All About Bootable – Discs & Drives

Since we’ve been covering a variety of topics ranging from data recovery to Live Operating Systems, there’s something along the same vein which deserves a mention – Bootable Discs & Drives.

The name is the subject of some contention; with the phrase referring to several different devices, but the modern definition that applies to you and me is that it is an external storage medium from which the Operating System can be booted up to run the computer.

Do not though that a bootable disc is not the same thing as a Live Operating System or a Windows To Go installation, both of which are meant to be used as a portable version of the operating system itself, with their preferences and settings editable and staying the same while working in between multiple computers while having minimal impact on the host computer’s internal storage.

A bootable environment, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of that;

It’s a bootable bare-bones version of the Operating System, but you usually cannot write further data or install more programs into it, and the preferences and settings cannot be changed, and the few changes that can be made will not carry over if you move it to another computer and boot it from there.

It is also specifically designed to manipulate the internal storage – especially in cases where the PC is having trouble booting from its internal drive, when this can be used for troubleshooting.

For those who may have lost access to data because of internal drive errors, this is a valuable tool for data recovery;

Cuz it will allow you to run the Operating System externally so that you can make backups of any data outside the system drive – something which otherwise will require opening up the cabinet, disconnecting the drive, and installing on another computer to pull off.

The bootable disk simplifies all of this by running the boot files externally, so that the BIOS does not need to access the system drive all;

Obviously, you’ll need a BIOS which is capable of doing that – which it absolutely is, presuming you bought your computer sometime in this century, so don’t worry about it.

The term “bootable disk” or “boot disk” originally referred to floppy drives from which you could run DOS on the system, the “k” coming from the “diskette” name that floppies originally had.

Obviously, these were soon surpassed and replaced by compact discs when they came along, and bootable CDs are still extremely popular today.

Owing to the popularity of both DVDs and USB drives, both can be used as bootable environments, although using a Blu-Ray this way is unusual, since you don’t need that much space to run the essential parts of the Operating System.

The term “boot disc” is also sometimes used interchangeably with “Restore Disc” or “Recovery Disk”, which is essentially a restore point for a computer that comes with pre-built rigs directly bought from OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers). As the name indicates, these let you restore the system to its factory-default Operating System Installation and settings in case of a failure, which you also need to boot it too, by using the available “boot disc”.

Most bootable discs can achieve the same by allowing you to reinstall the OS; some can even install all the basic drivers needed to run your rig properly, although you’re on your own when it comes to updates.

Run to internet downloads for help on that front;

For all these reasons, having a bootable disc, even if it’s usually put away in that “old box of computer stuff” you keep locked up somewhere in the back of the room, is both handy and help reducing the mind-numbing, nightmare-inducing, soul-harrowing headaches that show up whenever the system begins acting up in a way that it shouldn’t (I’m not the only one that happens to, yeah?) so, you can enjoy a much more tension-free tech life.

Bootable USB flash drives are a relatively new thing;

These have some settings that can be saved, but it still will not act as a Live OS due to the constraints under which the bootable environment operates. This is usually done to make sure that the boot itself runs fast and easy, which is its primary purpose and not as a portable environment to run your computer on.

At the core of the bootable disc or drive is the .ISO file from which the OS can be installed once again on to your PC.

ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization (yes, the letters are mixed up; I didn’t coin the term or the acronym, so let’s just deal with it and move on, all right?), specifically the ISO 9660 system used in CD-ROM disc media.

The file is essentially a compressed archive of all the data contained within the optical disc, and as such it can be extracted from (and written to) the medium without going into any significant trouble. What makes the format classic, indeed venerable, is the fact that it can be used to make pretty much anything “bootable” – CDs and DVDs especially provide a huge bonus when used this way.

As an optical disc, this will keep the bootable environment safe for years – or even decades. That means that you can still get your OS to work even if the official updates and support have been completely ceased – the disc itself will handle everything for you, no hassle, no fuss, no screaming and tearing your hair out.

The latest operating system obviously uses DVD ISOs, since the larger size of their boot files cannot be contained within the smaller capacity of the CD. It is better, in these cases, to create and backup a copy of the ISO files themselves so that you can create bootable environments of your own whenever you need.


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