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Old 08-08-2012, 04:57 PM   #1
littlebigman
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Question Why are(n't) some USB keydrives bootable?


Hello

I noticed the following issues with the same recent laptop that can boot off a USB keydrive and the same ISO file:
  • some USB keydrives can boot a live Linux with no problem
  • some keydrives can never boot
  • a given keydrive used to work but no longer works.

I tried three different Windows applications to burn the ISO (UNetBootin, Pendrive Linux Universal USB Installer, and LinuxLive), but it makes no difference.

So I was wondering if this is a software or hardware issue:
  • If it's a hardware issue, what is the cause, and how can I check before buying a USB keydrive that I'll be able to boot?
  • If it's a software issue, what is the cause?

FWIW, here's what Linux says after I insert a USB keydrive that can't boot Linux:
Quote:
# dmesg

usb 2-2: new high speed USB device number 6 using ehci_hcd
usbcore: registered new interface driver uas
Initializing USB Mass Storage driver...
scsi6 : usb-storage 2-2:1.0
usbcore: registered new interface driver usb-storage
USB Mass Storage support registered.
scsi 6:0:0:0: Direct-Access Flash Drive 5.00 PQ: 0 ANSI: 2
sd 6:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg1 type 0
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] 2017280 512-byte logical blocks: (1.03 GB/985 MiB)
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] Write Protect is off
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] Mode Sense: 0b 00 00 08
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] No Caching mode page present
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] Assuming drive cache: write through
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] No Caching mode page present
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] Assuming drive cache: write through
sdb: unknown partition table
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] No Caching mode page present
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] Assuming drive cache: write through
sd 6:0:0:0: [sdb] Attached SCSI removable disk

# fdisk -l

Disk /dev/sdb: 1032 MB, 1032847360 bytes
32 heads, 62 sectors/track, 1016 cylinders, total 2017280 sectors
Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disk identifier: 0xc3072e18

This doesn't look like a partition table
Probably you selected the wrong device.

Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/sdb1 * 63 2017279 1008608+ b W95 FAT32
/dev/sdb2 ? 50017 50017 0 10 OPUS

# usb-devices

T: Bus=02 Lev=01 Prnt=01 Port=01 Cnt=01 Dev#= 7 Spd=480 MxCh= 0
D: Ver= 2.00 Cls=00(>ifc ) Sub=00 Prot=00 MxPS=64 #Cfgs= 1
P: Vendor=2002 ProdID=1115 Rev=01.00
S: Product=Flash Drive
S: SerialNumber=CCCBB9999003615
C: #Ifs= 1 Cfg#= 1 Atr=80 MxPwr=100mA
I: If#= 0 Alt= 0 #EPs= 2 Cls=08(stor.) Sub=06 Prot=50 Driver=usb-storage
Thank you.
 
Old 08-08-2012, 05:57 PM   #2
camorri
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Quote:
some keydrives can never boot
Never seen one of these. Some come with stuff already on them, however, if you can write to it, you can re-format the device, and get rid of what ever was stopping the boot.

Quote:
a given keydrive used to work but no longer works.
These things have a limited number of write cycles before end of life. They are hardware, and fail, or wear out.

Have you set the USB in the boot order before hard drive, CD-rom etc? Its set in the BIOS. That has to be done for Unetbootin or the others to work.
 
Old 08-08-2012, 06:09 PM   #3
michaelk
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Are you having this problem with a particular manufacture or random devices. I also do know why a USB flash drive would not be bootable. In the case you posted the problem could be due to a corrupted image when it was downloaded. Make sure the image matches sha5sum if posted.
 
Old 08-08-2012, 07:01 PM   #4
jlinkels
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That happened to me as well.

I recall copying a Debian netinstall ISO a 512 MB device, and whatever I did, it wouldn't boot.

The easiest way nowadays is to dd the ISO to the /dev/sdx. This will effectively overwrite every single byte with the correct image. That was successful, but the booting was not.

In addition I tried to do a full erase (writing /dev/zero to /dev/sdx), installing grub, installing unetbootin. No write errors, binary comparison to another disk was without errors, but the stick would not boot.

Copying the same ISO image to a different USB stick (256MB, 1GB or 4GB) booted without problems. The netinstall image is only 130MB or so. I don't think it has anything to do with the size, but I lacked a second 512MB stick to test that.

jlinkels
 
Old 08-08-2012, 08:46 PM   #5
jefro
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HP has a usb tool that seems to work on all the bad ones I have seen.

See www.pendrivelinux.com for some tools. Some are hidden in the pages. Things like flip bit and another tools that I forget it's name can fix some usb flash drives.

Some usb may never get fixed with any software hack.

I had one that used the OEM's tools to set it to a usb-zip. Seemed to fix it although most new usb flash work correctly. If in doubt buy the one that claims bootable.
 
Old 08-08-2012, 08:50 PM   #6
suicidaleggroll
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I've never run across one that wouldn't boot...even the cheapest of the cheap SWAG drives from conferences work fine for me. How old are the ones having problems? They might just be dying.
 
Old 08-11-2012, 08:30 AM   #7
littlebigman
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Thanks for the infos. I suspect some keydrives just don't have the right hardware/software and will simply never boot.

