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Creating a bootable USB drive: another comparison article

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Thomas Zucker-Scharff
Veteran in computer systems, malware removal and ransomware topics.  I have been working in the field since 1985.
I previously wrote an article addressing the use of UBCD4WIN and SARDU. All are great, but I have always been an advocate of SARDU. Recently it was suggested that I go back and take a look at Easy2Boot in comparison.
There are many ways to create a bootable/multiboot USB device. A multiboot device allows you to choose which image you wish to boot from for each occasion. In this way one device can serve innumerable purposes.

As USB thumbdrives get larger and less expensive, it only makes sense to use one for more and more tasks. Currently I have a 128gb USB3.0 thumbdrive that serves many purposes. Up until now I have used SARDU (article on an earlier version of SARDU) to create my multi boot devices. I may continue to do so, or I may not; that is one of the reasons why I started writing this article -- to help me decide and in the process to help anyone else as well.

There are several reasons I started looking into Easy2Boot as an alternative to SARDU. The first was a comment in an early question here (I contributed a rather long list in this question - just a warning); the second was a summary of a question here. I decided after that last question that Easy2Boot needed further analysis.

You may have many ISO (CD/DVD images) already. If you do, you may have a way in which you name them in order to make the differences clear to you. For instance, if you have an image of the a Windows installer for Windows 7 that is for 64 bit machines and has a volume license key, you may name it something like Windows_7_64bit_install_vl.iso. Or if you use a USB multiboot tool already that expects certain names (like SARDU), the same ISO may be named something like InstallWin7_x64_vl.iso (SARDU requires the installer ISO for Windows 7 be named Installwin*.iso where the * can be anything. So installwin7_x64_vl.iso could also be installwin7_x32_vl.iso; the menu option in SARDU would differentiate the two.

This is all to say that I have hundreds of ISOs with sometimes strange names. SARDU takes care of that automatically, Easy2boot, by default, uses whatever strange name the ISO has as the menu name. So if you have an antivirus ISO named rescue-cd-3.16.ISO, the Menu name will be rescue-cd-3.16 (if you haven't enabled extensions in the menu "Show extensions" -- I did this by mistake at first and the name was rescue-cd-3.16.ISO), even though it is in reality the F-Secure rescue disk image. This is the default and can be changed, but like everything else, you need to teach yourself how to do this.

Unfortunately, this means either changing the menu display options, using the menu text creator or changing the names of the ISO images themselves. I opted to use the menu text creator to change some of the names of the images that resided on the stick, not the originals. The create menu items works well, although not graphically oriented. I just dragged the ISO/payload file over the \_ISO\docs\E2B Utilities\E2B TXT Maker.cmd file and it asked to create a menu item and help item. Then when it creates the menu it uses the text file it created instead of the file name.

The menu editor, \_ISO\E2B_Editor.exe, is not quite as good. I have tried it several times already and each time it has problems and the interface is somewhat confusing. I will definitely need to read more on the Easy2Boot blog.

The menu editor can be made to work, but I still think it is a work in progress.

Personally, I think they both need better GUI Menus, but since they work and are basically intuitive, I'll leave that item for now. But in case you are interested, the default Easy2Boot and SARDU menus, when booted from a USB device, look similar to these screenshots:

001---mainmenu.PNGSARDU_3_MenuAvvio.pngThis is the Easy2Boot menu after I used the menu editor to change the background, and font colors:

easy2boot2--Time-0_02_11-02----50per.jpgI really like the interface that SARDU version 3 has. It is clean and very easy to use and understand. On the other hand, it is limiting in terms of how many Windows installs you can have and which programs you can have. It is also not as easy to add extra menu items as in Easy2Boot. Easy2Boot is much easier when it comes to adding new ISOs and there doesn't seem to be a limit on the number of Windows installers. Although I am used to the SARDU configuration and its quirks, I could get used to Easy2BootEasy2Boot as well.

The downsides I have already mentioned make me want to stay with SARDU, not to mention the fact that I invested in it financially by buying the pro version. Easy2Boot makes it easier to add new items and items of your own as well as changing the menu, the menu background and doing multiple installs. I do like SARDU's GUI interface when creating the bootable device, as well as how easy it makes it to download all the necessary ISOs.

The biggest con to Easy2Boot may be its biggest pro as well. I hate the fact that I have to create a text file for every ISO/payload file in order for the menu to look any good. At the same time Easy2boot makes it so easy to create these files and lets you put help information in them as well (such as whether they will appear for only 32 bit, 64 bit or both architectures, or just to ask everytime). You can see in the above customized menu that I created text items for each ISO and the menu looks much cleaner. The other selling point for Easy2Boot is the way in which you can add new ISOs and even new folders. It is as easy as drag and drop and rebuilding the menu. 

I have currently filled all but 30gb of a 128gb (115gb usable) thumbdrive. I copied most of the ISOs I use on my SARDU created drive and some others.

What I am not sure of is why the menu needs to be recreated each time you reboot, and why it doesn't seem to recognize my Solid State drive.

easy2boot2--Time-0_01_29-22-.jpgI believe in the future I will use both SARDU and Easy2Boot, the former to download the ISOs and the latter to put them together on a USB bootable device. It has become apparent to me that Easy2Boot is truly easier to use and modify. I was never one to do something just because it was harder to do in a certain way, rather the opposite.

