Installing from a USB flash drive has become fashionable. I haven’t used a disc for any installation for a long time now. I didn’t even buy an optical drive for the last PC I built, now three years previous. That’s not to say discs are dead, but USBs are versatile, easily transported, and easily shared, as well as now coming with massive storage.
Installing a new operating system from USB is a quick, usually painless operation. However, why limit your USB to a single operating system? There are now several excellent multiboot USB tools you can use to turn your humble USB into a pocket-sized operating system repository. The only thing that’ll hold you back is the size of the stick.
I’ve got five tools for you to run your eyes over, so let’s press on.
Note: Some of these tools require Microsoft .NET Framework, which you can download here.
Supports: Linux (Pre-loaded), Windows (Add manually).
YUMI is an extremely well known multiboot USB tool. You can use YUMI to install a wide-range of Linux, antivirus software, system tools, boot CDs, and Windows installation packages to a single USB. Once you load YUMI, the tool will ask you to Select a distribution to put onto [your drive letter]. Scroll through the drop down menu until you find the distribution you’re looking for.
YUMI has integrated download functions for a number of Linux distros. When you select a distro with this function, a download box will appear alongside the distribution selection drop-down menu. Downloads for Linux distros and rescue kits (such as Trinity Rescue Kit) can automatically launch. However, Windows ISOs must be manually downloaded and selected.
Supports: Linux (Free), Windows (Pro only).
SARDU is another well known, well used multiboot USB tool. It comes with a flashier interface, but also applies restrictions to exactly what you can add to your USB. This is due to SARDU offering a free version for personal use, and a Pro version. The Pro version grants you access to Windows installers, while everything Linux is available in the free version.
The SARDU interface is more accessible than YUMI’s single drop-down menu. You’ll find individual tabs for anti-virus, utility, Linux, and Windows, as well as a Pro-only “Extra” tab. Selecting your operating systems is extremely easy. When you check a box, the option to download appears.
Note that SARDU will also write to a CD, unlike its direct competitors.
Supports: Linux, various recovery and antivirus tools, QEMU.
XBOOT is a slightly older multiboot tool. As such, it doesn’t come with the range of identified ISOs found in YUMI or SARDU. However, it does feature QEMU, an open source operating system emulator. You can use QEMU to emulate an operating system on your USB. When you create your USB, XBOOT will offer to test the finished result using QEMU. For this reason, XBOOT is still a handy tool.
XBOOT has a handy feature in the Edit Multiboot USB tab. This tab allows you to edit the menu list of a grub4dos or Syslinux configuration file, meaning you can arrange the menu to your liking. You can also reinstall bootloaders if you are having trouble with your multiboot USB.
Supports: Windows, Linux, Antivirus, recovery disks.
WinSetupFromUSB is a multiboot USB tool that focuses on Windows installers. You can add multiple sets of Windows installation files including XP, 2000, 2003, Server 2008, and Server 2012. As well as Windows installers, you can add Linux distros, antivirus packages, and recovery disks. So long as the ISO image is grub4dos compatible, you should be able to add it to your multiboot USB.
Unfortunately, WinSetupFromUSB doesn’t feature a download tool. However, it really isn’t difficult to locate ISOs online. Conversely, WinSetupFromUSB features some advanced tools that other tools simply don’t have. For instance, FBinst Tool will reformat your USB to work with any BIOS by creating a special disk layout. This is particularly useful for old, out-of-date systems.
Supports: Windows, Linux, Antivirus, and various other tools. All ISOs must be added manually.
We round our list off with relative newcomer, Easy2Boot. Easy2Boot is a side-project for the developers of RMPrepUSB. It doesn’t feature a flashy user interface and it does require some learning — but not much! However, Easy2Boot is an excellent multiboot USB tool once up and running. Instead of having to load additional configuration files and bootloaders for individual ISOs, Easy2Boot allows you to drag and drop right onto the USB.
A Short Easy2Boot Tutorial
Follow this link and download the latest version of Easy2Boot. It can be a little confusing as there a several versions. I’m using the “basic” version: Easy2Boot v1.88. Once downloaded, unzip the folder.
Locate MAKE_E2B_USB_DRIVE (run as admin). Right-click the command script and select Run as Administrator. Now follow the instructions. Make sure you read each question before entering an answer.
Once the E2B configuration file is complete, use your Explorer window to select the USB. Open the _ISO folder. Note the folder names: ANTIVIRUS, LINUX, WINDOWS, and so on. This is where you will copy your ISOs to. When a folder containing an ISO file is added to its respective folder, an option will automatically be added to the E2B configuration file and boot menu.
Please note that Windows files must be in their corresponding folder, or else they’ll simply fail to work. For instance, a Windows 7 ISO must be placed in the Windows 7 folder, and so on. If you’d like more information, browse to and peruse ReadMe_where_to_put_files.txt.
Go Forth and Multiboot
You’ve now read through five multiboot USB options. Each multiboot USB tool has slightly different options, and can offer a slightly different set of tools.
If you just want to create the USB and be done with it, YUMI is your best choice. It is straightforward, fast, and has little in the way of customization. Conversely, if you need customizable options, I would suggest WinSetupFromUSB or Easy2Boot, depending on your requirements.