount Image”), this represents all of the stuff on the DSL CD
  25. Copy everything there to your keyfob drive.
  26. In windows explorer, go to your keyfob drive.
  27. Go into boot\isolinux, and MOVE everything up to the root of the drive (click left mouse button on list of files, hit CNTRL-A to select all, right click them and select Cut, then in left-pane select the root of the keyfob drive, and in the right-pane right-click and select Paste)
  28. As Brian MacAskill so kindly pointed out, when you boot into DSL the keyfob is mounted read-only, and you can’t unmount it because the DSL image is on it. This is a pain if you want to write some stuff to your keyfob while in DSL. So, i’ve fixed the problem by removing the characters -o ro from one line in linuxrc, a script contained within minirt24.gz (for those interested I used the DSL 0.9.2 version). The upside is that you can write to your fob in DSL; the downside is that you have to shutdown DSL properly if you use this, whereas if you don’t you can just switch the power right off because nothing is mounted read-write. So, if you would like to be able to write to your keyfob while booted into DSL, download my minirt24.gz from here, and overwrite the one that’s now on the root of your keyfob.
  29. Delete the empty boot\ directory (yes, deletes empty isolinux dir too) that you’ve just moved everything out of
  30. On the root of the drive, delete isolinux.bin, and rename isolinux.cfg to syslinux.cfg



You’re done! Now you wanna try it out? On a newish computer’s BIOS (hint, try Delete on bootup) change the first boot option (hunt for it) to USB-ZIP . If that doesn’t work, USB-FLOPPY or USB-FDD (same thing) will.






I now have Hiren’s BootCD bootable from my keyfob as well as DSL. It’s toight. Since Hiren’s BootCD contains muchos illegal software, I can’t post it on my site (since I respect and love my ISP, Golden.net). However, I can link you to somewhere where you might find it with Shareaza or your favourite P2P client:
eDonkey2k URI and
magnet URI.
You can find out information about what the CD contains on Hiren’s weird homepage, here.


To get your keyfob booting both, you’ll need to do the following:



  1. Grab Hiren’s BootCD, possibly from one of the P2P links above (I don’t host it, so you’ve gotta find it)
  2. IMPORTANT: after some feed back from David, I’ve neglected to mention — you must at this point be able to see files like io.sys and jo.sys, which are both “hidden” and “system” files. If you’re doing this in windows as I suggest, by default windows will hide these files from you. To enable hidden/system file viewing, in windows explorer do the following (instructions are for Win 2K/XP but will be close for 95/98/ME; STFW if these don’t work for you):
    • In windows explorer go to the tools menu
    • Hit Folder Options
    • Go to the View tab
    • Disable the “Display simple folder view in Explorer’s Folders list” checkbox
    • Enable the “Display the contents of system folders” checkbox
    • Choose the “Show hidden files and folders” radio button
    • Disable the “Hide extensions for known file types” checkbox
    • Disable the “Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)” checkbox, and click “Yes” on the ridiculously annoying confirmation prompt that pops up
    • Hit OK
  3. Now we need to get Hiren’s BootCD’s bootup files onto your keyfob. These are found in the bootable image section of the CD; if you just look at the burned CD or mount the image in Daemon Tools, you won’t see them. First i’ll explain the manual way of getting the files (useful if you wanna apply this process to any CD)

    Do either this:

    • Download IsoBuster, it’s not free but you can try it for somewhere around 30 days. It is a fantastic program that allows you to see all portions of the CD, manipulate/save/read/write them in all sorts of different formats.
    • Using IsoBuster, go to the bootable image part of the CD, and grab the boot.img file, copy it out somewhere onto your hard-drive
    • Download WinImage, again not free but you can try it for somewhere around 30 days. Another fantastic program, allows you to read bootable image files, extract from them, create them, etc.
    • Using WinImage, open up the boot.img file, and extract all of the files to the root of your keyfob.

    So that’s one way of doing it. But, if you’re like me, you’re thinking… “ah man, you’ve SO already done that, can’t I just download those files from you?” Well as it happens none of these files are illegal to host, so sure! So, as an alternative, do the following.

