Free Software to Create Bootable and Multi-Boot USB drives

Create a bootable USB drive from bootable ISO files

Free Software to Create Bootable and Multi-Boot USB drives

With more and more computers being sold without a DVD drive, if you find yourself needing to boot from a separate device, for example to run a rescue disk, or a new operating system installation disk, or some other such thing, it is more convenient to have that bootable media in the form of a USB drive, since you can just plug it directly into the system.

The free and/or open source programs listed on this page can create bootable USB flash/thumb drives from ISO files and possibly also directly from a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drive. They are useful for operating system (eg, Windows or Linux) installation media, the rescue media provided by some software, such as hard disk backup software, antivirus programs, data recovery programs, and other system tools.

In addition, some of the software listed below also let you create a multi-boot USB drive, meaning that you can store multiple ISO files on the same USB stick, and choose which to boot from when starting up. This saves you the trouble (and expense) of having to juggle multiple thumb drives.

Before you get too excited about this possibility, note that the resulting multiboot facility is implemented in software by modifying the boot process of the operating system on the ISO, and is thus potentially fraught with more problems than actually using separate USB drives for each ISO. Another method, probably a more reliable one, is to use a hardware solution, such as a specialized hard disk or SSD enclosure that can present itself to the booting system as an actual CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drive when you choose to boot from an ISO file saved on the disk. This avoids having to modify the boot process on the ISO, since it will appear like a real CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drive to the system.

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Free Software to Create Bootable and Multi-Boot USB drives

Rufus (Windows)

Rufus is an open source utility to create bootable USB flash/thumb drives (and also bootable external USB hard drives, if you specifically enable it in its Advanced options). Such drives are useful if you need to install a new operating system (like Windows or Linux), flash your BIOS or firmware from DOS, or run a low-level utility (like partition editors, hard disk imaging utilities, disk wiping tools, diagnostic tools, etc). It can make a bootable USB drive from the installation ISO of various operating systems, such as Windows (7, 8, 8.1, 10, etc), Linux, FreeDOS/MSDOS, and others. The resulting drives can be BIOS or UEFI bootable drives (including UEFI bootable NTFS ones). They can also be formatted with the FAT, FAT32, exFAT, NTFS, UDF, ReFS, ext2 or ext3 file system.

Ventoy (Windows, Linux)

Ventoy creates a multi-boot USB drive where you can have multiple bootable ISOs, WIMs, IMGs, VHDs, EFIs on the same drive. On boot, you are presented with a menu from which you can choose which image you want to boot from. It supports both BIOS and UEFI systems, as well as MBR and GPT partitions. It is compatible with a large number of installation and bootable ISOs, including Windows (10, 8.1, 8, 7, Server 2019, PE, etc), Linux (Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS, SUSE, RHEL, etc), a variety of rescue disks, and so on. This is open source software.

YUMI - Multiboot USB Creator (Windows, WINE on Linux/macOS)

YUMI can be used to create a bootable USB drive containing multiple bootable ISO files. On boot, you will be presented with a menu from which you can choose the specific image you want to run. It supports the installation media for some Linux distributions, the rescue disks of some antivirus software, and some Linux LiveCDs.

AIO Boot (Windows)

AIO Boot (short for All-in-One bootable software) creates a multiboot USB drive containing multiple operating systems (Windows and Linux) on a single drive. It apparently also works for (internal?) hard disk drives and SDcards. Both UEFI and BIOS systems are supported.

UNetbootin (Windows, macOS, Linux)

UNetbootin is an open source tool that lets you create bootable USB drives for a variety of Linux distribtuions from their installation ISO files. It can also create bootable "Live USB" drives from various Linux LiveCDs. The tool can either use an ISO that you have already saved on your system, or if you prefer, directly download the ISO itself.

Microsoft's Windows 10 Media Creation Tool (Windows)

Microsoft's Windows 10 media creation tool can be used to create a bootable USB drive containing the current release version of the Windows 10 installation media. It can also download a Windows 10 ISO.

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