Help for Windows users: How to create a Linux LiveCD, LiveDVD or LivePenDrive from an ISO file

Existing Linux users are completely familiar with ISO image files, LiveCDs and LiveDVDs, but a newcomer to Linux may have never heard of ISO files, let alone created a LiveCD or LiveDVD. I was reminded of this yesterday when a confused Windows user contacted me to ask how to create a LiveCD, so I thought I’d post the instructions here as they may help other Windows users wanting to create a bootable LiveCD, LiveDVD or pen drive in order to try Linux without installing it, or indeed to use to install Linux to their hard drive.

In this particular case the Windows user wanted to create a LiveDVD for 64-bit Sabayon Linux 5.5 KDE Edition, so I oriented my instructions to Sabayon Linux. But the procedure is essentially the same for other Linux distributions that release ISO files for the creation of LiveCDs or LiveDVDs.

Below I cover two options: the creation of a bootable ‘Live’ optical disc (be it a CD or a DVD), and the creation of a bootable ‘Live’ pen drive. Steps 1 to 3 below are common to both options.

1. Download e.g. the ISO file for 64-bit Sabayon Linux 5.5 KDE Edition from one of the repository mirrors listed on the Sabayon Linux Web site’s Download page. For example: http://na.mirror.garr.it/mirrors/sabayonlinux/iso/Sabayon_Linux_5.5_amd64_K.iso

2. Find the MD5 checksum of the ISO file you downloaded. In Windows you can do this by using e.g. the freeware GUI utility WinMD5sum.

3. Visually compare the MD5 checksum with the MD5 checksum listed in the .md5 file for the ISO file you downloaded in Step 1 (some distributions just list the MD5 checksum on the Download page, rather than issuing a file). For example: http://na.mirror.garr.it/mirrors/sabayonlinux/iso/Sabayon_Linux_5.5_amd64_K.iso.md5

If they differ then the downloaded ISO file is corrupt, so go back to Step 1, otherwise proceed to Step 4.

Option A: How to create a LiveCD/DVD via Windows

If the ISO file size is less than the capacity of a CD-R (usually 650 MiB, but check on the media box or disc label) then use a CD-R. If the ISO file size is bigger than the capacity of a CD-R then use a DVD-R. If you burn to a CD-R then you will create a ‘LiveCD’; if you burn to a DVD-R then you will create a ‘LiveDVD’. Even if the ISO file is smaller than the capacity of a CD-R, there is nothing stopping you using a DVD-R instead of a CD-R if you wish.

4. Burn the ISO file to a blank optical disc, but not as a data file: you need to select the ‘Burn Image’ or ‘Burn ISO’ option in your burning utility. Optical media and optical drives are notoriously fickle, so burn using a low speed e.g. x1 or x2 in order to maximise the chance of a good burn. There are many commercial and freeware burning utilities for burning to CD-R and DVD-R. Commercial burning utilities include well-know applications such as Nero and Roxio. There are also many freeware burning utilities which you can find using e.g. Google. The Sabayon Linux Wiki article HOWTO:_Burn_Sabayon_from_Windows recommends the freeware burner ISO RECORDER but you can also find others using Google.

Many burning utilities have a Verify option to check that the burn was successful. If the utility you use does have such an option, select it. If it does not have a Verify option, there are other ways of checking the burnt CD/DVD in Windows (and Linux) if you want to. For example, see Method 3 in Sabayon Linux Wiki article HOWTO: Checking the integrity of a LiveCD or LiveDVD.

5. Boot the LiveCD/DVD to see if it works. You may need to configure your computer’s BIOS to boot first from an optical drive, or your computer may have a boot menu option which lets you select which drive to boot.

Option B: How to create a LiveCD/DVD on a pen drive (I call this a ‘LivePenDrive’) via Windows

This is only viable if your computer has a BIOS option to boot from USB pen drives, or a boot menu option to boot from USB pen drives. Legacy computers did not have these options, so, if you have an old computer that cannot boot from a pen drive, your only option would be to create a ‘Live’ optical disc.

4. Download the utility UNetbootin for Windows, and install it.

5. Run UNetbootin to create the LivePenDrive using the ISO file you downloaded. In the UNetbootin GUI window, don’t tick ‘Distribution’, tick ‘Diskimage’. Then select ‘ISO’, browse (use the ‘…’ button) to the folder containing the ISO file and select it. Make sure you have selected Type: ‘USB Drive’, and Drive: the drive letter for the pen drive. The pen drive will probably be D:\ or E:\ but, if you are not sure, check in Start > Computer (Start > My Computer if you are using Windows XP).

6. Boot the LivePenDrive to see if it works. You may need to configure your computer’s BIOS to boot first from a pen drive, or your computer may have a boot menu option which lets you select which drive to boot.

The beauty of using a pen drive is that you can overwrite its contents in future if you want to create a LivePenDrive of a newer version of the same Linux distribution or a different distribution. Unlike a CD-R or DVD-R, which will probably end up being thrown away when a new version of the ISO is released. Another advantage of using a pen drive is that the creation of a LivePenDrive is more reliable than burning an optical disc. It is not uncommon to end up with a corrupted optical disc, which is just a waste of plastic.

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