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For General Users

The idea of having both Windows and Linux installed on a computer and being able to select one at boot time appeals to many who are trying, or migrating to, Linux.

The better known Linux distributions will set this up automatically, during installation to a single hard disk drive in the computer It is likely to cease functioning following the next update of Windows and restoring dual-boot requires Getting Technical

Getting Technical

The above problem can usually be obviated by having additional hard disk(s) in the computer. This is not an expensive option, given current HDD prices.

USB Drive


  • easily added
  • no change to internal HDD


  • Linux relies on the absolute order of storage devices detected by the computer's firmware
    • plugging in (say) a uSB memory drive, may upset the booting

Internal HDD

  • ensures permanent order of drives


  • mainstream Linux will allow installation to a second hDD
  • the bootloader must also be installed to the second HDD, in this technique
    • can require "drilling down" the installation options

Selecting Boot Device

The selection of "drive" and hence OS is done at POST stage and depends on type of firmware in the computer

see Booting from Removable Media

Strictly for Geeks

--Rpeters11:28, 24 August 2012 (EST) --



Only for computers having EFI firmware

Fairly simple and reliable

  • but requires a running Linux to generate its config file, in advance

GRUB Legacy (aka 0.97 )

A simple, reliable bootloader, although being phased out and no longer maintained. Use situations:

  • have only Linux on /ext(n) partitions and (maybe) Windows

GRUB (aka GRUB 2 )

"on-the-fly" Mode

GRUB 2 relies on a pre-defined config file /boot/grub(2)/grub.cfg. If this is not located, for any reason, GRUB 2 may boot to a grub> prompt. To boot from here use the following commands:

grub> set root='hd0,gpt10' grub> linux /boot/vmlinuz root=/dev/sda10 grub> initrd /boot/initrd grub> boot


  • drive numbers start from 0
  • must specify whether partitioned mbr or gpt
  • partition refers to location of /boot for the operating system to be booted
    • or merely the system partition for Win
    • partition numbers start from 1 (unlike in GRUB legacy)
  • this procedure is easiest if kernel & initrd have easily remembered names
    • either soft-link generic names or
    • press TAB to see possible names
  • ctrl-x or F10 may be pressed in lieu the "boot" command

The above procedure may be modified to cater for the situation where the menu is presented but the desired OS is not included or fails to boot. Press Esc to get to command line, then proceed as above.

Menu mode

Wheras GRUB legacy uses similar syntax in command and menu mode, GRUB 2 uses somewhat different syntax in the two modes. See GRUB 2 downloadable manual or use "info grub2" to obtain details.

Rescue mode

An ISO image can be prepared, that is tailored to the OS on a specific computer. See above documentation for details on preparation of this image. It can be tested by "dd" to a USB memory device.


Only for computers having EFI firmware

  • a CD can be downloaded, to test, if uncertain of firmware


A proven bootloader, that continues being developed and maintained. Main limitations:

  • can't directly boot programs on other than its own partition, resulting in the need for work-arounds:
    • either chain load all but one OS or
    • put the boot code for each OS in a different sub-directory on the syslinux partition


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) --