Making a Bootable External Drive


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Making a bootable external drive was all the rage... Then came the flash drive.

These procedures require you to open your external hard drive enclosure to make the drive inside bootable. This will void your warranty if it is still in effect.*

Note: These procedures are for older Operating Systems, XP and older. If you are making your device for Vista, Windows 7 or 8 you need to use a different approach.

You can side step all of these procedures for making a bootable external drive if you use a WintoFlash type program...

Making a bootable external drive:

Open the enclosure (case) and disconnect power adapter and interface cable.

Remove the drive from the enclosure.

First: is this a SATA or USB connected drive. Newer SSD (Solid State Drives) have both the SATA interface and SATA power cable, some come with a USB connector.

SATA go to the  page: Partitioning and Formatting a hard drive or SSD for partition and formatting a hard drive.

USB with IDE interface read on.

You will need to have the following items available before continuing:

If this is a  2.5 drive you will need a IDE adapter that will reduce the size of the pin connectors from the normal 80 Pin IDE cable to the 3.5/2.5 80 Pin cable. Your local electronics store may have them or you can find them on at most online computer stores.

You can use either a desktop or a laptop computer. If you use a laptop computer the drive has to be the same size as the one in the computer, do not try to insert a 2.5 drive connector into a 3.5 inch drive connector, you will damage the connector pins!

If you do have a different size drive in the laptop vs. the external drive then your only choice is to use a desktop.Making an External Hard drive bootable- IDE adapter, 2.5 inch drive to 3.5 inch ide cable adaper

This may seem like a lot of work but the only way you can partition and format the drive is through the IDE or SATA interface and not the USB connector interface.

Note: Since USB 3.0 has the voltage/amperage this may not be true anymore, however I only have one USB 3.0 external drive and it is my backup device so using it to create a bootable external drive at this time is not an option. If anyone has done so please drop a note in the Q and A forum and tell us of your experience.

Open the drive enclosure, remove the drive from the enclosure and install it in your desktop or laptop.

Next go to this page: Partition and format a hard drive for making a bootable external drive

When the drive is bootable and you have the files you need on the drive then reverse the removal procedure to put the drive back into the enclosure.

Why Making a bootable external drive is very useful.

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Your choice of Operating Systems (OS) is varied from DOS to Linux to another installation of a Windows OS (this may not always work, the BIOS may stop the drive from starting the computer). One thing to aware of is with an OS that is not the same type as the installed one is the file systems will be different.

For DOS bootable drives you can load a program that will "mount" a Windows NTFS volume, this however is not a NTFS file system, it allows DOS to see the Windows NTFS (New Technology File System) volume or "drive". 

Using a Linux file system on a Vista, Windows 7 or 8 volume has a tenancy to corrupt the drive. If you are copying files I strongly suggest you use an ERD (from the installed OS) to do that type of maintenance. (for more information on Operating Systems see the Operating Systems Chapter in the Self Computer Repair Unleashed! 2nd Edition Manual.

You can use a bootable drive to do maintenance on the installed Operating System, some registry editors will open registries from a non-operational computer.

You can also run anti virus programs to clean out a virus.

If you install third party programs such as a defragment program you can defrag the installed Operating System partition/drive with out missing any files that would otherwise be locked and not movable. This type of defrag will do a better job of combining the files that otherwise would be skipped because they would be in use.


Do NOT run a defragment program on a SSD (Solid State Drive) it will corrupt the drive. The only recovery will be to delete the partition (or partitions) on the drive and recreate them. A SSD file system will not fragment!


It is important that you test you work, one to insure the drive will function and that it will start the computer, to do this with a normal desktop you can either disconnect the power or interface cable or disable the boot drive in the BIOS settings.

With a laptop (and some desktops) you can test your external drive either by selecting it at boot up (when the laptop boots you have a keystroke that will get into the boot device menu) or leaving the internal hard drive out when you complete the procedure.

Making a bootable external drive other information:

*As I pointed out at the top of this article you may void your warranty if you remove the drive from the enclosure. I do not take any responsibility for any of these instructions use at your own risk.

Down load this Free Computer Repair Eight Part Checklist save it to your hard drive, print it out when you do your repair. Send your friends here for their copy!

Once you have made your bootable external hard drive you will want to add some tools to the drive to make troubleshooting and repairs easier and faster here is a list that I suggest you have on your drive: Your IT Tool Box

Note: If you add tools that require installation do so when the drive is the boot drive, if you just connect the drive and then install a program the program will not run correctly or will not start!

08/18/14 - After Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8 you can partition an external hard drive that is connected through the USB port when using the Drive Manager, the original problem of the Drive Manager seeing the boot sector of the USB device has been resolved, there for the section above for taking the drive out of the enclosure isn't required if you are making the drive bootable with Windows 7 SP1 or a newer operating system.

(Don't forget to set the partition to "Active" after you create it or it will not boot...)

Having problems converting your bootable external hard drive to an ERD? Make it a custom Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) for Windows 7 /8 /10  - Check this out.

Emergency Repair
isk (ERD) - Will Yours Work?

Repair Disk

Custom made for you...

You keyboard isn't thirsty, and it doesn't need calcium. Milk and other liquids will ruin a keyaboard!

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