Creating Bootable DOS USB Memory Stick

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For General Users


The main requirement for a USB memory device that boots to DOS operating system arises when a BIOS/Firmware update of a computer is required.

It is advisable to use a new, or little used memory device, because any error in reading the BIOS/Firmware code during the actual update is likely to result in an unusable computer. USB "thumb" drives could be used. SD cards, which can be removed and stored in a secure place, might be more applicable.


HP provide two techniques for producing DOS USB sticks. Both place utility software on a Windows computer, in order to generate the bootable stick - see "Getting Technical" below, if Windows is not available.

Instructions are provided on the HP support site for installing these utilities to Windows and creating bootable USB stick(s)

  • HP's generic utility HPUSBFW is not self contained but is more flexible.
    • it produces a mimimal DOS bootable USB stick containing only nnnDOS.SYS & COMMAND.COM
    • the user can then add relevant firmware and flashing utility
    • although it has an option for formatting to FAT 32 only FAT actually works
    • requires one of HP's "Softpacs" (firmware updates) for one of their recent commercial notebooks, from which to obtain the Windows utility program, plus
    • also requires FreeDOS (which can be downloaded at no cost in the form of fd11src.iso from
  • those wanting to upgrade the firmware in a HP computer might find the second tool more suitable. HP provide some of their firmware updates as Windows dotEXE files, which:
    • install a utility program to Windows and then have facility called ROMPAQ for creating a bootable DOS on a USB device of not greater than 2 GB (FAT 16)
    • automatically adds the firmware and flashing utility to the USB stick
    • the naming convention for these files is SPnnnnn.exe

Note that in order to use the former, generic technique, general users would need to burn the above ISO image to CD. Those not familiar with ISO images should read

The step of burning the ISO image can be avoided - see "Getting Technical" below

Getting Techhnical

The techniques above contain the Windows version of Syslinux in the Windows software package and install the former as a bootloader on the USB device. The Syslinux bootloader can also be added to a USB memory device via Linux. Generic instructions are at the following site, from which (superceded versions of) the code are also available

The following would need to be downloaded to obtain up-to-date software:

Syslinux will already be installed on many Linux systems. However, Ubuntu and openSUSE might produce a USB stick that invokes graphics at boot time and it is undesirable to have superfluous code on a device that will be used for firmware upgrades.

FreeDOS supports FAT 32 and consequently the above procedure should also work on FAT 32 formatted sticks of > 2 GB capacity.

--Rpeters 09:05, 7 October 2013 (EST) --