If you choose to use Easy2Boot, be careful downloading it. Like many websites these days there are big download buttons that really download adware, or are Google ads. You can watch this 4.5 minute video if you are unsure. The video only covers the very basic usage of Easy2Boot and skips over some things. I would be happy to assist anyone if they have difficulties.
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Expert Comment

by:Steve Si
Hi Thomas
Glad you like E2B. The QEMU internal hard disk (hd1) warning is because the virtual machine that is run by QEMU has no internal hard disk assigned to it. I normally test using VBox+VMUB to boot directly from the USB drive (much faster than QEMU and can UEFI-boot too!).
The E2B menu is created each time because otherwise it would not know if you have added or deleted ISOs from the drive. You can enable the FASTLOAD feature which caches the Main menu - then it does not need to enumerate all the files in the MAINMENU folder on each boot and so will boot quicker - but you will need to press F8 to refresh the cache if you add or delete any ISOs.
I would be interested to hear what problems you had with the Editor if you think it can be improved...
Cheers
Steve (author or E2B and RMPrepUSB).
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Author Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
I will be glad to write you a more detailed response on Tuesday. For now,  just know that the tool was excellent.  The menu editor was good,  the most glaring problem,  and probably the easiest to fix,  was that it doesn't chippy the wallpaper to the stick when you change the background.

I thought that when I ran the tool that creates the menu, it checked for new items. Enumerating the ISOsame each time was annoying,  no more.
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Expert Comment

by:Steve Si
Thanks for the reply. I have tweaked the Editor a bit now. It does not copy the bmp file because it assumes the bitmap file is already on the USB drive (it can be in any folder and any name). The new version now warns you if the path of the bmp file does not start with "\_ISO".
http://rmprepusb.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/e2beditor-v1082-available.html
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Author Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
Great. I didn't realize you were on EE or I would have linked to your profile.  I cam exit the article to do that if it is okay with you.
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Expert Comment

by:Steve Si
P.S. To download ISOs, go to the E2B 'List of tested ISOs' page and search for the one you want. Usually I include a link to the relevant site.
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Author Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
That is a good page.  I like the fact that the ISO doesn't have to have a specific name.  On the other hand,  I do like the fact that I can readily download from within the SARDU app. There is a definite benefit to having the links on a webpage, much easier to keep up to date.

I am trying to look at this from an end user's/non-tech perspective. From that perspective,  a lot of the information on your website may be too confusing.
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Expert Comment

by:Steve Si
Most linux ISOs are no problem - they just work!
Windows Installer ISOs too (though if you are using a USB HDD you will need to convert them using the MPI Tool Pack).
There is a learning curve...
It's the other types of ISOs or OS's that require special attention.
E2B allows you to boot via UEFI (linux, Windows and non-OS based files) which not many other solutions (if any?) can do.
When you have time (perhaps after you have experimented for a while) I am happy to hear any ideas on how to improve the site or E2B itself and make things clearer (I am too close to the wood to see the trees and I am no web developer either as you can probably tell!).
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Author Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
I will continue to play and get back to you.  Thanks for the clarification about ISOs. I am not a Web developer,  but my son has done web development. I believe he would suggest WordPress for your site.
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Author Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
Steve,

Does one need to make exe files part of a batch file in order to use them?  Is there some other way to use them?  I normally install single files into something like UBCD4Win, but it would be nice if I didn't have to.
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Expert Comment

by:Steve Si
Sorry, dont understand your scenario??
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Author Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
I would like to include exe files in the E2B disk.  But, currently E2B does not recognize the exe extension, even if the exe is a bootable image. I would also like to include some utilities like combofix,exe.  The error message I get is that the extension "exe" is not recognized as a batch file.  Do I need to put the executable as part of a batch file, or use one of the extensions you suggest like imgptn by using the MPI Tool kit?  For instance, I have several printer drivers I would like to have as installs, I made a Printer drivers Installations directory and put the images in there.  One of the ones I would like to use is an exe from Xerox.  When I launch that I get

File extension = .exe
 cannot find batch label specified - .exe

Press any key to continue...
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Expert Comment

by:Steve Si
The .exe files you are talking about are Windows executables and written to work under the Windows operating system. E2B uses grub4dos (not Windows). It is like trying to run a linux program on DOS - that dog don't hunt!
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Expert Comment

by:Steve Si
If the exe contains a bootable image, you can try unzipping it to see what is inside. Sometimes it will work if you use MPI_FAT32 to convert it to a .imgPTN file but it really depends on what is inside it (oftem there is an ISO or IMG file???). EXE files are not normally bootable, they need to be connverted into bootable media somehow...?
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by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
I will continue to run them in a windows environment then (UBCD4Win or something similar).  My understanding of Linux is not great, as you may already have ascertained.  I was hired by a NIX person 20+ years ago who sat me down in front of a sparcstation 20/60, gave me the root login credentials and told me to figure it out.  Needless to say, it was  a steep learning curve, and I hold those who are conversant in 'NIX flavors in high regard.
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