Install to USB From within Windows

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These are the basic steps for installing DSL to USB from within Windows:

  1. Get DSL and Syslinux
  2. Format the drive
  3. Unzip DSL onto the drive
  4. Install Syslinux



Method IV and V have unique requirements. Methods I through III need:

  • You need a flash drive (also called flash disk, pendrive, USB stick...), 64 MB or bigger
  • You need to know your USB drive letter. These guides assume that your USB Flash Drive is "F:". Please replace "F" with the correct drive letter.
  • Download the current from a mirror (49MB - The Torrent is recommended, and is often the fastest)
  • Get & install Syslinux version 3.00 or greater (read the Syslinux instructions for installation)

USB Drive Notes

You might look for your USB stick on this list. If you have comments about a particular USB drive that doesn't work well when installing DSL from Windows ... add that here.

  • For the record, stay away from cheap, knockoff USB keys...they're fine for Windows and stuff like that but apparently they don't always like DSL. (thanks to SaidinUnleashed for this advice.)
  • San Disk Cruzer drives are a special case, and the built in software "CD Emulation" must be turned off. (anonymous, 2 Jan 2008)
  • SD cards are perfect for DSL and can be used just like USB Drives. They usually have higher transfer speeds, and many laptops have a built-in reader for added convenience. Also, almost no bios problems. Install the same way as a USB Drive.

Method I

Follow the old instructions from PendriveLinux (new instructions are method V)


  • If you are running Windows Vista, remember to start cmd.exe as Administrator, otherwise the normal cmd.exe won't be able to access the MBR of your USB drive.
  • Booting from USB may or may not work on your computer, mostly dependent on its age and bios setup. Some systems may have problems booting from USB drives formatted as FAT32. Changing the drive format to FAT16 may allow DSL to boot. To try it, change your format argument to:
       FORMAT F: /fs:FAT

Success and Failure Stories

YMMV. Some report this does not work. Some report it does:

