The ultimate one and only last USB boot stick

The ultimate one and only last USB boot stick
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Every once in a while, I need to setup a system via USB boot. Everytime I’m desperately looking for a USB-stick that can be erased flashing an OS installer. Here is how to build the last ultimate USB multi boot stick, you’ll ever gonna need - with Ventoy

Introduction

In order to build the stick you first need some hardware. Of course, you might already have a USB stick lying around, right? I would recommend to having FAST one with at least 64GB and USB3, because we gonna put a lot of stuff on it. Here are some options with good price point (affiliate links):

ProductNotes
USB StickSmall and fast USB Stick with a good price point, fits anywhere because of its small form-factor
USB MicroSD ReaderInstead of a stick… Booted anywhere I tried - so a good option to have a USB stick with upgradable storage
Evo Plus microSDQuick micro SD card with acceptable price point
Evo Select microSDAlternative: Amazon branded quick micro SD card with good price point
Transcend MicroSDAlternative 2: Transcend micro SD card, a little slower, but very good price point

Ventoy Feature overview

Here is a quick Ventoy feature overview, that I personally found useful to know about:

  • Boots nearly any ISO image - from Linux to BSD or even Windows
  • Supports Plugins
  • Can boot vmdk files
  • Can be upgraded to get further improvements without deleting the data partition

Note: The Ventoy USB stick will neither work for a macOS installation nor Non-x86/x64 architecture - but these are the only restrictions, I’m aware of.

Preparation

Installing Ventoy is easy as cake:

  • Download the installer (GUI for windows, shell script for Linux and macOS)
  • Run the installer , format the drive and let it finish (tip: choose either NTFS or extFat, read further to learn why)
  • That’s it

Note: Please consult the official documentation, because it will be kept up to date.

Upgrading

If you want to upgrade the ventoy version (e.g. to support more images), it is the same procedure as installing. Just run the installer and upgrade. The operation is stated as safe, your data partition will not be changed, but I still would recommend to backup your files, just in case something goes wrong

Adding an ISO

So here the best part: Instead of always having to flash the whole USB stick, you can just

copy the ISO file to the data partition

anywhere you want to - done! Ventoy will scan the whole data partition as you boot from USB and auto-generate a menu item for every supported OS image. Directories do not change the menu structure and will be flattened out.

Tips and tricks

  • Since directories are ignored by default, you can nicely organize your images to subdirectories
  • Don’t use the Stick as data drive - extra files slow down the menu generation
  • Best use NTFS for compatibility reasons (or extFAT if you can’t use NTFS) - see https://www.ventoy.net/en/doc_disk_layout.html
  • If you have Plop Bootmanager present, you can also boot VMs into Ventoy
  • You can also put non-installer / non-bootable images onto the data partition (like RaspiOS or other embedded stuff) to keep everything in one place

OS images that might be interesting

Since this guide would not be much of an innovation but just showing off Ventoy , here is a list of OS images that I recommend for daily use cases like system recovery, formatting drives and booting of USB inside VM if required.

CategoryNameNotes
SecurityKali LinuxAdvanced Linux distribution used for Penetration Testing, Ethical Hacking and network security assessments.
RecoveryGPartedGParted can resize, copy and move partitions without data loss
RecoveryHiren’s BootCD PEWindows 10 PE live CD with a lot of useful tools for backup and recovery
SecurityDBANFree Open-Source Data Wiping Software
Boot ManagerPlop BootmanagerVersatile boot manager to easily boot VMs off USB and more
HardwareMemtest86+Test, if your RAM is ok hardware wise
Boot ManagerSuper Grub2 DiskHelps you to boot into any Operating System even if you cannot boot into it by normal means.
RecoveryRuntime Live CDYet another recovery live environment
RecoverySystem RescueA Linux system rescue toolkit available for administrating or repairing your system and data after a crash

Besides, I personally always have recent versions of these for my stuff:

  • Linux
    • Archlinux
    • EndeavourOS
    • Fedora
    • Manjaro
    • Ubuntu
  • BSD
    • FreeBSD
    • TrueNAS
    • OpenBSD
  • Windows
    • A current Windows ISO
  • Non-Bootable stuff (just to have it with you)
    • macOS Installer (different versions to quickly copy saving space on the macOS HD)
    • Raspberry OS (RaspiOS, Libreelec, OSMC, DietPI, …)
    • Router OS (OpenWRT, DDWRT, …)

Have fun!

Andreas Fuhrich avatar
About Andreas Fuhrich
I’m a professional software developer and tech enthusiast from Germany. On this website I share my personal notes and side project details. If you like it, you could support me on github - if not, feel free to file an issue :-)