Booting from USB sticks, when it fails

Today I set up an USB stick to act as a SysRescueCD LiveUSB disk, since my CD-RW started failing on me (probably they are too old by now, they have more than five years, and huge amount of erasing in their count). Since I end up using SysRescue a fair amount of times, also to install Gentoo on my boxes many times, I decided to put it on a flash drive; most of the systems I maintain nowadays boot from USB sticks just fine.

My hopes actually are for having a decent Live DVD-like system to use, something with a little more software on it for when I have to actually USE foreign systems, and I already found a 4GB USB stick cheap enough for that. But in the mean time, SysRescue will do just fine. I already had the latest ISO image so I ended up just following the instructions on their site .

But there is a note that is missing there, and even on Fedora’s LiveUSB page it does not seem to put much emphasis on that issue, although it gives a way to fix it. While SysRescue seem to say that the results depend on the hardware (which I highly doubt), Fedora’s How To actually has a section “Errors and Solutions” that shows how to make a partition bootable, and even there’s a note about adding an MBR to the flash drive.

I think that’s most likely the common problem there: most USB keys lack an MBR so computers won’t boot from them by default. Add the sample MBR you find with syslinux, even in Gentoo, and you’ll be done with it.

I hope this service entry can be helpful to somebody who’s fiddling with USB sticks and Live distributions.