  • (Tested 9/27/07 on Hp T5515 thinclient, worked without issue. Generic 512mb drive, fat32, DSL embedded 3.4.3)
  • (Tested 10/16/07 on Custom built dual core PC, Worked Without issue. Adata JOGr 2 gig drive, FAT32, DSL embedded 3.4.4)
  • (Tested 11/25/07 on Asus EEEpc, worked without issue. Generic 128MB drive, FAT32, DSL embedded 4.0)
  • (Tested 12/12/07 on Memorex Traveldrive, worked without issue. 1GB drive, FAT32)
  • Starts booting but stops showing an insmod error (?) on Packard Bell Easynote XS20-005, booted from a Apacer Handy Steno AH123 (1Gb, FAT32) with dsl-4.2.5-embedded, boot parameter "dsl vga=normal", xvesa 800x600x32.
  • Doesnt boot from generic 256Mb usb stick on Packard Bell Easynote XS20-005, tried both FAT and FAT32
  • (Tested 4/22/08 on Dell Inspiron 600m using 1GB Sandisk Cruzer, DSL Embedded 4.2.5 FAT32 - worked without issue)
  • (Tested 07/27/08 on One Mini Notebook A120, worked without issue. Generic 128MB drive, FAT32, DSL embedded 4.2.5)
  • (Tested 08/10/08 on Compaq 2190US Laptop (using Method I) - Lexar 4GB Lightning USB, DSL embedded 4.2.5 - The Lexar USB appeared as 2nd hard drive by default, so I had to go into the Compaq BIOS and change the order so that the Lexar USB was first. When I rebooted, the 2190US booted into DSL with no problem.)
  • (Tested 08/31/08 on Acer Aspire 5672 (using Method I) - Kingston DataTraveler 1Gb FAT formatted (not FAT32), DSL embedded 4.2.4, - needed to enable <F12> multiboot option.)
  • (Tested 09/10/08 on Asus A8Sr (using Method I) - Mobile Disk IV 256 MB FAT32 with DSL 4.4.5 and Syslinux 3.71)
  • (Tested 11/10/08 on a Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo D 8830 and a Kingston DataTraveler 1GB, FAT and dsl-4.4.6-embedded, works nicely)
  • (Tested 10/24/08 on a Dell Latitude D430 BIOS rev. A00 and on a Dell Latitude D820 BIOS rev. A09, with SanDisk Cruzer Micro 4GB, both FAT16 and FAT32 tested, DSL 4.4.0 and Syslinux 3.63, DSL 4.4.6 and Syslinux 3.72, unsuccessful in all test cases. Result: Upon boot, the DSL boot option menu is available, but regardless of which option is selected, the screen turns black and the USB stick LED goes off, indicating contact to the USB key is lost. Exception: Failsafe boot option, which ends with the message "no KNOPPIX file system found".)
  • (Tested 12/15/08) Method I does not work with Centon Data Stick Pro. Will need to use Method II as well as the last step from Method I (# Go to a command prompt and run syslinux for your drive from \win32\syslinux.exe typing: SYSLINUX -ma F:)
  • (Tested 01/27/09) Works nicely on Asus EEEpc 1000H and Corsair Flash Voyager 8GB (2 primary partitions, 512mb FAT for DSL and 7GB NTFS for data).
  • (Tested 02/12/09) Works nicely on the Dell Optiplex 720 and 820 at my college. Does not work on my home PC (HP Compaq d220). This is from a 1GB San Disk Cruzer Micro (U3 model) with U3 removed.
  • (Tested 02/21/09) This is important..I was intially sucessful with the directions on the pendrive linux site. However I used the flash drive for another purpose and when I decided to get another one, it did not work. I kept geting the dreaded KNOPPIX file system not found error. I tried at least a dozen times. What I found to be the problem is as follows: when executing the "syslinux.exe -ma f:" command I was getting an error saying the "USB drive was not removable us -f to force." I did a syslinux -help and saw -sfma as a switch, so I assume the f was the force. However, it's part of what I had been doing wrong. In the end I did "syslinux.exe -ma f: -f" and at last it works fine.
  • (Tested 09/07/09) Doesn't work with Alix.1C and Kingston DataTraveller2 1GB, displays "SYSLINUX 3.36 2007-02-10 EBIOS Copyright (C) 1994-2007 H. Peter Anvin Could not find kernel image: linux"
  • (Tested 10/1/09) Doesn't work with Dell Inspiron 530 with Intel Core 2 Quad running a CBM 128 MB Flash Disk. Displays this: Boot error
  • (Tested 12/11/09) Works on Asus K50IN, doesn't recognize sound card or wireless card though. Kingston Data Traveler 1GB with FAT format. dsl-4.4.10-embedded
  • (Tested 13/12/10) Worked on 2gb usb, bluetooth mouse not working, bluetooth keyboard works.

Method II

For this method, you will need the HP USB Key Utility for Windows.

  1. This method will reformat your USB drive, erasing any information there. Backup if you need to.
  2. Install "HP USB Key Utility for Windows". HP USB Key Utility setup will only run on Windows Vista if you run the installation in compatibility mode. To apply this, rightclick on the installation file and go to "Properties". Open the tab "Compatibility" and choose "Windows XP Service Pack 2". Apply and then it's working on vista too. Note: You don't need to run the installed program in this mode.
  3. Plug in the flash disk and let windows find it (check the letter assigned to your flash disk e.g. F:)
  4. Run Start Menu-> Programs -> HP System Tools -> HP Drive Key Boot Utility
    1. On Welcome Screen - click Next
    2. Select your flash drive letter (in my case F:) - click Next
    3. Choose Create New or Replace Existing Configuration - click Next
    4. Choose Hard Drive - click Next
    5. Choose Create New Filesystem - click Next
    6. Wait until the drive is formated...
    7. Choose HP Firmware Flash Package - click Next, click Finish.
  5. Now extract the content of the file directly onto your flash disk (F: in my case) overwriting all files(!!).
  6. Done! Your DamnSmallLinux on USB is ready :-) Reboot and try it!!

