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Quickly create bootable USB keys with the very flexible RMPrepUSB

28 August 2012, Mike Williams

Making a USB key bootable sounds like it should be a reasonably straightforward task, but the reality can be very different. There are a lot of variables to consider, and in some cases it can take a very long time to figure out how things should work on your particular system.

If you’re having difficulties, though, one way to improve your chances of success is to ensure you’re using a program which gives you plenty of options – and there are few tools quite as versatile as RMPrepUSB.

With this power also comes some complexity, unfortunately. The program’s main window crams in 17 buttons, a list of drives, multiple text boxes, check boxes and more, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But take a closer look and it all begins to make sense.

To make a particular USB key bootable, for instance, you must first select it from the drive list (reconnect it and press Refresh if the key isn’t included). And you could then simply accept the default settings, click “Prepare Drive” and watch as the key is formatted for you.

Don't panic - the interface looks a little cluttered, but you'll soon figure out what's going on

Or, if you need more control, just start choosing the options you need. RMPrepUSB allows you to set the drive’s file system, for instance. There are multiple bootloaders available (Windows, DOS, Linux and more), and a bunch of low-level overrides which may help to make your drive bootable, even on tricky older PCs.

This is just the start, though. There are tools here to create and restore images of a USB key, test a drive’s speed, check its sectors, clean it, display a key’s raw disk sectors, and the list goes on.

RMPrepUSB is actually a graphical front end for the console program which does most of the work, and as a result many of its options don’t work quite as you expect. Click Drive > View Drive Information, for instance, and the program will display a sector view of your current disk – but not within RMPrepUSB. Instead, a text file will open with the data you need.

The program still contains plenty of useful features and functionality, though. And while its unconventional interface will probably leave you confused from time to time, the RMPrepUSB site contains plenty of tutorials and guides should you need more assistance.

Just keep in mind, though, that RMPrepUSB includes many different ways to format, wipe and otherwise prepare your keys, and can even work with hard drives if you flick the appropriate configuration switch. The program will always warn you before it does anything destructive – and sometimes more than once – but you should still use it with extreme caution.

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