12. September 2014 · Comments Off on Multi-boot UFD with Hi-Res Menus using Windows and Syslinux 6.xx · Categories: Batch Files, Graphics, Multiboot USB · Tags: Boot Loaders
Last updated on 11/13/2023

screenshot of main menuThis guide provides everything needed to create a customizable multi-boot USB flash drive in Windows with high resolution menus and customized splash screens. It provides a framework for creating a basic but functional multi-boot flash drive using Syslinux 6.xx as the primary bootloader. Basic menu configuration files and splash screen examples are provided. Experienced users shouldn’t find it difficult to follow this guide to create a ready-to-use bootable flash drive that can be customized to their needs. Users should already have some familiarity with Syslinux, installing Linux distros, and with formatting and partitioning flash drives.

For the sake of simplicity, this guide is limited to setting up Syslinux for a single partition using the BIOS modules. The instructions were tested and verified on a system running Windows XP SP3 and using Syslinux 6.02.screenshot of menu3 This guide is essentially a more up-to-date version and combination of two previous posts, Create a Multiboot Multipartition USB with Syslinux and Grub4Dos and Create Custom Grub4Dos, GRUB and Syslinux Compatible Splash Images.

Syslinux 6.xx

Syslinux provides two menu systems, the Simple Menu System and the Advanced Menu System. The advanced system must be compiled while the simple system includes the ready-to-use vesamenu.c32 and menu.c32 modules. This guide uses the vesamenu.c32 module.

Splash Screen Resolutions

Syslinux 6.xx can use splash screens in the .png or jpg formats at resolutions from 640×480 up to whatever is supported by the system. If the flash drive is going to be used on multiple systems, it would be best to use a typical resolution such as 800×600 that would work across most systems.


Since version 5.xx, modules are no longer stand alone or need additional libraries to work. A description of the changes can be found on the Syslinux Wiki at https://www.syslinux.org/wiki/index.php/Library_modules. In most cases, Syslinux will alert you of any additional libraries required when you try to use them.

(U)EFI (Unified/Extensible Firmware Interface)

Although there has been a lot of hype about (U)EFI (Unified/Extensible Firmware Interface) in general and support for (U)EFI began with Syslinux 6.xx, the (U)EFI modules are still fairly new, have a number of unresolved issues, and are not widely used at this time. UEFI in Syslinux is buggy and has problems on both Windows and Linux. Arch Linux describes some of the more relevant ones at https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/syslinux#Limitations_of_UEFI_Syslinux. Some of the issues with UEFI are:

  • UEFI Syslinux does not support chainloading other EFI applications like UEFI Shell or Windows Boot Manager.
  • UEFI Syslinux does not boot in Virtual Machines like QEMU/OVMF or VirtualBox or VMware and in some UEFI emulation environments like DUET.
  • Memdisk is not available for UEFI.
  • UEFI Syslinux application syslinux.efi cannot be signed by sbsign (from sbsigntool) for UEFI Secure Boot.
  • Using TAB to edit kernel parameters in UEFI Syslinux menu leads to garbaged display (text on top of one-another).

Other Syslinux issues/limitations:

  • Using Syslinux 6.02 on BTRFS volumes corrupts the superblock.
  • Syslinux cannot access files from partitions other than its own.
  • Using the memdisk module to boot most ISOs is often difficult or impossible.

Syslinux.org has admitted to these limitations and has often recommended other bootloaders such as GRUB, Grub4Dos, or Plop Boot Manager to compliment Syslinux. In spite of this, Syslinux remains one of the most functional and popular bootloaders not only for flash drives, but for other bootable devices like CDs, for most operating systems, and for chainloading partitions and hard drives. It’s very flexible and is an excellent choice as the primary bootloader for most situations. And by adding another bootloader such as Grub4Dos, this greatly enhances the flash drive’s booting options.

Creating a Multi-boot Flash Drive steps:

  1. Format the flash drive
  2. Install Syslinux 6.xx
  3. Install modules and files
  4. Install or create splash screens
  5. Customize menu configuration files (optional)

1. Format the Flash Drive

Format the flash drive with FAT16 or FAT32.

2.  Install Syslinux 6.xx

Download and unzip the latest .zip version of Syslinux 6.xx from Kernel.org. The file size should be about 12mB before unzipping. Open a cmd window and cd to C:\syslinux-6.xx\bios\win32. Type the following to install Syslinux to the flash drive where x is your flash drive:

syslinux.exe -sfma x:

This installs ldlinux.c32 and ldlinux.sys to the flash drive.

