How to boot to USB in virtualbox

Written by chad anderson
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How to boot to USB in virtualbox
(Michael Blann/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Booting directly from a USB pen drive is impossible in VirtualBox, but there is a common workaround for getting VirtualBox to recognise and boot the USB drive as a virtual disk. Using VirtualBox's command line tools, this will allow you to boot Linux Live distributions or other Live CDs in VirtualBox without having to restart your system. Some users claim to have had their USB pen drives appear under the Floppy option, but this has not been proven as a universal solution.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Click "Start" and then "Run" and type "cmd" into the text entry field. Press "Enter" to bring up the command prompt. Navigate to your VirtualBox directory, typically by typing "cd "C:\Program Files\Sun\xVM VirtualBox\"" and pressing the "Enter" key.

  2. 2

    Go to your Desktop and right-click the "My Computer" shortcut icon and click "Manage." Click the "Disk Management" section under Storage from the menu. Write down the disk number of your USB pen drive (see "Tips.")

  3. 3

    Type the command "VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename C:\Users\YOURUSERNAME.VirtualBox\usb.vmdk -rawdisk \.\PhysicalDrive# -register" where YOURUSERNAME is your current username and the # after PhysicalDrive is your USB pen drive's disk number. Press the "Enter" key to create the vmdk file. Type "exit" and press "Enter" to leave the command prompt.

  4. 4

    Launch VirtualBox from your programs menu and either create a new virtual machine or start an existing one. Open the Settings dialogue and click the "Hard Disk" section. Click the "Add" icon and click the "Select" button with the vmdk file you created highlighted.

  5. 5

    Click the "System" section in the Settings dialogue and make sure the hard drive is at the top of the boot order. Start your virtual machine and it will now boot from the USB pen drive.

Tips and warnings

  • In any UNIX-like operating system you can find the disk number by opening a terminal and typing "fdisk -l." Copy down the correct /dev/hda or /dev/sda label and replace "\\.\PhysicalDrive#" in "Step 3" with the proper device label.
  • Make sure you do not accidentally link your computer's main hard drive as the virtual drive. This could end up being disastrous.

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