Are there any bootloaders designed for usb drives that make it easy to boot multiple distributions and utilities.

I've installed sysrescuecd, supergrub, ultimate boot cd and other various linux distros on my usb drive. The lame thing is all their installation instructions make it the only thing that boots from your drive, and usb drives can store alot more than one utility.

So I was wondering if anybody has made and easy application to setup a multiboot environment on a usb drive.


  • Are you using a separate partition for each distro?
    – CyberFonic
    Commented May 29, 2009 at 23:56

6 Answers 6


I like using grub for my multiboot USB devices. grub4dos was not reliable enough in my tests. Isolinux/syslinux work fine but aren't as flexible as grub.

It's pretty simple to extend the menu.lst/grub.cfg either statically as well as on-demand (thanks to tab completion in the grub shell :)). grml2usb of grml.org should give you an idea how to get a working multiboot USB setup.

Tip: grub2 brings a nice feature known as 'loopback'. Using the loopback module/option it's possible to directly boot an (iso9660) ISO without having to manually extract kernel/initrd/.... from it. The following snippet is a configuration example for the grml Linux Live system:

menuentry "grml-rescue system - ISO = grml-small_2009.05.iso" {
  loopback loop (hd0,1)/grml/grml-small_2009.05.iso
  linux    (loop)/boot/grmlsmall/linux26 findiso=/grml/grml-small_2009.05.iso boot=live quiet vga=791 noeject noprompt
  initrd   (loop)/boot/grmlsmall/initrd.gz

Partitions - if you can live with the slack space lost.

  • Partition 1 - distro that updates the mbr grub, install grub into mbr. Chainload all other partitions/distros

  • Partition 2 - distro 2 - grub loaded into boot sector of partition 2

  • Partition 3 - distro 3 - grub loaded into boot sector of partition 3

  • Partition 4 - extended partition

  • Partition 5 - shared data partition

  • Partition 6 - distro 4 - grub loaded into boot sector of partition 6

  • As many more partitions/distros as needed

Each distro can be installed using unetbootin or the distro's standard install procedures as long as you remember to always load grub into the partition rather than MBR at that point in each distro's standard installation. If you want you can load partition/distro 1 into the partition and load a "master" grub/syslinus/lilo, etc. to chainload the other partitions. I find it easier to just have distro 1 be the "master" (load grub into mbr) and have all other distro's be chainloaded.



I've used Grub4Dos to make a working multiboot USB drive customizable with many different bootable installers and utilities, but it was far from easy. I've looked around a good bit and I'm fairly certain there is no app that does all the MBR setup and bootloader config work for you.

Here's one guide if you're interested in doing it the manual way: http://informationinsecurity.com/?p=94


maybe "unetbootin dot sf dot net" or one of the links mentioned ther ("gujin dot sourceforge dot net") will get you started.


The easiest way I've done this is to use the Slax creator (wont let me post a link, sorry) to create your bootable USB key (with slax installed), then modify the resulting bootloader config files and load your own images/utilities. It is fairly straightforward to make a BartPE/SLAX combo usb key this way.


Windows Vista and 7 contain all the utilities you need to create a bootable USB drive.


list disk

select disk 1


create partition primary

select partition 1


format fs=NTFS



bootsect /nt60 g:

Replace the number 1 and q: with the appropriate drive.

  • It's a bad idea to format USB drive as NTFS or as any other journaling filesystem. Commented Jul 8, 2009 at 9:34

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