3. Install Modules and Files


Look for and copy the BIOS versions of the modules shown in the directory tree for the root of the flash drive. An easy way to locate the modules is to use something like AgentRansack. Modules have a .c32 extension (except memdisk) and are located in various folders in the C:\syslinux-6.xx\bios\com32 directory or C:\syslinux-6.xx\bios directory (for memdisk). Place all of the modules in the root directory of your flash drive. Copy the following modules:


Configuration Files

The help text, menu.cfg, syslinux.cfg and other configuration files required can be downloaded from the configfiles download link below. Right click and using “save target link as” or similar (depending on your browser) to download it and then unzip and extract its files to the root of the flash drive.

  configfiles (9.8 KiB, 1,171 hits)

Download the latest version of Grub4Dos from grub4dos-chenall. Extract the grub.exe and menu.lst files to the root of the flash drive.

4. Install or Create Splash Screens

Install ready-made Splash Screens

To get started, splash screens tested to work with the configuration files are provided below. Just unzip them to the splashimages folder. After installing the splash screen images, the flash drive is ready to test or use.

Link for the splash screens: splashscreens

Nine (9) splashscreen files are provided. Download them as an album and extract to the splashimages folder. Slightly change the filenames by removing the number and dash so the filenames match those used in the menu configuration files.

The correct splashscreen filenames are:

  1. cave_800x600_14.png
  2. fallleaf_800x600_14.png
  3. grassyhill_800x600_14.jpg
  4. mist_800x600_14.png
  5. nightlight_800x600_24.jpg
  6. ny_800x600_14.jpg
  7. road_800x600_14.png
  8. Spruce_800x600_14.png
  9. winter_800x600_14.jpg.

The link below displays a directory of what the flash drive contents should look like at this point:


Create and Install Customized Splash Screens (optional)

To create your own menu graphics, use the batch file below or another graphics program to create .png or .jpg format splash screens from your image files. Since the menus are already configured with light text, you may want to use a dark color to start off with. Generally, 14 colors works nearly every time and renders more quickly.

The batch file below is configured to use ImageMagick portable installed to the Utilities folder. If ImageMagick is already installed, simply change the line set IMdir=C:\Utilities\ImageMagick\ to your ImageMagick location. Use double quotes if the path contains spaces (e.g., set “IMdir=C:\Program Files\ImageMagick\”). Be sure to use the latest version of ImageMagick since the newest version has improved image conversion options and processing.


If creating a customized splash screen, place it in the splashimages folder in the flash drive and change the file name in the appropriate menu configuration file(s) as below so it can be used on the next boot:

MENU BACKGROUND /splashimages/your image name.jpg

5. Customize Menu Configuration Files (optional)

After the flash drive is working properly, try to install bootable applications or Linux distros by modifying the boot options in the menu configuration files for Syslinux or in menu.lst for Grub4Dos. Some menu label entries are already provided in the Syslinux menus that were verified to work such as Slax, Grub4Dos, and a few others.

That’s it. If anything gets messed up, everything can just be reinstalled and started again from the beginning. Good luck.



Syslinux – https://www.syslinux.org/wiki/index.php/SYSLINUX

Syslinux Menu – https://www.syslinux.org/wiki/index.php/Menu

Syslinux 6 Changelog – https://www.syslinux.org/wiki/index.php/Syslinux_6_Changelog

Memdisk – https://www.syslinux.org/wiki/index.php/MEMDISK#ISO_images


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18. August 2010 · Comments Off on Test Bootable USBs with a Virtual Machine · Categories: Multiboot USB · Tags: Windows
Last updated on 12/12/2022

This guide shows how to use the open source Virtual Machine (VM) emulator manager, QEMU Manager, to test bootable USB drives in Windows without restarting your computer. QEMU Manager is a free, simple and fairly fast GUI for the QEMU Emulator that makes creation of Virtual Machines a breeze with easy-to-use wizards. Its performance is very good in comparison to other emulators and it comes in installable and portable versions. QEMU Manager can be downloaded from here. QEMU Manager version 7.0 was used for this guide.

Update (12/17/12): Another tool, Quemu Simple Boot, also can boot USBs, CD/DVD images and discs using QEMU from a simplified UI that allows drag and drop. It provides a quick and convenient way to test multiple flash drives or to continually boot the same flash drive for testing purposes.

