Normally, I used a YUMI USB drive to boot my computer into assorted operating systems and tools other than Windows 7. For instance, if I wanted to run Linux, DBAN, Acronis, the Windows 7 system repair disc, or certain emergency antivirus tools in a standalone mode outside of Windows, I would insert the YUMI drive and hit F12 one or more times when the machine started to boot up. (It might be necessary to hit Esc, F2, Del, or some other key at bootup to get into the BIOS setup options.) F12 would give me a menu listing these other tools that I had installed onto a USB jump drive using YUMI.
But now I had a problem: my Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 was not responding well to bootable USB drives. (Later, I would have the same problem with my Acer laptop.) It didn’t seem to be a problem with the USB flash drives, or with the tools I was installing onto them. I reconfigured several different USB drives, in several different ways, and still had the same problem: the cursor would just flash at me, and virtually nothing would boot.
It appeared that this problem had begun when I installed an mSATA SSD drive to speed up Windows 7 boot times on the ThinkPad. Possibly a 2.5″ solid state drive (SSD) would have had the same problem, or possibly that would have solved the problem. Unfortunately, the ThinkPad had only one 2.5″ drive bay, and that was filled with a hard drive offering larger and cheaper storage.
One alternative might have been to try booting something like a YUMI drive from a MicroSD card. (I also wondered whether it was possible to install Windows 7 on a MicroSD card, and enjoy fast boots from that, in which case I could remove the mSATA SSD. There would be the problem that MicroSD cards could pop out easily: if that happened to the Windows program drive, the system would come to a swift halt.)
There may also have been non-YUMI multiboot tools that would have succeeded with a USB thumb drive, on this machine, where YUMI failed. Note that YUMI itself did not seem to be malfunctioning: before installing the mSATA SSD, I had used some of these same YUMI USB drives to boot the ThinkPad successfully.
At the moment, I decided to see if I could develop a DVD that, like the YUMI drive, would contain multiple bootable operating systems and other tools. I got the idea of using a DVD because I saw that I could successfully boot a single-purpose DVD (e.g., a Linux live CD). My question at that point was whether there was a useful tool that would do with DVDs what YUMI did with USB drives.
To install multiple tools on a single DVD, the first thing I tried was Sardu. That was a bust, unfortunately. SARDU wanted to install multiple pieces of crapware during its installation process. I thought I had gotten safely past that, but then, within minutes after completing the SARDU installation, my antivirus software was flashing an alarm. It identified SARDU as an infected tool, and obtained my permission to remove it.
Next, my search led me to a discussion that led me to EasyBoot. At first, I thought I was going to have to pay $29.95 for a copy. Not an unreasonable price, assuming the software worked, but at that price I might just try a different brand of mSATA drive. This was more of an experimental journey, not amenable to high fees. Fortunately, it developed that buying and registering a copy would provide certain benefits but was not absolutely necessary.
I downloaded and installed the free (trial?) version. Then I browsed the EasyBoot forum for advice. That was encouraging. Judging from the dates of various posts there, EasyBoot had been in existence for at least ten years. On further inspection, though, I was not sure that accumulated lore would actually be helpful. Here’s what I saw in a forum post that sought to integrate assorted bits of advice to create a sort of user’s manual for EasyBoot: “Some tutorials may not work with current versions of software since the tutorials deal with . . . [some] software more than 5 years old.” In other words, the help I would find in the forum would be a real grab-bag.
What I did gather from that post (itself dating from 2011), and from other browsing, was that EasyBoot was still largely oriented toward Windows XP and that it would require considerable manual tinkering to identify, extract, and use key files from a downloaded ISO (i.e., the large files from which it would be possible to install programs, burn discs, and/or fill a YUMI drive). Among other things, it looked like they recommended experimenting with possible builds in a virtual machine, so as to get a working prototype before burning it to DVD.
I decided not to make the time investment to master EasyBoot unless there was no alternative. My modified search led, next, to XBoot. Its webpage said I could “Simply drag and drop ISO files into XBoot window” from a menu of possibilities. The website emphasized that this was for creating something like my YUMI drive, a sort of Swiss Army knife collection of tools, but not for creating a live DVD that would run various versions of Windows. In other words, I might be able to use this to run things like the Windows system repair CD and Acronis True Image, but it would not function like a dual-boot hard drive that would boot both Windows XP and Windows 7. They offered another page describing how to create a USB drive that would do that. In a comment on that page, one user claimed that s/he was indeed able to boot two versions of Windows plus Ubuntu from an 8GB flash drive.