Causes you to lose a significant amount of space in USB even though there is nothing there.

Method Execution Reports:

  • Did not work for me using DSL v3.3 with a Sandisk Cruzer Titanium USB drive.
  • Did not work when I used my 2GB store n go Verbatim flash drive.(windows explorer crashes if the device is plugged in)
  • Worked perfectly using HP Utility and
  • Worked perfectly using HP Utility and
  • Worked perfectly using HP Utility and on an 128MB thumb drive from a no-name vendor. However, after booting I hot-plugged in my PS/2 mouse. This froze the system and it would no longer boot. I started at the beginning again (with the HP util) and it worked again.

Method III

  • Low Level Format Blank Disk with diskWipe
  • Make sure to select correct drive
  • Unmount Drive
  • Physically remove
  • Mount Drive
  • Physically add
  • Format FAT with usb_format
   syslinux.exe -ma <drive letter>:

(requires you right click and choose Run as administrator on the cmd.exe if you are using Vista)

Method IV: without burning a CD

中文版(Chinese version of this Method)

This is how to install DSL to a USB Key from Windows XP (98,NT,2000) workstation:

  • without burning the ISO
  • without having to boot into DSL from the CD
  • without having to partition the USB key (unless you really want to)

This tutorial/method was originally written by SaidinUnleashed, ca. 2005. If you have trouble with this method, start by reading his original version of this tutorial.

Alternate Requirements

Instead of the embedded ISO and Syslinux (as above), you'll need:

  • The shareware program WinImage
  • DSL Images including
  • bootfloppy-usb.img
  • dsl-x.x.iso (where x.x is whatever version you want)

You might want to get/use Daemon Tools or a similar ISO viewing/manipulating program. And if you want to partition your USB drive (optional), you'll have to use a partitioning tool. Check out cfdisk or look for something similar.


1. Format the USB drive. Procure a USB key and make sure it is formatted with FAT (FAT16 or preferably FAT32), just to be sure its working with windows. You can do it with Windows Explorer or Command Prompt.

2. If you haven't already, install WinImage (and Daemon Tools, too, if you're trying that)

3. Open your ISO boot image using WinImage:

  • Open WinImage
  • Select File -> Open, navigate to and select the boot image you wish to use (bootfloppy-usb.img)
  • Select Disk - Use removable disk (x:), where x: is the drive letter of the USB key you wish to install DSL onto.

4. Read/Write the ISO. Select Disk -> Read Disk / Write Disk (or use shortcut ctrl+W). It may say "image must be resized" blah blah. Do it.

5. Put the DSL filesystem onto the USB drive. In WinImage:

  • Select File->Open, and select the DSL ISO image file (dsl-x.x.iso).
  • Select Image->Extract (or just press ctrl+x)
  • When asked for a path, use the drive letter of your USB key (as in step 4)
  • Check the option "Extract with pathname"
  • Click OK to do finish up.


Method V

Follow the current instructions from PendriveLinux (old instructions are method I)

Alternate Requirements

  • You need a flash drive (also called flash disk, pendrive, USB stick...), 64 MB or bigger
  • You need to know your USB drive letter. These guides assume that your USB Flash Drive is "F:". Please replace "F" with the correct drive letter.
  • Download the current from a mirror (49MB - The Torrent is recommended, and is often the fastest)
  • Download Universal USB Installer


  1. Run Universal USB Installer, select DSL, and follow the onscreen instructions
  2. Done! Your DamnSmallLinux on USB is ready :-) Reboot and try it!!

Customizing DSL

Consider reading the Windows Autorun and QEMU Mod notes.

For more help on customizing your DSL install check doom4's forum post HOWTO about DSL on USB-stick. It also goes over some DSL basics that this tutorial didn't cover.