QEMU Window


For the installable version of QEMU Manager, enable KQEMU accelerator support for faster performance during the install process. For the portable version, enable it from the tools menu. For both the installable and portable versions, once QEMU Manager is installed and running, select “Stop KQEMU accelerator driver when QEMU Manager closes” from Tools->QEMU Manager Options (see below).

qemu options

Creating a Virtual Machine

After installation, click on the “+”  (plus) button to create a new VM (Virtual Machine). The wizard will appear.  Fill in a name for the VM (BootUSB used in this case) and use None for the operating system. Use the defaults for the other options and click next.

Create VM

For Virtual Machine Settings, select Do not use a Virtual Disk Image. Use the defaults for the other settings.  Click next.

VM Wiz Memory and Virtual Drive

For the advanced settings, use the default setting (Qemu Manager). Click Finish. The new VM (BootUSB) will now be visible in the left panel. If not already plugged in, insert your bootable USB drive. To reduce chances of selecting the wrong USB drive, make sure you have only one external drive connected to your computer.

Advanced Settings

With the new VM (BootUSB in this case) selected in the left panel, click the Drives tab on the right panel. If the Select Path dialog doesn’t appear, then double-click Hard Disk 0 in the right panel window to make it appear. In the Select Path dialog, click the Use Physical Disk button. After the Use Physical Disk dialog opens, select the Open Disk Management button. Identify your USB drive in the Disk Management window. In most cases, this will be Disk 1 (Disk 0 is the hard drive).

Close Disk Management and select your USB drive identified in Disk Management in Use Physical Drive. Click OK to close the Use Physical Drive dialog. Your USB will now appear in the Select Path dialog, most likely as \\.PhysicalDrive1 if you have only one hard disk in your PC and one USB drive connected to it. Click OK to close the Select Path dialog.

Select Drive Screens

Caution: Never attach the Primary hard disk (usually Disk 0) to a Virtual Machine and Boot it!

Setting the boot order for your new Virtual Machine:
Back at the main Qemu window and with new VM (BootUSB in this case) selected in the left panel, click the Drives tab in the right panel. Double-click the Boot Order icon in the right panel column to open the Boot Options dialog. Use the up/down button to move the hard drive to the first position and then click OK to close the dialog. The setup is complete. QEMU Manager is now ready to start booting USBs.

Boot Order

Booting USBs in a VM with Qemu Manager

Using Qemu Manager makes testing bootable USBs fast and easy. To boot a USB drive in the virtual machine, just select the virtual machine to boot in the left panel and click the green arrow on the menu. To close the VM, click the red button.  To toggle control (mouse, keyboard, etc) between the VM window and the computer, press the keyboard’s Control and Alt buttons. The running application shown in the VM can be manipulated just as if the USB was cold booted from your computer. See the documentation for further information or just play around with the buttons on the main menu. Note that a secondary menu will also appear just above the VM’s window after it’s launched.

Boot Screen


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03. March 2010 · Comments Off on Create a Multiboot Multipartition USB with Syslinux and Grub4Dos · Categories: Multiboot USB · Tags: Boot Loaders, Linux
Last updated on 12/12/2022

This guide illustrates how to manually create a multi-boot multi-partition USB drive using both SYSLINUX and GRUB4DOS. Because many apps and Linux distros are coded and/or organized in a way intended to operate from dedicated single partition USB drives, they are often notoriously difficult to boot from multi-boot USBs. Thus, while many apps and distros state they are bootable from USBs, often this means they are bootable from single-purpose (and single partition) USB drives, often using UNetbootin or similar utilities. Seldom, if ever, are directions provided for installation to an existing multi-boot environment, or how to create a multi-boot USB in the first place. To get around this limitation, this guide demonstrates how to setup a USB drive to enable booting several apps and distros from a single partition and from multiple dedicated partitions.

Almost any distro or app can be made to boot from a USB, with some being easier than others. Sometimes it’s as easy as extracting files and folders from a zip file to the USB and installing a boot-loader. However, more often it’s not always so simple; especially when attempting to install apps or distros to a partition already cluttered with multiple ISOs, image files, compressed files, system files, configuration files and various folders. For the sake of brevity and simplicity, this guide covers selected apps and distros that were tested to work. By following this guide, it should become apparent how to install other apps and distros or updated versions of those that are included here.

