Thursday, 8 June 2017

Old PC won't boot from E2B USB drive (flashing cursor)

To ensure that your E2B USB flash drive will boot from as many systems as possible, it should have the following characteristics:

  1. Have the boot partition marked as Active (bootable)
  2. Have grub4dos boot code in both the first sector (master boot record or MBR) and the first sector of the first partition (partition boot record or PBR)
  3. Have two primary partitions in the MBR partition table
  4. Have all boot files and E2B files within 137GB (128GiB) from the beginning of the drive
If you use the Make_E2B.exe GUI to make your E2B USB drive, then it will have these properties already.

It has been rumoured that some BIOSes will only boot from a USB FAT partition and not from an NTFS partition (although I have never seen this personally and I have never had any specific confirmation of this phenomenon!).

However, even if your drive is correctly made, some early PCs with USB 1.0 and early USB 2.0 ports may not boot to grub4dos\E2B.

Often, you can find boot options in the BIOS menu to fix a USB boot problem. For instance, some BIOSes will have an option to boot a USB drive as a 'floppy' or 'super-floppy' or USB-ZIP drive. This is no good for grub4dos\E2B which needs to boot as a USB-HDD drive.

Some early Intel BIOS Setup menus even had an option to boot USB drives that are below a certain size as a 'USB floppy' and USB drives which are above a certain size as a 'USB HDD' (you can set what this 'certain size' is). Other BIOSes may automatically do this - for instance, USB drives below 1GB may always boot as a 'USB floppy'.

However, some BIOSes were written when USB ZIP drives were prevalent but when large USB Flash drives were not readily available.

These BIOSes tend to use an algorithm like this:
  1. If total capacity < 512MB boot as floppy
  2. If total capacity > 512MB boot as super-floppy/ZIP drive
Now neither of these two options will boot to our grub4dos E2B USB drive.

FlashBoot

For those occasional times when you may come across one of these old USB systems, you may want to make a 'special' E2B drive using FlashBoot (or get out that old, dusty Hirens Boot CD).

FlashBoot is a commercial product, but you can try before you buy. It modifies the boot code so that you can boot to grub4dos even if the BIOS tries to boot the USB drive as a 'floppy drive'.

You can make a FAT32 E2B USB drive using FlashBoot by following this tutorial.

Since you will be working on an old PC, you will probably only need older payloads such as Hirens Boot CD and a memory test program or two. The PC probably will have IDE hard drives and not much memory (<1GB).

However, these old systems are so long in the tooth now that there are not many still in service!