Tutorial How to build the Ultimate Bootable Custom USB Flash Drive with Multiple ISOs for Windows, Linux, Etc, and PortableApps for Windows Desktop.

Bunch of Flash Drives

If you’re like me at all you probably have more flash drives than you want to carry around, especially when they could all probably fit on one.  After my old 64GB flash drive took a dump I decided to purchase a new 64GB flash drive with USB 3.0 and compatibility for USB 2.0 and USB 1.1.  When I got the new flash drive I was determined to figure out a way to get rid of my bulky CD case and just carry this one drive around with me.  That means getting rid of all my Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows 8, Server 2003, Server 2008, Ubuntu 12.04, Linux Mint 13…I think you get the point.  The problem is there’s no real easy way to create a flash drive that can store all of these, and boot into any of your choosing, and still be functional under Windows when using it for troubleshooting or repairing workstations…until now.

Update (10/23/2013): Some users have reported that using USB 3.0 has caused issues when setting this up…for that reason I recommend using a flash drive that is USB 2.0 if you run into any issues.  I haven’t had a chance to look further into this, but once I have some free time (if ever) I will do some testing.

I spent a good couple days testing different software that could create “multiboot” flash/usb drives and ran into issues with almost all of them, but I was able to figure out a way to get what I needed without too much hassle.  I also took it a little bit further and customized my own boot screen and menu items.  I tested the following software:

All of those applications run on Windows besides MultiSystem which proved to only run correctly under Ubuntu (and not just any Debian flavor).

So, to start off and create the ultimate bootable USB drive you will need to download the Yumi Multiboot, Fat32 Formatter, and the MultiBoot USB (used to launch Qemu and test).  I found the Yumi Multiboot software was the best for installing the menus, ISO files, and for “general mangement” of the USB drive.  We will use the MultiBoot USB application to launch a Qemu instance and test the flash drive without having to reboot or use another computer.  The Fat32 Formatter is used to format the USB drive using a FAT32 parition instead of “exFat” or “NTFS”.   Unfortunately the only drawback to using Fat32 is the maximum file size of 4GB.  I only ran into a problem with this when I tried to use an ISO I made from a Dell Windows 7 with SP1 CD.  All my other CDs and ISO’s were 4GB or less so I just had to use a Dell Windows 7 ISO that didn’t have SP1 to stay under the 4GB limit.  If you try using exFat or NTFS you will run into problem, so don’t say i didn’t warn you.

Format USB/Flash Drive With Fat32

Fat32 Format GUI

Fat32 Format GUI

So to start of you will first need to run the Fat32 Formatter to format the USB flash drive with a Fat32 Partition. Fat32 is the most compatible with all OS and ISOs but again there is a 4GB file limit size.  You can decide on whatever Allocation Unit Size you want but 32768 or 65536 should be fine for a 64GB drive.  The smaller the allocation size the slower the read/write speed as it will have to seek for each allocation unit size.  Because a 64GB drive really only shows about 58-63GB of space I decided to use 32768.  If you get any errors such as “Failed to open device – close any files before formatting” you will need to make sure you run the application as Administrator, and close anything that may be accessing the drive.  Under Windows 8 I actually had to open Task Manager and kill explorer in order to run the format.  After that just go to File -> Run New Task, and just enter “explorer.exe” and explorer will reload.




Start Creating or Downloading ISOs to Use

ImgBurn Create ISO

ImgBurn Create ISO

The next step to start on would be getting all your ISOs and CDs ready to transfer to the flash drive.  As I mentioned earlier one of my main intentions of creating this drive was so I could get rid of my bulky CD case I seemed to be carrying everywhere.  Using a software such as ImgBurn (free) you can create ISO files directly from CDs.  HowToGeek has a good tutorial on how to this here.  I saved all of these to a folder on my desktop named ISOs for easy organization.

Next you will want to start downloading any other ISOs you will need.  You can either download them directly from the website or Yumi has a great feature which will automatically start the download for you for some of the Distributions they have listed.  Go ahead and launch Yumi and select your flash drive, you will see a list of Distributions and a checkbox on the right that says “Download the iso (optional)” , select any distribution you want to include and click that checkbox.  Yumi will automatically launch the download and you can repeat this process to download all the ISOs you will want to include.

Start Installing ISOs and Installers/Distributions

Yumi Select an Unlisted ISO

Yumi Select an Unlisted ISO

Now comes the fun part, to start putting everything together.  Load up Yumi and select your flash drive.  To get the drive started the first thing I installed is the ISO I created from a Dell Windows XP CD.  Scroll down to “Windows XP Installer” listed in step 2 under distributions.  Next click on Browse under step 3 and select the ISO you created for your Windows XP ISO.  After that click next and Yumi will begin to install the Windows XP Installer along with Grub4Dos.  Yumi will use a combination of Grub4Dos and Syslinux for this custom boot.  After Yumi has installed the Windows XP Installer you can move on to adding additional Windows Installers.  Next we’re going to add Windows 7 installer, select Yes to add more after the Windows XP is complete or just reload the Yumi application.  Scroll down and select “Try an Unlisted ISO”, DO NOT SELECT Windows Vista/7/8 Installer, again DO NOT SELECT Windows Vista/7/8 Installer.


Yumi Multiboot Install Windows

Yumi Multiboot Install Windows

If you choose that option instead of Try an Unlisted ISO, Yumi will install the Windows Vista/7/8 file to the root of the flash drive, and you DO NOT want that.  It will work just fine if you install it as an unlisted ISO.  So select Try an Unlisted ISO and then browse to your Windows ISO, then proceed with installation and you should see something similar to the image on the left.  As you can see Yum is installing Windows 7 to D:\multiboot\ISOS\WIN7_MSDN.iso, which is what we want instead of having Yumi install it to the root of the flash drive.   Continue to repeat this process for all the ISO files you want to install such as Windows and any other ISOs that are NOT listed in the Yumi list (Windows EXCLUDED).  ALWAYS INSTALL WINDOWS ISO BY SELECTING TRY AN UNLISTED ISO.


Test the Flash/USB Drive using Qemu

Multiboot USB Qemu

Multiboot USB Qemu

Now that you have all your ISOs installed that you want to use it’s time to fire up Qemu and test the drive out.  Once we have tested and made sure the drive is functional we will then proceed to customizing the boot menu descriptions, wording, and even background.  Load up the file I had to download from the beginning, Multiboot USB.  Select the “Qemu” tab, select the amount of RAM you want to use and then click “Boot USB”.  The screenshot has the text not looking correctly and that’s because under Windows 8 I set it to increase the size of everything so some applications that are not dynamic have issues like this, but that doesn’t have anything to do with functionality, it still works fine.  After you click Boot USB another window should open which will be a Qemu session that will attempt to boot the flash drive.  You should then see a screen with the Yumi background and a heading saying “Your Universal MultiBoot Installer”.  If you hit enter on “Directly Bootable ISOs or Windows XP” it should bring you to the Grub4Dos screen where you should see 3 options for Windows XP and then an option for each of the Windows ISOs and any other ISOs we added using “Try Unlisted ISO” … don’t worry about the wording we will customize that next.   Play around with it and make sure everything works, if you have problems try booting the flash drive on another computer to make sure it isn’t Qemu that is causing the problem.  Remember how to run Qemu like this as you will be using it frequently when changing around the wording and backgrounds.


Customizing Background

New Yumi Background

New Yumi Background

After testing our USB drive we are now ready to customize it to our preferences.  As you can see in the image on the left I found a background online by just searching under Google Images for “Windows Linux”.  If you find a background you want to use you will need to use Photoshop or some other software to resize the image.  The background MUST be 640×480, again the image MUST be 640×480.  To change the main background image you just need to replace the D:\multiboot\yumi.png file with your own background. That is assuming the D drive is your flash drive.  As you can see to the left I customized my background to have a Tux fly swatting a “Windows Bug” … possibilities are endless and i’m still trying to figure out a way to have this randomize a group of images.


Customizing Menus

Yumi syslinux.cfg

Yumi syslinux.cfg

If you want to customize the menu that is pretty easy to do as well.  There are two menus, one for the main syslinux menu and one for the grub4dos menu.

The main menu (the first one you see) will be located at
and will look like the image on the right.