For this guide, SYSLINUX is used as the primary boot loader. GRUB4DOS is used as a secondary boot-loader to chainload partitions (Chain-loading is a process where control passes from the boot manager to the boot sector) and to boot ISOs and other apps in the active partition. In this case, GRUB4DOS is used to pass control (chainload) to Syslinux installed on the dedicated partitions’ boot sectors (except for the active partition, which is directly booted with SYSLINUX). The advantage of GRUB4DOS is that currently, it’s MUCH easier to chainload partitions and to boot ISOs using GRUB4DOS than with SYSLINUX, which is really designed to chainload hard drive partitions rather than USB drive partitions. Also, some applications (like ISOs) can boot easily with GRUB (or GRUB4DOS), but not always with SYSLINUX. Usually, anything that will boot with GRUB can also boot with GRUB4DOS, as long as it’s installed to a FAT formatted partition (either FAT16 or FAT32). It’s also important to note that Syslinux is limited in that it can’t access files outside of its own partition. However, when GRUB4DOS and SYSLINUX are used together, this greatly expands the booting options for USB drives. So essentially, as used here, GRUB4DOS is used to boot ISOs and a few other apps on the active partition and to control (chainload) dedicated partitions containing a single app or distro. Once control is passed from GRUB4DOS, the dedicated partition automatically boots the application or app with SYSLINUX, which is installed to the partition’s boot sector.

It’s important to note that all the applications and distros installed to the dedicated partitions for this guide are already designed to boot with SYSLINUX, so all that’s necessary is to copy their files to a partition, install SYSLINUX to the partition’s boot sector, and setup GRUB4DOS to boot the partition in order to use the SYSLINUX default menu options included in the syslinux.cfg files. Using SYSLINUX to automatically boot dedicated partitions provides the advantage of being able to use the boot options in the default syslinux.cfg files that otherwise wouldn’t be available using a single boot-loader and without manually creating, editing and maintaining complex and excessively large syslinux.cfg and/or menu.lst files.

This guide is an extension of an earlier one, Booting DSL (Damn Small Linux) from a Multiboot USB Drive, which demonstrated how to add DSL to a working bootable (either single or multi-boot) single partition USB drive with SYSLINUX. Although creating multi-boot USBs can be accomplished in many other ways, after much trial and error, the method here may be one of the easier ways to boot several popular distros and apps from the same partition and/or from multiple partitions for USB drives. This guide assumes the user has some experience with booting external devices, using partitioning tools, creating Live CDs from ISOs, and has a basic knowledge of Linux, SYSLINUX, and GRUB4DOS.


Operating Systems:

Boot-loader and partitioning utilities to download. Extract to “C:” or another location of your choice on a Windows computer.

  • GRUB4DOS (ver 4.4 used for this guide, new versions from grub4dos-chenall should also be OK)
  • SYSLINUX (ver 3.84 used for this guide, ver 3.86 also tested OK, but higher versions such as 4.02 may be incompatible with the distros and app versions used for this guide)

Note: The SYSLINUX version used to boot partitions must be compatible with any SYSLINUX module files included with the app or distro. That is why versions are provided — to insure compatibility. For instance, if you want to install a more recent version of Parted Magic to the USB and it contains an upgraded vesamenu.c32 module and you are using a previous version of SYSLINUX that doesn’t support that change; then you may not be able to boot the USB unless you also upgrade SYSLINUX to a compatible version .

Tested distros and applications used for this guide (download links are provided below in the article body):

Partition 1 (Device boot partition)
Puppy Linux ver 4.31 (booted directly with SYSLINUX)
SuperGrubDisk ver 0.9799 (booted directly with GRUB4DOS)
WinME Non-Windows Based Image File W/ImageApp (booted directly with either SYSLINUX or GRUB4DOS)

Partition 2 (dedicated – primary)
DSL (Damn Small Linux) ver 4.4.10-embedded (chainload boot with SYSLINUX from GRUB4DOS)

Partition 3 (dedicated – primary)
Parted Magic LiveUSB ver 4.7 (chainload boot with SYSLINUX from GRUB4DOS)

Partition 5 (dedicated – logical)
AVG Rescue USB ver 90-100429 (chainload boot with SYSLINUX from GRUB4DOS)

Partition 6 (dedicated – logical)
Clonezilla Live (for USB – zip file) ver 1.2.4-28-486 (chainload boot with SYSLINUX from GRUB4DOS)

Note: If versions other than those shown above are used, the USB’s syslinux.cfg and/or menu.lst files, as well as Syslinux itself, may need to be updated to reflect this change and to boot correctly.

Hint: Downloading the above distros and apps to another USB drive, an external HD, or burning them to a CD will ease the task of copying and extracting them to the USB partitions later in this guide.

