Bootable CD ROMs

I know how bootable CD ROMs work, and I know that they do work, my question is Where did they go?

I know a few OEM’s like Packard Bell, Compaq and NEC used them for a while on their restore CD’s but why hasn’t say a company that makes Operating Systems used them for installing operating systems?

What happened to them?

Don’t let the loveless ones sell you a world wrapped in grey.

I’m not sure exactly what you are looking for, but with a simple change in the computer bios, any drive can be made the boot drive, even the cd-rom.

Win98 and WinNT4 both have bootable install CDROMs. I have installed both of those OSes with no floppy and an unformatted hard disk.

Huh? The primary means of installing the Mac OS has been via bootable CD since, oh, 1993 or 1994, thereabouts. Are you saying that when you buy a new version of one of the Other Platform’s various operating systems, the box doesn’t contain a bootable CD?

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Well, as usual, the Win platform is behind the Mac in this sorta thing. :slight_smile:

x86 machines with CD-ROM boot capability started to show up late in '95, IIRC. WinNT4 caught that bandwagon about the same time. When Win98 came out, it did the bootable CD-ROM thing as well.

Now that I think about it, I think it was late '96 or early '97.

Undead Dude wrote: “Win98 and WinNT4 both have bootable install CDROMs. I have installed both of those OSes with no floppy and an unformatted hard disk.”

Dan, how exactly does that work? I mean, in a DOS environment you’ve got to load a CD driver in the CONFIG.SYS file and MSCDEX later to get the thing recognized. Both my computers supposedly can boot off the CD, but how does the system know it’s there to boot from before loading the drivers?

I don’t specifically know how that works, but it seems that some rudimentary CD-ROM drivers must be included in the BIOS.

My WAG on the process is that the BIOS knows just enough about CD-ROMs to read the very beginning of the disc, which contains a boot program that loads the full drivers.

I was not aware that the WIN platforms would do that, since it’s not listed in any manuals, I’ll have to try it.

As I said earlier Adam I know how it works, i was just wondering why more people didn’t make bootable CD ROMs

As for Salmanser’s question, it works by having the basic drivers in the BIOS. This only works if you’re using a SCSI or IDE CD ROM it will not work on proprietary CD ROM connections. The ortiginal spec was called the El Torrito spec, but there are about 3 others now.

Don’t let the loveless ones sell you a world wrapped in grey.

Yeah, the bios can do it if the CDROM is corrected formatted for this purpose. As a matter of fact, I just got a board & the bios has a nifty little process written to it, I forgot the order but it’s like this, first it checks the A drive, then the C drive & then the cdrom drive for the software the computer needs.

As for how they work, check the root directory of the cd for files and see what they are, most can be read with a text editor.
I bought it from tigerdirect, PA2011 board, with the Pentium 233 cpu & fan [its one set] for $79.00. If anyone needs something faster.

My three year old Pentium has as its boot sequence A: drive, CD-Rom drive, hard drive. I can set it through the BIOS setup utility. I have both a bootable Windows Recovery CD and a Linux install CD that work with it. (I’ve even seen a complete Linux filesystem CD; you drop the CD in and run Linux, no installation neccessary.)

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Let’s say I have a computer that doesn’t have 3.5 drives, which is exactly what I have. I have W2K Pro now, and a defective Win98. Since my Win98 bootdisk won’t work, how can I burn a CD that I can use to install Win98 again?

I installed XP on my home built system back in June and I seem to remeber the XP CD being bootable. Didn’t need a floppy and had an unformatted HD.

But my Win98 cd is not bootable, I have to find out how to “create Image.IMG” so i can burn a bootable copy with Nero.

I forgot how they got around it, but I believe that a Boot disk needed to be writable, thus cd’s were out, a floppy or HD was okay. Eventually they got around this limitation, right?

Muldoon I ran into that very problem last night when I was in the middle of switching from 98 to 2000 and my floppy drive crapped out. The Win2K CD I had was not bootable for, um, reasons. Anyway, I used Nero’s help to understand the process to make a bootable CD, then promptly tried it and found the option to not be available anywhere… not even listed. Except in the help file. Some help, huh?


First of all, make sure the BIOS is set correctly, as has been mentioned before. Also be sure the CD-ROM drive supports booting; this is not necessarily the case, as the standard only goes back a few years.

The method I’ve used to create bootable CDs is to scrounge an old copy of Norton Diskedit, then create a floppy disk with all the necessary files for booting the system. Then use Diskedit to create an image of the floppy. This can then be used by CDRWin to create the boot partition on the CD-ROM. This partition is set up to be a virtual floppy disk, it even steals the A: drive identifier.

There are easier ways nowadays, probably… But I can vouch for this one.


OK, first of all genuine retail Windows NT 4.0, 98, Me, 2000 and XP CDs are bootable.

As The_Raven said, make sure that your BIOS supports booting off of CD-ROM and that boot order is set to “CD-ROM” first.

To make a bootable CD, you need either bootable floppy or an image file of the same. Simply tell your CD authoring software to create a bootable CD - it will look in the A: drive by default, or you can browse to the bootdisk image file (*.IMA). The software will then create two files - BOOTCAT.BIN (an index file) and BOOTCAT.IMG (which contains an image of the floppy disk). Because the “virtual floppy” is constrained by the usual DOS limitations, you cannot put 20MB of stuff into the boot image file and expect it to work.

You can get bootable floppy images from I haven’t been there in ages, but they used to have the *.IMA files as well, so you didn’t need to have an actual floppy drive to make a bootable CD. If you can’t find an *.IMA file, have a friend that does have a floppy drive create a standard Windows 98 boot disk and save an image of it as an IMA file and email it to you.

There is no EASY way that I know of to make an NT\2000\XP boot disk write to a CD, but there are sites out there where you can download the actual BIN and IMG files from the original MS CDs. If you want to go the easy route and just use a standard Win98 bootdisk to install NT, 2000 or XP, be sure to include a file called SMARTDRIVE.EXE as well as a reference to the same in the AUTOEXEC.BAT file on the floppy - it will greatly speed up the install process. Note that bootable NT, 2000 or XP floppies (or images of the same) are NOT DOS disks.

handy: are you sure you’re not confusing Windows and DOS? AFAIK, you don’t need to write to a boot disk to boot off of it. Indeed, most anti-virus software that supports “recovery floppies” instructs you to move the write-protect slider on the floppy to the “read-only” position so that any viruses on your system cannot infect the floppy. Win 9x on the other hand does need to be written to, which is why creating a bootable CD that actually has a working Windows 9x install on it such a pain-in-the-ass (note: I’m talking about booting off of the CD into Windows 9x, not making a backup of the same).

UPDATE: Your friend will need a copy of WinImage to create the IMA file.

Get the latest Nero from its free if you have Nero. It has a selection to make a bootable cdrom. I think its version 5.5 or higher.

This guy shows how to do it too but more work: