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I'm looking around for a no-frills USB flash media copier that is brain-dead simple and copies a source to a destination, bit for bit, when the drives are approximately the same size.

Untrained people will be using it to copy drives that include both windows and linux data and bootable, multiple partitions.


  • brain dead simple, no training required
  • mostly bit-for-bit copy of a source USB flash drive to a destination USB flash drive including multiple paritions, hidden files, MBRs/bootable bits
  • reasonable handling of slight manufacturing variations among manufacturers of the same "size" drive. That is, a destination that is only 1.999Gb should still succeed if the partitions on the source drive are not full.
  • USB 2.0, reasonably fast, like 2Gb in 5-10 minutes
  • no menus or options to copy single files or directories or ability to turn those options off or have them hidden in an advanced tab

Nice to Have:

Ideally two usb slots, a copy button, and (optionally) a progress indicator. - Ideally, handheld form factor. Shuttle-PC sized might be ok. - Ideally, under US$300 or so.


  • Software based: Linux dd if=/dev/sdx of=/dev/sdy is simple but not brain-dead simple because it involves knowledge and trust to identify the partition names and requires root access to a PC. Windows drag and drop copy does not do bit for bit
  • Memorex and some no-names had a handheld usb1.1 device but it was too slow, had options for file names and directories that people could screw up.
  • A number of manufacturers make 1:many devices PC-based USB copiers that cost $500 or more and may or may not do bit-for-bit copy.

Does such a copier exist?

Looked around in google for a while. Maybe I want too much.

Does anyone know of a device that has met these or similar requirements?

Does anyone know of a Linux LiveCD product that can do this or can be nudged into doing this kind of function?

Thanks in advance


share|improve this question
dd does not technically require root permissions to function. You can setup your system so that any attached usb device notes are set to be writable by a non-privileged user. – Zoredache Feb 5 '10 at 8:18
up vote 1 down vote accepted

While its not exactly meant for this, specifically, the usb disk imager that ubuntu uses, least on windows, does this - you'll need to pick 'read' as opposed to write to back up, naturally, but its as simple and painless as it gets. Haven't tried the linux equivilent yet, so no idea about that

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I suppose for now this is the answer. On a related WTF, I forwarded the link to someone here who needed to copy a USB flash drive and they tried to read a 2Gb drive and then write to a 1Gb drive and figured out that doesn't work (really?).... So I guess I'll be writing my own 'brain dead simple' tool now which will have to do hand holding and obviously won't use bitwise copy unless the drives are the same size ... – Paul Feb 8 '10 at 9:55

You've partly answered your own question here.. I'd have to question some of your requirements. Why do you care if they have 'root', if you treat this box as an appliance? Run it as a kiosk, with a simple UI (text-based, even) that says:

  1. "Insert source USB stick"
    • It then autodetects this stick
  2. "Insert target USB stick(s), and press GO"
    • Once user presses GO, it copies.
    • If source stick is removed, goto step 1
  3. Go to step 2

Once you get it going, back it up, and just let it go. Use a cheap miniitx/shuttle/system you have laying around, as long as you have USB 2.0 you're good.

share|improve this answer
Thanks for your encouragement for me to create/build my own. Part of the reason for controlling what kind of device, keeping it simple, etc... is to avoid the complaints and complexities that otherwise probably (and needlessly) follow. I agree that if the box is a single-function appliance, access to root doesn't matter. However, if the box is multipurpose, e.g. a workstation or a server, then it does matter. The workflow you mention is the obvious one but there are of course devils lurking in the details and I thought it would be good to see if others have battled them already. – Paul Feb 5 '10 at 6:37
You can always create a default "kiosk mode" user that limits access to the rest of the system. And for $200, you can get an Acer AspireRevo net top to build this with. You can use any scripting technology like Perl/Python/etc. that supports GUI creation & xan call dd in the background. – Joe Internet Feb 5 '10 at 9:48

And why not use names with dd ? It's easy : dd if=/dev/disk/by-label/USBDISKPRO of=/dev/disk/by-label/BACKUP ?

It works on all modern linux distributions...

share|improve this answer
ls /dev/disk/by-label is actually kind of useful for locating the source drive. I wonder what happens if you have two disks with the same label (e.g. casper-rw). – Paul Feb 5 '10 at 10:32
Check if you have the UUID and use /dev/disk/by-uuid/ or /dev/disk/by-id/. You can maybe change the label of your partition to find it easilyer. – Dom Feb 5 '10 at 11:47

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