Text (*.txt) versions of the configuration files for SYSLINUX and GRUB4DOS are pre-configured and provided in this guide. Included are:


Here are the steps to follow to create a multi-boot and multi-partition USB drive:

About Partitioning and Formatting

First, decide on the number and size of the partitions needed to hold everything to be installed. Although not covered in this guide, it’s often a good idea to have at least a couple of extra partitions and some unallocated space for future expansion and for apps that are to be booted from dedicated partitions (to utilize multiple boot options). Note that any storage drive device is limited to a maximum of four primary partitions. To partition a drive with more than four partitions, it’s necessary to create at least one as an extended partition and to create one or more logical ones within that extended partition. More often than not, it’s possible to boot several apps and distros (especially ISOs) from the same partition (particularly the active partition), so sometimes it’s desirable to create a large active partition to hold several booted apps and some smaller ones just large enough to hold the apps or distros that require their own partitions. For simplicity, this guide uses a 2GB USB drive divided into five approximately equal primary partitions (3 primary, 2 logical) of about 400MB each. The first partition will boot multiple distros and apps, with the other four setup as dedicated partitions (booting a single app or distro).

1. Boot the PC with the Parted Magic LiveCD and use GParted to Partition the USB drive

a. Connect the USB drive and boot the computer using the Parted Magic LiveCD. In Parted Magic, start the GParted Partition utility and set it to display the USB drive.
b. Use GParted to create three 400MB primary partitions and two 400MB logical partitions in an extended partition of 800MB. Be sure to format the partitions with FAT16 or FAT32 (It’s recommended to use either FAT16 or FAT32, but do not use both) and set the boot flag for the first partition. You can also provide identities for the partitions using labels. See the example GParted image below which uses three primary partitions and one extended partition. The partitions are labeled as 1, 2, 3, 5 & 6 (4 is the extended partition holding logical partitions 5 & 6. Partition 4 itself isn’t writable). Make sure no errors are showing for any partition before moving to the next step.

GParted Partition Layout

For step 2, Parted Magic can continue to be used; however, users may find tasks such as copying, moving and extracting files somewhat easier using a more familiar Linux distro such as Ubuntu, Puppy, etc. Parted Magic is suggested for steps 1 to 3 because it contains GParted, SYSLINUX, a file manager and LXTerminal all in one package, which are all used in this guide. In any case, a non-Windows environment such as Linux must be used to copy the files to all the partitions (except the boot partition) since Windows is only able to access the bootable (active) partition of USB drives.

2. Using Parted Magic or another Linux Distro, install Applications and Distributions

Note: The file ldlinux.sys shown in each of the following screen-shots will not exist until steps 3 and 4 are completed.

Partition #2 – DSL (Damn Small Linux)
DSL can be booted two ways: (1) from it’s own partition, or (2) co-existing with other apps and distros on the same partition. This guide will boot DSL from its own partition (first method), using the default DSL syslinux.cfg file that comes with DSL which provides multiple booting options. The other method, installing DSL to co-exist with other apps and distros in a single boot partition (second method) was covered in a previous article: Booting DSL (Damn Small Linux) from a Multiboot USB Drive.

a. Download DSL Embedded. Ver 4.4.10-embedded used for this guide.
b. Extract DSL Embedded to Partition #2 and copy all the files in the main folder to the root of the partition (erase the original folder afterward). The root of the partition should look like this:

Partition #2

Partition #3 – Parted Magic
a. Download Parted Magic LiveUSB. Ver 4.7 used for this guide.
b. Extract to partition #3 and place the two folders, pmagic and boot in the root of the partition (erase the original folder(s) afterwords). The root of the partition should look like this:

Partition #3

Note: Parted Magic is in it’s own partition to avoid boot conflicts. Parted Magic, like the other distros and apps installed to dedicated partitions, already comes with a customized syslinux.cfg file. Parted Magic’s syslinux.cfg file is located in the boot folder (DSL’s and AVG’s syslinux.cfg file are located in root, and Clonzilla’s is located in the syslinux folder). During the booting process, SYSLINUX automatically searches for the syslinux.cfg file in the following order:


Note: The boot order above shows why Parted Magic and many other distros and apps should be placed in their own partitions. Should another syslinux.cfg file be placed in root, it would be ignored and the Parted Magic syslinux.cfg file would always load since “boot/syslinux/syslinux.cfg” is first in the boot order. Of course, there are ways to get around this, but the goal of this guide is to create a multi-boot USB quickly and easily without modification to the original file contents and structure so that the default boot options for the installed apps and distros are used.