    OR, do this:

    • Download Hiren’s BootCD’s bootable files from me, here. Note that this probably requires you to have the same version of Hiren’s BootCD I have, version 6.
    • Extract them to the root of your keyfob.
  4. On your keyfob, DELETE jo.sys (NOT io.sys !)
  5. Put the following dos boot-sector file onto your keyfob (in the root directory): dos.bss . This file actually contains way more than you need (it contains for example my 1GB keyfob’s MBR which you definitely don’t want), but syslinux rules, and will only load in the correct bytes/information.
  6. Delete from the root of your keyfob (these files just got placed there from Hiren’s Boot CD in step 3) autoexec.bat, load.dat, and startup.bat
  7. I modified the three scripts you just deleted so that they work (hopefully!) when you boot off USB, since Hiren expects you to be booting from a CD, and, you ain’t. You can grab my modified scripts here. Now, extract all the files and put them on the root of your keyfob drive. (If you wanna see what I did, diff them against the original ones off of Hiren’s ISO)



Here’s what the root of my keyfob looks like, after putting DSL and Hiren’s BootCD on it, with system/hidden file-viewing enabled.



    Volume in drive J is TIMFOB   Volume Serial Number is FCE4-B606     Directory of J:     10/28/2004  10:46 PM    <DIR>          KNOPPIX    10/27/2004  08:02 AM             2,048 boot.cat    07/25/2004  04:13 AM               110 boot.msg    10/16/2004  02:17 AM             1,592 f2    07/25/2004  04:13 AM             1,675 f3    07/25/2004  04:13 AM               256 german.kbd    08/15/2004  02:31 AM           994,807 linux24    07/25/2004  04:50 AM             7,367 logo.16    09/01/2004  11:23 PM           790,312 minirt24.gz    08/21/2004  07:35 PM             2,023 syslinux.cfg    10/28/2004  10:46 PM             7,836 ldlinux.sys    08/01/2002  09:03 PM            81,920 memtest.exe    12/20/2003  11:57 PM             4,848 mouse.com    04/18/2004  09:57 PM                14 MSDOS.SYS    05/23/2004  11:58 PM           244,833 usb_aspi.cab    07/08/2003  10:23 AM             8,868 WBAT.COM    12/20/2003  11:57 PM            11,630 xmsdsk.exe    05/05/2003  10:22 PM            94,292 COMMAND.COM    05/23/2004  10:18 PM             6,530 CONFIG.SYS    12/20/2003  11:57 PM           229,705 DOCMEM.EXE    05/24/2004  12:49 AM           348,755 drivers.cab    05/05/1999  10:22 PM            49,185 EMM386.EXE    12/20/2003  11:57 PM            49,168 extract.exe    12/20/2003  11:57 PM            25,454 GM.EXE    05/05/2001  10:22 PM            10,351 HIMEM.SYS    04/27/2004  05:40 PM           125,960 io.sys    10/28/2004  11:15 PM               512 dos.bss    10/28/2004  11:27 PM    <DIR>          BootCD    10/30/2004  02:36 PM             4,928 Autoexec.bat    10/30/2004  02:36 PM             1,766 load.dat    10/30/2004  02:26 PM               411 startup.bat                   33 File(s)    (lots of)  bytes                   5 Dir(s)      82,608,128 bytes free

That’s it! You should now (hopefully) be able to boot into Hiren’s BootCD. You do this by booting off your keyfob just like into linux, but at the syslinux prompt you need to type “dos” (enter). That patches in and loads dos.bss, and then io.sys is bootstrapped etc.
You should see Hiren’s nice little menu; after you select a choice, there will be a grinding pause as my modifications attempt to figure out WHERE your BIOS has put the boot-device; it better be either A:\ (what Hiren originally expected) or C:\ (where my keyfob gets placed by the BIOS of my IBM ThinkPad T41). If it is C:\, you’ll get an error as my script tries to look on A:\ and doesn’t find what it wants. Hit ‘a’ for abort or ‘f’ for fail until the error goes away; this is ok, it’s just figuring out where stuff is.
I’m sure there’s a cleaner way of doing things, I just don’t know DOS batch-file programming that well :)


If Hiren’s Boot CD starts to boot but doesn’t work, the most likely your BIOS is placing your keyfob as something other than A: or C:, in which case you should modify the very top of autoexec.bat (my modified version, not Hiren’s original!) — it should be obvious what to do.
Experts should note that i’m not loading any USB/ASPI drivers, i’m presuming after booting your BIOS has made the whole drive accessible (not just the first 1.44mb or something weird!); if that’s what you find is happening to you, tough luck, I have no idea how to fix that (try loading some USB/ASPI drivers in autoexec.bat?).