Grub4Dos menu.lst

Grub4Dos menu.lst

The second menu for grub4dos, where you can customize all the Windows and Unlisted ISOs will be located at
and will look like the image below.

It should be pretty self explanatory, just modify the wording as you would like, save the file and voila!




Adding PortableApps to Flash/USB Drive

PortableApps Start Menu

PortableApps Start Menu

Next step is to add PortableApps to the flash drive.  This is what I use when i’m not booting directly to the flash drive, and it gives you a “sort-of” start menu style interface for the flash drive.  You can then install all kinds of portable apps from their repository, or even add your own.  These apps will then be accessible from this “start menu” … this is where I normally add things such as virus scanners, malware scanners, networking tools, common software installers, etc.  PortableApps even creates a “Documents” folder like you would have under Windows where you can store pretty much anything.  By far the best usb app manager out there.

You can download PortableApps here:


When you go to install PortableApps you should install it on the ROOT of your drive.  It will create two folders, “Documents” and “PortableApps”.  It will also create two files in the root, “Autorun.inf” and “Start.exe”.  The autorun.inf file specifies what file to run when the flash drive is plugged in, as well as the title of the flash drive.  Start.exe is the file that will run the PortableApps start menu.

Once you have this installed you have created the ultimate USB flash drive.  Congrats.


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  • steve6375

    Adding an ISO using ‘Other’ does not work because you will get this error. Only one Windows install ISO can be added.

  • Silas

    Hi, am having problems with YUMI 2.0.2: ” I manage to load different OS in my 16GB
    USB stick, now I can only boot to the last one, meaning if I loaded for
    1. Win 7 Ultimate
    2. Win 7 Pro
    3. Win 8
    4. Win 10
    I select for instance Win 7 Pro, the installation fails with the
    message “A required CD/DVD driver device driver is missing …”, but
    choosing the last one in the list (Win 10) in this case, the
    installation is successful

    • steve6375

      Windows uses sourcesinstall.wm as the image file. There can only be one of these on the USB drive. So whatever install.wim is present as sourcesinstall.wim will be used by Windows Setup. YUMI cannot cope with more than one Windows Vista7810 install. Use Easy2Boot instead – it can cope with hundreds of Windows Installer ISOs – just copy them on!

  • Silas

    Hi, am having problems with: ” I manage to load different OS in my 16GB USB stick, now I can only boot to the last one, meaning if I loaded for instance:
    1. Win 7 Ultimate
    2. Win 7 Pro
    3. Win 8
    4. Win 10
    When I select for instance Win 7 Pro, the installation fails with the message “A required CD/DVD driver device driver is missing …”, but choosing the last one in the list (Win 10) in this case, the installation is successful

  • bdone

    yeah images are the way to go. you can put acronis on the sardu bootable along with hirens, break win 7 or ANY other images of systems with acronis down to 700mb pieces to all fit on fat32, all on one jumpdrive. #nasty

  • Micaiah

    Plug your usb into a USB 2.0 drive. Then try

  • James Wilson

    Fucking awesome walkthrough man, exactly what I needed.

  • Ktululz

    No problems with a Kingston Datatraveler G4 8Gb, hope it helps.

  • Thank you for this article, I was struggling with the same tools. Your recommendations helped me a lot.

  • Bogdan Gheorghe

    Hey guys, any chance to get different versions of Vista-based Windows(Vista/7/8/10 etc.) on same USB with YUMI? I kept trying to get this done for quite some time now but I can’t make it work. Is this even possible

    • Micaiah

      Not really. I found that I could never get them to coexist

  • ely ma

    Cant seem to find a solution for “A required CD/DVD driver device driver is missing. If you have a driver
    floppy disk, CD, DVD, or USB flash drive, please insert it now.” I did all of the solutions and fixes provided, but still got this problem… =(

  • artlover20112 .