Partition #5 – AVG Rescue CD
a. Download AVG Rescue (for USB Stick). Ver 90-100429 used for this guide (avg_arl_cd_en_90_100429.zip).
b. Extract to Partition #5. The root of the partition should look like this:

Partition #5

Partition #6 – Clonezilla
a. Download Clonezilla Live (for USB – choose the zip file). Ver 1.2.4-28-486 used for this guide.
b. Extract to Partition #6. The root of the partition should look like this:

Partition #6

Partition #1 – Puppy Linux/SuperGrubDisk/WinME Boot Image/Anything else
a. If you have a working frugal installation of Puppy Linux Ver 4.31 copy all of its files to a folder named “puppy”. The minimum files required for a frugal install of puppy 4.31 to a USB are: initrd, pup_431.sfs, usbflash, and vmlinuz.
b. Download SuperGrubDisk ISO (ver 0.9799) and place the ISO in a folder named “sdg” (yes, “sdg” is correct).
c. Download WinME Non-Windows Based Image File W/ImageApp and extract it to its default folder “winmec”.
d. Try other programs of your own.

Note: Not all ISOs are bootable using GRUB4DOS. Often, identifying bootable ISOs is a trial and error process using various boot options to determine whether it’s possible to do so without modifying the ISO image. All the ISOs used in this guide were tested to insure they were bootable without modification.

Click here for the screen-shot of Partition #1, or scroll further down this page

3. In Parted Magic, install SYSLINUX to Partition Boot Sectors

Note: another excellent tool to perform steps 3 and 4 is Bootice V0.8.2010.1228, which operates in Windows and can access multiple partitions. It can analyze partitions, format the USB drive, install and restore MBRs and PBRs, and more. Bootice is fairly easy to use; see Easily Modify Boot Sectors with Bootice for more information.

In Parted Magic, open a LXTerminal window and type the following commands to install SYSLINUX to all partition boot sectors except for the boot partition (partition #1). Be sure to substitute your USB device in place of sdb(x). Press ENTER after each of the following commands:

syslinux –install /dev/sdb2
syslinux –install /dev/sdb3
syslinux –install /dev/sdb5
syslinux –install /dev/sdb6

Exit Parted Magic and boot the computer to Windows for the next steps.

The above commands install SYSLINUX to the partition boot sectors for the 2nd to 6th partitions (4th excluded), and places the file ldlinux.sys into each partition’s root directory. These commands make the partitions bootable using GRUB4DOS. The device itself is bootable because of the boot flag in the first partition.

Note: you will not see a response each time the above commands are executed unless there is an error.

4. In Windows, install SYSLINUX and the MBR for the USB Drive (use Windows for the remainder of Steps)

a. Exit Parted Magic and reboot the computer to Windows. Open My Computer to identify the Windows USB drive letter assignment.

Note that for hard drives, Windows can access multiple partitions, but for USB drives, Windows can only access a single bootable partition.

b. Open a CMD window using Start -> Run -> enter “CMD” and then hit OK. In the CMD window, navigate to the win32 folder of the extracted Syslinux folder. For example, if you extracted SYSLINUX to C:\syslinux-3.84, then cd to “syslinux-3.84\bios\win32” and enter the following command: “syslinux.exe -sfma x:” Be sure to substitute “x” with the letter assignment of your USB drive identified in My Computer.

This is an explanation of the above syslinux.exe command from the SYSLINUX Wiki:
-s Safe, slow, stupid: uses simpler code that boots better.
-f Force installing.
-m MBR: install a bootable MBR sector to the beginning of the drive.
-a Active: marks partition #1 active (=bootable)

(Note: Setting the boot flag was done already in GParted, but it won’t hurt to do it again).

The above command installs a bootable MBR to the first partition of the USB drive, making SYSLINUX the boot manager for the USB device.

5. Copy GRUB4DOS to Root of Partition #1

Because SYSLINUX is the primary boot-loader for the USB Drive, only two files are needed to boot GRUB4DOS: (1) “grub.exe” and (2) “menu.lst”.

a. From the extracted GRUB4DOS folder, copy and paste “grub.exe” to Partition #1 (see next section for menu.lst).