As for those that sometimes boot and sometimes don't, I read somewhere that it could be due to the formatting: To be bootable, it must be partioned so as to have an MBR and at least one partition.

Incidently, why does fdisk complain?
Quote:
This doesn't look like a partition table
Probably you selected the wrong device.

Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/sdb1 * 63 2017279 1008608+ b W95 FAT32
/dev/sdb2 ? 50017 50017 0 10 OPUS
 
Old 08-11-2012, 08:39 AM   #8
jlinkels
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Quote:
Originally Posted by littlebigman View Post
As for those that sometimes boot and sometimes don't, I read somewhere that it could be due to the formatting: To be bootable, it must be partioned so as to have an MBR and at least one partition.
If you byte-copy an ISO to the stick you are copying byte-by-byte, including the MBR boot sector and everything. There is no explanation as to why such a stick would not boot. (And still it does not, see my previous post in this thread).

On the other hand, I had a case where we tried to copy one CF disk to another CF disk with dd. That disk contained (gawdforbid) Windows embedded for an industrial controller. The manufacturer of the controller was present and tried it with us. It did not boot. Only back at the factory with certain software they were ably to create a bootable CF disk. That beats me. Byte copy is byte copy, isn't it?

BTW funny that I see this coincidence now while I am writing this. That one USB stick of mine that doesn't boot was given to me as a present from this same factory which had created this Windows embedded system with unclonable CF disk.

jlinkels
 
Old 08-11-2012, 02:02 PM   #9
floppy_stuttgart
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I had already issues with USBs.
I made different things at different times:
- new fresh installation of extlinux (was an ext2 partition) because it did not boot anymore
- or used GPARTED, check-Function, then it was ok (the USB was corrupted)
- or used the plop bootloader from a UBCD for booting into the USB (the BIOS, despite having a USB boot menue, had probably an issue with the USB stick; plop was better than the BIOS)
 
Old 08-11-2012, 04:51 PM   #10
jefro
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Most of the newer usb's can be made to be bootable. Many are even sold as being bootable as a sales feature.

When they first came out there were no standard ways. I have an old 128M that took a while for me to convert it to a usb-zip.

I have seen more than a few that even HP tools didn't fix. They tended to be some of the older ones. I haven't seen any over 1G that couldn't be fixed. Below 1G is a gamble.

HP usb tool is the best choice I have seen to use is you can't get it to work and you are doing the install correctly.

The is also a flip bit app that fixed one of mine for a while until it died.
 
Old 08-28-2012, 08:24 AM   #11
littlebigman
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Thanks for the tip.

Does someone know of a reputable site from which to find the latest "HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool"?

Google shows that it's all over the place, and I'd like to make sure I'm downloading the latest and virus-free.
 
Old 08-28-2012, 09:02 AM   #12
littlebigman
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Using HP's utility, I could successfully boot up with a Linux ISO!

Until now, none of those Windows application could successfully make two of the USB keydrives bootable:
1. Formatted USB keydrive using HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool 2.1.8. This keydrive never booted
2. Installed ISO image (Clonezilla alternative stable 20120620) using Universal-USB-Installer-1.9.0.6
3. Tried booting: OK!

4. Formatted USB keydrive using HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool 2.1.8. This keydrive used to boot, but hasn't worked in months using the three applications.
5. Installed ISO image (Clonezilla alternative stable 20120620) using Universal-USB-Installer-1.9.0.6
6. Tried booting: OK!

It's kind of embarassing that only an old application from XP days could do this :-/
 
Old 08-28-2012, 09:28 AM   #13
littlebigman
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Next...
1. Formatted problematic USB keydrive using XP's native formatting utility (right-click on keydrive > Format > Quick Format)
2. Used Universal USB Installer to install Clonezilla ISO
3. Booted test host: OK :-/

I don't know how to get back to a broken state, so I could try Rufus ("The Reliable USB Formatting Utility").

Bottom line: If a non-vintage USB keydrive doesn't or no longer boots after having an ISO burned onto it, it might be a good idea to first format it with an alternative utility.
 
Old 08-28-2012, 04:12 PM   #14
jefro
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There is another app that sometimes works. It is a flip bit app that changes how some usb drives are seen by bios.

The simple answer was to throw away the stupid usb and buy a new $4 one.
 
Old 08-29-2012, 04:02 AM   #15
littlebigman
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By "flip bit", do you mean "Removable Media Bit (RMB)"?

Incidently, after using the HP utility, I noticed that the BIOS on the test host now considers the problematic keydrives as "USB Hard Drive" while they weren't advertised that way previously. This would be consistent with the tech info available on Rufus author Pete Batard's site:

Quote:
You'd think there wouldn't be much to formatting an USB flash drive for DOS on Windows, but you would be wrong. As I already explained, there's some reason why Windows doesn't do it natively.
I assume that at some point, the keydrive that used to work had its RMB turned from HD to Floppy, which would explain why the test host would no longer boot from it.

That's a relief, because that means I can buy a bunch of keydrives for a project with more confidence that they can be made bootable.
 
  


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