    Hey Awesome Article BTW.I Know This Is A Little Weird Question But Can You Explain More About
    How Usb 2 Has A Better Compatibility Than Usb 3?
    Is This Could Be My Problem? Because After I Put My All Isos Windows 7 Couldn’t Read Any HDD

  • 514p4h03

    I had to take the ten minutes dealing with forgotten passwords and
    another ten just to post this, because I know exactly where everyone is
    at trying to duplicate this seemingly impossible task due to all the
    different hardware varieties out there. Guys, Thankfully We Do Not Have
    To Go This Route or Any Other Time Consuming Route To Achieve This Goal
    Anymore. Type “easy2boot” in google. Finally, someone (my apologies for
    not giving credit where it is due) has figured this mess out. Grub4dos
    is capable of booting 99.9% of all bootable images. Yup, iso’s, img’s,
    wtf’s, it doesn’t matter. If the image is bootable grub4dos will boot
    it. No extracting shit, no bs around with menus, put a background picture
    if you want. Bottom line I have loaded my 64gb pen drive with every
    single distro I have, half of which never worked properly with these
    time consuming methods, no offense bro. Win 7, Win 8, Win XP, Win 98,
    Slax, Fedora, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Hell I even boot Hiren’s boot DVD from the
    iso only and then boot into linux or windows on the Hiren’s submenus. It
    does not matter, chainload images until the wheels fall off. Copy them
    and throw the middle finger, thats it. The cheat involves grub4dos
    creating a 4th partition (which should not exist on your thumb drive), a
    sort of phantom ghost partition to properly comb a bootable image, or
    some sht like that. Im sorry I didn’t stumble on this to help you guys
    sooner, I know your pain. Oh and format the drive ntfs, thats what I
    did, and I copied iso’s over 4 gig. It doesn’t fn matter people! haha,
    no more of this crazy bs just to get an iso booted, or have what you
    want without hassle and unreliability. A functional multiboot usb without saying your abc’s backwards, while jumping up and down, oh and dont forget rubber baby bumpy bunkers
    same time while rubbing stomach in circles, Oh God Why!?! Yeah, Fck all
    that sht!! You all know what I’m sayin. Have fun!

    • Dinamon

      Thank you bro!

  • What is your setting in the BIOS for hard drive mode? If it’s AHCI try using ATA, or RAID and see if that helps. See the link in my comment above, there’s some reports of issues with the Windows installer AHCI driver which may be the cause …

  • Unfortunately no I haven’t as I load most everything through images or over network, BUT I think the solution to this is changing the settings in the bios for hard drive mode. There should be some options like AHCI, IDE, RAID, and maybe one or two others. Try changing that to a different option to see if it works.

    There’s also some other troubleshooting tips here:

  • Jonf

    I tried grub with this updated yumi installer. I’m getting errors on every windows image I’ve done this way, specifically, it prompts me for CD/DVD drivers before installation for all windows 7 and vista versions. This isn’t caused by the USB 3.0 problem listed in many forums either, because the same problem happens when switching to all other USB 2.0 ports. These images do work with the windows vista/7/8 installer..

    • I did find myself having this same issue you refer to…haven’t had much time to look into it but I can confirm this is a problem.

  • bdone

    i don’t understand how i can get a windows 7 aio cd that’s over 4 gigs on a jump disk. i made the drive ntfs and it worked, but a lot of computers wont see a jump drive that’s ntfs formatted in bios for boot. so it needs to be fat32 but all the win 7 aio images are bigger than 4 gig. is there a way to shrink this image by taking out “starter and basic” etc. (the ones i won’t use?)

    • Not that I currently know of, but you may want to check mydigitallife.info forums i’m sure you can find more details on there. And yeah that is a problem but as of right now FAT32 is the most widely supported so unfortunately that’s the best option (for now).