6. Create and Configure the syslinux.cfg file and menu.lst Files to Root of Partition #1

a. Save the following two files as syslinux.cfg and menu.lst (either open in your browser by clicking them to cut and paste or right click the links and save):

syslinuxcfg.txt (be sure to save as syslinux.cfg)
menulst.txt (be sure to save as menu.lst)

The syslinux.cfg file is used to set the configurable defaults for SYSLINUX. The menu.lst file sets the configurable defaults for GRUB4DOS. Note that the “l” in menu.lst is a small “L” and not the number “1”. Both files can be edited using a simple text editor.

7. Add Additional Modules to Root of Partition #1

Copy the following modules from the SYSLINUX extracted folder to the root of Partition #1:

  • vesamenu.c32 from “com32\menu” (optional – creates a fancier menu with splash image. See Create Custom Grub4Dos, GRUB and Syslinux Compatible Splash Images for using splash images with vesamenu.c32)
  • reboot.c32 from “com32\modules” (required – adds an option to reboot the computer)
  • menu.c32 from “com32\menu” (required – displays the basic Syslinux menu shown below)
  • memdisk from “memdisk” (required – kernel to boot floppy images, disk images and some ISOs)

Save the following two files and save them to the root of Partition #1 (either open in your browser by clicking them to cut and paste or right click the links and save):

submenulst.txt (save as submenu.lst) Provides an extra menu for GRUB4DOS to boot other apps and distros if needed
help.txt (save as help.txt) Provides a user-defined help menu when F1 is pressed while the Syslinux menu is displayed

Partition #1 should now look like this:

Partition #1

If you followed the above instructions, you should have a working multi-boot, multi-partition USB. The SYSLINUX boot screen should be similar to the screen-shots below when you boot the USB drive. If you receive boot errors when booting to or selecting from the SYSLINUX menu, try installing SYSLINUX to the partition boot sectors again (step 3) and reinstalling the SYSLINUX/MBR to the boot partition (step 4). Also, use GParted to view the partitions for any errors. Errors in GParted will display as a yellow triangular symbol for that partition.

Syslinux Boot Menu ScreenSyslinux Boot Menu Screen
GRUB4DOS Boot Menu Screen
GRUB4DOS Boot Menu Screen

Other free Windows based Multi-boot USB creation Tools:

XBOOT – Another tool to create multi-boot USBs and ISOs. No personal experience with this tool as of yet. Requires the .NET framework ver 4.

SARDU (Shardana Antivirus Rescue Disk Utility). No personal experience with this tool as of yet.

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18. December 2009 · Comments Off on Booting DSL (Damn Small Linux) from a Multi-boot USB Drive · Categories: Multiboot USB · Tags: Linux
Last updated on 05/13/2019

Damn Small Linux Screen ShotIf you are having trouble getting DSL (Damn Small Linux) to boot on a multi-boot USB with SYSLINUX, then this guide may help. After experiencing the same problem and seeing other online complaints about it, I decided to create this guide.

This tutorial describes how to get DSL (Damn Small Linux) to boot from the boot partition of a working bootable USB flash drive currently using SYSLINUX as the boot loader.

Although many related guides on the web describe how to create multi-boot USB drives, many are lacking when it comes to DSL because: (1) a different boot loader such as GRUB is used (2) the instructions are for creating dedicated boot USBs using a single app or Linux distro, or (3) not enough details specific to DSL are provided.

Rather than create a comprehensive how-to for multi-boot flash drives, this guide limits itself to this particular distro, since other guides, including Create a Mulitboot Multipartion USB with Syslinux and Grub4Dos, provide instructions for successfully creating multi-boot USBs using other Linux distros and applications.

This tutorial applies if the following conditions are met:

1.  You can successfully boot at least one other distro or application on the USB drive with SYSLINUX (Ver 3.81 was used for this guide)

2.  You want to add DSL to create a multi-boot USB drive or you are unable to boot DSL on a USB drive with at least one other distro or application that currently boots with SYSLINUX

OK. Now for the instructions:

Download the Embedded Distribution of DSL:

Why use the embedded version?  It’s provided in a zip file, so there is no need to extract and manipulate files from an ISO. The embedded version also comes with QEMU, which allows DSL to run within Windows and in Linux. So even if you can’t boot DSL from SYSLINUX, you can check the integrity of the DSL installation using QEMU by clicking dsl-base.bat in the DSL folder (see next step). The downside of running DSL with QEMU is that it will be extremely slow, about 5-6 times slower, than when it’s running natively. The DSL embedded version used for this guide was version 4.4.10. You can get the embedded version of DSL from here. The direct download link for the embedded version of DSL used for this guide is dsl-4.4.10-embedded.zip.

