Creating bootable USB drives with UNetbootin

Flash drive One thing that I like about using Linux is that it’s easy to test drive a distro. Just about any distro. And I don’t need to worry about dual booting or creating a virtual machine (although I find that to be preferable to dual booting).

Instead, I can use a live distro. It used to be that I’d create a bootable CD with the distro that I wanted to play with. However, something like that is quite wasteful — one CD per distro.

Over the last two or three years, I’ve been using a bootable USB flash drive instead. Not only is it less wasteful (I can reuse the flash drive), a flash drive is much faster than a CD.

But for a while, I found that creating a live flash drive to be a bit too much of a chore. That is until I found UNetbootin. It makes creating a bootable flash drive a snap.

Let’s take a quick look at how to use it.

First steps

Obviously, you’ll need a copy of UNetbootin installed on your computer. It’s not standard kit with any Linux distro (as far as I know) but you can download it from the UNetbootin web page. There are also version for Windows and MacOS, in case you were wondering.

If that doesn’t do it for you, check your distro’s package manager.

Once it’s installed, UNetbootin is easy to use.

Creating your bootable flash drive

Before you can use UNetbootin, you’ll need a couple of things. First, a USB flash drive (obviously!). I usually use either a 1GB or 2GB that I have lying around. You’ll also need an ISO image (also called a disk image). The ISO image contains, depending on the distro, either the full distribution or just the core files.

You can download an ISO image from the web site of any Linux distribution. Or, you can get UNetbootin to download one of several popular distributions. More on this in a moment.

So, insert a flash drive into one of your computer’s USB ports. Then, fire up UNetbootin. Under Linux Mint 12, for example, select Menu > System Tools > UNetbootin. You’ll be asked to enter your root password.

UNetbootin after startup

As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, you can create a bootable flash drive either by letting UNetbootin download an ISO image for you, or by getting your own.

If you want UNetbootin to download an ISO image for you, choose the distro from the Select Distribution dropdown list.

Select a distro

Then, choose the version of the distro from the Select Version dropdown list.

Select a version

Note: You might find that UNetbootin doesn’t have access to the latest version of some distros.

Then, click OK. That starts the process to download the ISO and install it on your flash drive.

If, on the other hand, you have an ISO image click the Diskimage option and then click the button. That opens file dialog box. Use that to navigate to the directory containing the ISO image and then click Open.

The Drive dropdown list should read /dev/sdb1 (or whatever your computer’s default mount point for USB flash drives is). Click OK. You’ll be warned to ensure that you’ve specified the correct mount point for the flash drive. If you haven’t, bad things can happen. Or so I’m told.

It should be safe to click OK. But please don’t complain to me (or do worse) if something goes wrong.

After a couple of minutes, you’ll have a bootable flash drive. UNetbootin will prompt you to reboot. You can ignore that and shut down the application.

What now?

Now that you have a bootable USB flash drive, what do you do? Leave the drive plugged in and restart your computer. You’ll probably have to go into your computer’s BIOS and change the boot order of your computer’s drives.

To do that, you’ll need to press a function key on your keyboard as your computer starts — on my laptop, for example, that’s F2. Go into the boot options, and make the flash drive the primary drive. Then, press F10 to save and exit the BIOS. Your computer will restart and should boot from the flash drive. After that, you can play to your heart’s content.

Photo credit: AndreyPS

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