      • bdone

        ok 2 years later, i have a solid response to my own question. figured i would put it on here. i put sardu on a jump drive. the drive is formatted fat32 for compatibility with all systems, but that means that no files bigger than 4 gigs right? wrong. first, load the sardu onto the drive, then get hirens loaded into the sardu menu. add linux or whatever, but hirens is the main one. DON’T worry about “windows” yet. once that drive is made, it should boot and be fully functional (you have to use fat32 to get some msdos and even miniwinxp and miniwin7 features to work). still my question was how to get a windows 7 image on the drive without it going over 4gb. the answer i came up with, and you might have licensing issues with this but i didn’t, is to use the “extras” menu, which adds custom menus in sardu to add the acronis true image 2016 full bootable with universal boot. with this i made a computer with win 7, all programs, files, perfect image, then use acronis to make an image. it might be 50gb, but in the options, right before you start making the image, you should see where you can set max size for each image file. so i set to 700 mb which makes a bunch of pieces instead of just one file. when finished, i move that folder full of the image, to the jumpdrive. Gonna need a huge drive but it’s worth it! So then i have a sardu multibootable drive, with fully working hirens (needed fat32 format), still have win7 image, but this way, when it’s loaded, there is virtually NO SETUP required. it’s even already activated from when you made the first image. *awesome if you have volume license, needs be changed if you don’t*
        I might end up making a tutorial youtube video showing how to do it, but when it’s all said and done, i can make an image of the sardu jumpdrive and copy them like a pez dispenser. if you have the room (like you use a harddrive instead of jumpdrive) you can store images for ANY & ALL SYSTEMS you need. This is what I have done with a 1tb solidstate external. one size fits all is super powerful. solves any problem i come across at work. thanks for reading.


        • bdone

          also to add: my disk is as follows: root> sardu menu and default files, all default hirens boot cd files, folder with exe files, folder with isos, driver pack solution windows executable (16gb by itself) then inside iso folder is acronis 2016 true image and universal boot, and 1 image of an xp system, win server 08 system, win 7 pro x86 and x64 system. after the image is installed on a system from acronis, you need to check achi/ide/raid setting in bios, and if still wont boot, run universal boot, then it should come up. then use driverpack solution (latest) to fill all the driver holes. then you should be fully up and running. rarely have i had to go find another driver on the manufacturers website and if i do, i will put that installable into the exe folder on my sardu disk, previously mentioned. this disk truly is the nastiest hack disk ive ever created and requires zero writing code or programming on my part. it may be one the most customized bootable, multi-faceted disks ever created. steve jobs and bill gates would probably want me to make them one, if they ever knew about it. 😉

  • ‘Unlisted ISO’ now has ‘syslinux, grub, and grub via RAM’ options. Which should be picked for a windows installer ISO? Thanks.

  • Jon

    I have a question. I have been trying to create one end all be all multiboot USB to replace my dozen or so Windows install CD’s. I like Yumi the best but here’s my problem. If I load one XP iso into it and nothing else it creates a nice Windows XP usb installer with the 3 step install process. However if I load any other “unsupported ISOs” or especially if I load more than one XP ISO I don’t get the nice list of ISOs when I choose “Directly bootable ISOs” instead I get a grub command prompt. Ideally I would like to be able to load multiple XP ISOs as well as all my other bootable discs too. I have XP Home OEM, XP Pro OEM, XP Home Dell, XP Pro Dell, Vista AIO x86, Vista AIO x64, Win 7 AIO 32/64, Win 8 64 OEM, all the MSDART discs, bootable antivirus discs, etc, etc.

    • As you mentioned in your email, it sounds like this issue is due to USB 3.0.

      From my understanding, USB 2.0 works fine, it’s only when you use the flash drive that’s USB 3.0 that causes the problems.

  • Kevin

    hi and thanks for this , a few questions from a NB

    1sly what is the specfic advantage in using fat32 formatter over using the option to format drive from within YUMI

    Second what editor are you using for the sconfig files? when I open using notepad the liens are not numbered an run into eachother

    also you say you compared all the bootloaders , why did YUMI win out

    • Anonymoose

      Can’t speak for him, but he appears to be using Sublime Text 2, great program and it solves those problems you mentioned.

      Fat32 is used by Windows, so it’s probably a good idea to have Windows format something to Fat32.

      YUMI does have great support. It recognizes a wide range of LiveCD’s for proper installation and can properly handle ones it doesn’t recognize, unlike programs such as XBoot or Sardu.

      • ^ all correct statements 🙂

    • Use the fat32 formatter because that is the most recognized filesystem and it will work on a lot more systems.

      Editor is sublime text 2, if you’re not sure what it is take the time and check it out, it’s one of the most amazing editors I have ever used. There’s a great tutorial on nettuts regarding sublime text, you will wonder why you ever used anything else.

      YUMI won out because it worked the most for me, had problems on all the other ones i tried and YUMI was the most reliable one to use without manually doing everything