Booting DOS from a USB flash drive

I wanted to boot into DOS from a USB flash drive (lexar jumpdrive) to run a memory tester (I believe it needs to run in real mode, windows runs in protected mode, but not sure on that). There are several pages out there describing a procedure that, unfortunately for me, requires the presence of a floppy drive. I don't have a floppy drive :( I also don't happen to have a copy of Windows 98 or MSDOS lying around. And I really didn't want to have to install FreeDOS (or any version of DOS).

So, from my Windows XP machine, these are the steps I took to create a bootable USB flash drive.

  1. Download Virtual Floppy Drive. There is no installer. Extract it to a directory then double-click on "vfdwin.exe" to open the user interface (called VFD Control Panel).
  2. Create a virtual a: drive by doing the following:

    1. From the Driver tab leave the Start Type at "Manual".
    2. click Install (if it's not grayed out). This installs the vfd driver.
    3. click Start. This starts the driver.
    4. Switch to the Drive0 tab.
    5. Click "Change" to choose a drive letter then select A from the drop-down (if it's available). This is the drive letter windows will think is a floppy drive. Make sure Persistent/Global is checked.
    6. Click "Open" then browse to a directory.
    7. Type floppy.img then click OK. This is where the floppy image will be stored when you create it.
    8. Choose Media Type (I leave it at 3.5" 1.44MB but you may want to emulate a different sized floppy).
    9. Click "Create".

  3. Create a startup disk on the virtual floppy drive.

    1. Windows now thinks you have a floppy drive at a: (or whatever you selected).
    2. Using Windows Explorer (or my computer), right click the a: drive and choose Format.
    3. Make sure "Create an MS-DOS Startup Disk" is checked.
    4. Click Start.

  4. Copy whatever DOS utilities/.exe files you want onto the virtual floppy drive.

    1. You can do this with Windows Explorer (drag them onto the a: drive) or command prompt.
    2. Remember - you will only have 1.44MB to work with, so choose carefully.

  5. Save the virtual floppy drive image.

    1. Close any windows explorer or my computer windows that currently have the a: drive open. Same goes for command prompts.
    2. In the VFD Control Panel switch to tab Drive0 if it's not still there.
    3. Click "Save".
    4. Check "Overwrite an existing file" then click "Save".

  6. Download the HP Drive Key Boot Utility. It works for many brands of flash drive, not just HP drives.
  7. Plug in the USB flash drive.
  8. Install the HP Drive Key Boot Utility.
  9. Start the HP Drive Key Boot Utility.
  10. Choose the letter currently assigned to your USB flash drive. Click Next.
  11. Leave "Create New or Replace Existing Configuration" selected. Click Next.
  12. Choose "Floppy Disk". Click Next.
  13. Choose "Image from file" then browse to the file you saved in step 1.7 (e.g., floppy.img). Click Next.

You should now have a USB flash drive that you can boot from.

Plug the key into whatever machine you want to test. Boot the machine, go into its BIOS settings screen (usually by pressing DEL or F2 or F10 during boot), disable all boot devices except for the USB key. You may have to try USB-FDD, USB-ZIP or USB-HDD to get it to work. Save the changes then reboot. You should be greeted with an A: prompt!

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