So, now hopefully you’ve got everything working nicely. You can boot into Linux if you need to, and you can boot into Hiren’s CD for things like restoring a Norton Ghost image. If your fob is as big as mine you can get the image on too! Awesome, installing WinBloze on people’s computers just got a lot faster/simpler…






So another useful thing would be to be able to install Debian on any machine you’re passing by, right? I mean, since you’ve got Hiren’s BootCD booting you can already boot up Ghost or whatever and restore a nice windows image you’ve got on there, but what about Linux? I mean, who really wants to install Windows anyways, right? Well look no further, we can do that too ;)



Here’s a little background for the n00bs out there, so that I can cut down on the number of emails I have to write. Experienced Linux users, skip over this paragraph. Linux is an operating-system (OS), like Windows is an OS. However, the term Linux really applies only to the “kernel”, the sort-of core part of Linux that acts as the central brain. For experienced Windows users, this is kinda like the triumvirate of command.com+msdos.sys+io.sys. When people refer to Linux in the context of an OS, they are typically talking about a “distribution” of Linux. A distribution refers to not only the kernel, but all the other utilities and programs one needs to make Linux a full-fledged OS; examples include gcc (a compiler), init (the thing that gets loaded first by the kernel), and so on — the kernel, or “Linux”, doesn’t include these things, and without them you can’t really do anything. So these distributions make it easy by including everything you need. There are lots of them: Redhat, Mandrake, SUSE, Debian, Slackware, and MANY others. The good news? One of them, Debian, is *miles* ahead of the rest! This section explains how to have your keyfob boot into the Debian installer, so that you can put it on a computer. “Sarge” refers to one of the versions of Debian; Debian has numerical versions like 3.0, but codenames them easy-to-remember names: 3.0 is Woody, 3.1 is Sarge, and so on. At the time of writing (end of Nov. 2004) Sarge isn’t quite out yet, it’s still considered unstable. However, it’s damn close to being out, and I personally consider it quite stable, if that means anything to you. Certainly more stable than any version of Windows that’s ever hit the light!



These instructions will guide you through putting the additional files you need on your keyfob to make the Debian Installer able to install straight from it to a given computer. The amount of space this takes varies; the skeleton setup without the ISO (payload) will take only ~10mb or so, but the ISOs vary in size from ~40mb (business card iso) to ~110mb (net install iso) and even higher. The choice is yours ! I keep the net install iso (netinst) on my fob, because that’s the most useful one. Also, these instructions aren’t the “easy” variety where everything’s done for you, they outline all the steps you need to grab the latest version, do the changes yourself, and get it on your fob. The reason for this is because Debian is fantastic, and they’re always coming out with new versions of the installer and the ISOs themselves. For that reason it’d be silly to just give you some pre-made .gz files because they’d be out of date very quickly.



  1. Download all the files in the directory here: (link goes to Canadian mirror, use your favourite if you like; this is the kernel ver. 2.6 which now works with USB installs): http://mirror.direct.ca/linux/debian/dists/stable/main/installer-i386/current/images/hd-media/2.6/
  2. Rename initrd.gz to initrd26.gz
  3. Rename vmlinuz to sarge26
  4. Copy all of these files onto the root directory of your keyfob
  5. Download one Debian ISO image. I recommend the “netinst” (net install) image. The general page of all available ISOs can be found here, and the direct link to the i386-netinst ISO (what I recommend) is here. Put it on the root of your keyfob.
  6. Open up syslinux.cfg that’s already on your keyfob, from section 1 (putting DSL on your keyfob) in an editor, like notepad, and add the following lines to the bottom.
    • Note that this relies on the ramdisk size not having changed since I updated this page! At the time of writing Sarge has just been officially released, and the filesize of initrd26.gz is 3,205,673 bytes. If your initrd26.gz is a different size, you’ll need to copy these lines but get the right ramdisk_size from the syslinux.cfg that comes in the boot-image. To find this use the link above, go to the parent directory, download boot.img.gz, expand and extract it, and take a look at the similar lines in the syslinux.cfg it contains. If you don’t already have a syslinux.cfg on your keyfob because you didn’t install DSL already, you could use this syslinux.cfg verbatim.
    label sarge 	kernel sarge26 	append vga=normal initrd=initrd26.gz ramdisk_size=10396 root=/dev/rd/0 devfs=mount,dall rw  -- label sarge1024x768 	kernel sarge26 	append vga=791 initrd=initrd26.gz ramdisk_size=10396 root=/dev/rd/0 devfs=mount,dall rw  -- label sarge1280x1024 	kernel sarge26 	append vga=794 initrd=initrd26.gz ramdisk_size=10396 root=/dev/rd/0 devfs=mount,dall rw  --



That should be it ! Now you should be able to boot off your keyfob, still type “dsl” or “dos” for DSL and Hiren’s BootCD respectively, but also you should now be able to type “sarge” and the Debian installer should start up!


  1. May 2nd, 2013 at 20:15 | #1

    Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa?
    My website addresses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you are interested feel free to send me an e-mail.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog by the way!

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