Sticking with my goal of creating a multiboot rescue DVD (as distinct from a bootable system DVD), I downloaded and ran the portable (i.e., standalone, no need to install) XBoot 1.0 Beta 14 (apparently not updated since 2011). With XBoot’s Create Multiboot USB/ISO tab focused, I went into its File > Open menu pick and selected DBAN (i.e., Darik’s Boot and Nuke) as my first entry. XBoot gave me a dialog that said, “Please identify this file.” It offered the following menu of possibilities:
DBAN was listed; some other ISOs in my possession were not. I guessed that the first several items on that list would accommodate ISOs not specifically listed. If so, it didn’t matter yet; I had several ISOs that were listed, and I proceeded to include them along with DBAN. (If I hadn’t already collected the ISOs I wanted to use, it appeared that XBoot would help me to select and download them.)
In some cases, XBoot didn’t need me to select an item as I had done with DBAN; for instance, it automatically recognized the program associated with my file named Acronis_True_Image_Home_2011.ISO. It apparently relied on the program’s name: it did not recognize the file I had named Win7x64SysRepairCD.iso. I guessed that the menu entry corresponding to that file would be “Utility — PE, MSDART, ERD (Windows Vista & 7 only),” where ERD presumably stood for Emergency Recovery Disk.
To check that, clicking Help in the program’s menu took me to a different website, where there were Guidelines and Tips & Tricks and a forum for using XBoot. There were only a few tips and tricks, but one was useful: it said that, to add an item not on the list, I could just add the ISO to the set and then choose the “Add using Grub4dos iso emulation” option from the list. I went back a couple of years in the forum but didn’t see anything specifically addressing the Windows 7 recovery CD question. I decided to just leave it on my list, identified as the ERD utility (above), and see what happened.
I did use the Grub4dos option with my Macrium_Reflect_x64_5.2.6465.iso. I saw that XBoot had added a comment at the right end of the line listing DBAN, but had not done so for some of these others. It looked like I was supposed to click on the left end of each line, in XBoot’s window, to indicate the name that I wanted my DVD to show for each of these files. So, for example, I replaced the long Acronis_True_Image_Home_2011 name with simply Acronis. I also renamed the categories to suit myself. It didn’t look like there was a way to arrange the order of items within a category. XBoot didn’t allow me to drag the edge of its window to the left or right, so as to make more space inside, so here’s what it looked like at this point:
As shown at the upper-right corner, I was only up to 2.78GB, where a DVD would hold around 4.7GB. I continued adding more items, using the Grub4dos option whenever XBoot didn’t recognize the ISO automatically. My list ended at 4.18GB: I could fit everything I needed onto a DVD.
There were two exceptions that would not fit within a 4GB collection: the full Windows 7 installation DVD, and the big version of Knoppix Linux. Both had been useful at times; each exceeded 3GB. I had noticed the button at bottom right, allowing me to create a USB drive rather than an ISO for burning onto a DVD. I decided to go ahead and add those two 3GB+ ISOs, put the whole monster on a USB drive, and then remove those two big items and create the 4.18GB ISO for burning onto DVD. Adding those big ISOs gave me a total of 11.0GB.
Before creating the USB drive, I decided to try to see what they were talking about, when they said that XBoot included an emulation option for a dry run. Using the 11GB monster compilation, I clicked on the QEMU tab in XBoot. It seemed to be looking for an ISO. Apparently I had to create one big ISO that would hold all of my desired ISOs, and then load it in QEMU. Back in the first tab (i.e., Create Multiboot USB/ISO), I clicked on the Create ISO button and told it to save Monster.iso. It ran for a few seconds and then gave me an error message:
Fatal Error Occurred in Application.
Please Send developers the File “Error.log”.
Could not load file or assembly ‘PGK.Extensions, Version=18.104.22.168, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=f93e897f802ddcb7’ or one of its dependencies. The system cannot find the file specified.
That error seemed to be connected with the Windows 7 System Repair CD, since that was the name that remained visible in the XBoot dialog until I clicked OK on the error box. Once I did click OK, XBoot crashed, taking all my nice ISO list adjustments with it.