Create a Folder for DSL Embedded in the Root of the USB Drive’s Boot Partition and Unzip DSL Embedded to that Folder:

Pick any name you like. In my case, I made a folder named “DSLEmbedded” on my USB’s root. The reason for a separate folder is to avoid conflicting files that may already exist on the root for other distros or applications such as syslinux.cfg, knoppix folders, boot.msg, readme.txt and others. In fact, it’s preferable to put every distro in its own folder when you can, but that’s not always possible without complex folder organization schemes and/or file coding mods.  Because of this, some distros should be in the root by themselves or installed to their own partition since they often use complex boot menus, they’re coded to work from root, and/or they have multiple files and folders (making upgrading and troubleshooting more complex when everything is installed to a single partition). However, DSL in a separate folder can coexist with many other distros using SYSLINUX as the boot-loader – you just need to edit the root’s syslinux.cfg file and experiment to see what can coexist with the least amount of work and conflict. Currently, I have DSL co-existing in the same partition with SuperGrubDisk, two versions of Puppy Linux, and several Windows apps in ISO format, all booting from the same syslinux menu and almost all of them in separate folders.

DSL Folder Screen ShotNote: When you unzip DSL embedded, it will place all its files in a folder named “dsl-4.4.10-embedded” by default. Take everything out of this default folder and put it in your folder (see screen-shot of my folder to the left). The reason for this is to refer to a basic folder name in the syslinux.cfg file, preferably one that without dashes, periods, or spaces.

Below are some thumbnail screen-shots showing the organization of the main partition, the Puppy400 folder, and the syslinux.cfg file.  As with all of the screen-shots in this guide, click to enlarge them.  Although outside of the scope of this guide, you can see Grub4Dos (grub.exe and menu.lst) are used to boot ISOs and other apps in multiple partitions which also have SYSLINUX installed in the boot sector.

partition screenshot


puppy400 screenshot


syslinux screenshot


For a more detailed view of the syslinux.cfg file, either click the link in this sentence to open in your browser or right click the link to save it.

Edit the Current syslinux.cfg in the Root drive to Create a Menu Entry for DSL and Save It:

This guide assumes a syslinux.cfg file already exits in the root and is used to boot at least one other distro or application.

Important: Pay particular attention to use of “/”, spaces, and capitalization in file paths!  Below is a copy of my entry:

MENU LABEL Boot Damn Small Linux (DSL)
KERNEL /DSLEmbedded/linux24
APPEND ramdisk_size=100000 lang=us apm=power-off vga=normal initrd=/DSLEmbedded/minirt24.gz nomce noapic quiet BOOT_IMAGE=knoppix knoppix_dir=/DSLEmbedded/KNOPPIX

Note: (1) Unless you used the same name, use the name of your folder in place of “DSLEmbedded” everywhere in the menu label above. (2) Depending on your needs and/or your system, you may want to change the DSL cheat codes in the APPEND line. See the DSL Cheat Codes Wiki for more information.

That’s all there is to it. Reboot your PC or laptop and you should now be able to boot DSL from the SYSLINUX boot menu!


If Nothing is Working:

If DSL still doesn’t boot, on another bootable USB drive (with SYSLINUX as the boot-loader), try installing Embedded DSL by itself to the root and not in a separate folder (move everything out of the folder and place it in root). In other words, and this is important – what was in the default folder (e.g., dsl-4.4.10-embedded or DSLEmbedded) should now be in the root of the partition. DSL should now boot with the default syslinux.cfg file. If that works, you are getting close; it’s just a matter of getting the file paths correct for the DSL folder you are going to use. Next, place DSL in a folder and move the syslinux.cfg file to root and then edit it using the instructions above to get it to boot. If successful, you can then duplicate those changes to the syslinux.cfg on the other USB drive. Also, you could just use the 2nd USB drive and add other apps and distros to it. Add one app or distro at a time then test to see if both boot, then add another distro and test again.

Because there are unlimited combination’s of distros and apps possible, differences in hardware, many multi-booting techniques and other factors, there is no way around some experimentation/trial and error testing to determine what works and what doesn’t.

If you are having trouble making a working multi-boot USB with SYSLINUX or just want to learn how, below are links to get started. If you still can’t get DSL to boot after that, then come back and recheck the suggestions again. Usually, most problems are minor such as using incorrect file paths or file names in the syslinux.cfg file.

Good luck and have fun.

Additional help is available at the following:

Guide for Multi-booting from a USB Drive

Damn Small Linux Wiki: Install to USB from Windows (Method II)

Comments welcome.

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