I wasn’t sure what that error was about, but a search indicated that I was not the first to get it. It was suggested in one thread that the solution was to download PGK.Extensions.dll from a Codeplex webpage and put that file into the folder containing the XBoot program that I had just downloaded. I put that PGK file and the XBoot .exe file into a new XBoot folder in my customized Start Menu, so that they would be together and would get backed up and saved permanently.
Creating the XBoot DVD
Then I tried again. I added all the same ISOs, in case we did get past that previous error: I wanted to do a complete test. This time around, I didn’t bother dressing things up with categories and nice file names; I just quickly dragged and dropped the various ISOs. I tried burning another monster ISO. This time it worked: I got “ISO created successfully!!” and the question, “Check it by running it on qemu?” I said yes.
QEMU was a funky thing: when I tried clicking within its virtual box, my mouse cursor disappeared, and I had to coolswitch (Alt-Tab) to bring it back. (Later, I noticed that QEMU’s top row was telling me to use Ctrl-Alt to end the mouse grab.) Within QEMU, it seemed, arrow keys were the order of the day. So I arrowed around, tried a few things, and, wow, they worked. Or at least they seemed to work. They actually only got to their splash screens or introductory menus before crapping out. I guessed this was just because the QEMU emulation wasn’t perfect. For instance, the attempt to run Ubuntu ended with an error:
This kernel requires an x86-64 CPU, but only detected an i686 CPU.
Unable to boot – please use a kernel appropriate for your CPU.
It seemed I would probably have to try the thing out on a real computer to be sure. The laptop that I wanted to boot was otherwise occupied at the moment, so in the meantime I went back to XBoot, cleaned up my menu items and their categories, and created another version of Monster.iso. Partway through, I realized I didn’t really need that; what I needed was to create a USB drive instead. I should have clicked on the other button. But since I had come this far, I wondered if I could use some other program to burn that Monster.iso onto a 32GB USB drive. I fired up Universal USB Installer, chose its Try Unlisted Linux ISO option, and pointed to Monster.iso. As advised, I told it to FAT32 format the USB drive and proceed. When it was done, I plugged the USB drive into the laptop and tried booting. Unfortunately, the ThinkPad was not inclined to recognize this USB drive either: as with the YUMI drives, all I got was a blinking cursor.
So I went ahead with the reduced-size version in XBoot — with, that is, the 4.18GB ISO, removing those two big 3GB ISOs from the list. XBoot created that ISO, which I called XBootPackages.iso, in just a few minutes. Now, what to do with it? I assumed the mission at hand was simply to burn the ISO to a DVD, so I fired up ImgBurn, my preferred image burning program, and chose its Write Image File to Disc option. But it seemed we had a problem, insofar as ImgBurn reported that the ISO was 5109MB and the disc would only hold 4482MB. How did that happen? Windows Explorer concurred, reporting that XBootPackages.iso was indeed 5109MB. Evidently XBoot’s internal report — that the ISO totaled only 4.18GB — was mistaken.
Well, ImgBurn was giving me the option to overburn or truncate, but I decided not to take a chance. I went back into XBoot and removed Ubuntu, which XBoot was reporting as being by far the largest ISO in my list, at 964MB. Otherwise I would have had to remove a boatload of smaller programs, to get things down to size. And I really didn’t need Ubuntu on this DVD: I still had Puppy and Knoppix Linux, and Ubuntu on another USB drive that I thought the ThinkPad might recognize. It wasn’t a problem. So now XBoot was reporting that the shrunken XBootPackages.iso would be 3.23GB, and when I proceeded to create the ISO, ImgBurn and Windows Explorer reported that it was in fact 3,182MB. It seemed that I might have been able to keep Ubuntu after all, and ditch just a few other programs (or just go with the overburn option), and thereby avoid the bug that seemed to be magnifying the size of the Ubuntu ISO — but I didn’t bother. Instead, I just burned the shrunken XBootPackages.iso onto the blank DVD.
This time, the ImgBurn process ran successfully. I booted the ThinkPad with the resulting DVD. I did not have to hit F12, as my BIOS was already set up to prioritize the DVD drive. I got an XBOOT DVD menu with my categories listed. I tested several items on the menu: Puppy Linux, Parted Magic, FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD, Acronis True Image, and Windows 7 System Repair CD. I did not do any actual drive partitioning or imaging, so I cannot say for sure, but it certainly appeared that all of those programs were running successfully. As far as I could tell, the multiboot DVD produced by XBoot had given me a valid workaround for the problem in which the ThinkPad would not boot from a multiboot USB drive.