How to Create a UEFI Bootable Ubuntu USB Drive Using Windows

Set up a USB to install or try Ubuntu

What to Know

  • Download an Ubuntu ISO image, then download, install, and launch Balena Etcher. Insert a blank USB drive into your computer.
  • Press Select, find the Ubuntu ISO image, press Select Drive, and find the USB drive. Press Flash to write the Ubuntu ISO to the USB drive.
  • To boot into Ubunto, press the hotkey during startup to display a boot sequence menu, then choose the option that matches your USB drive.

This article explains how to create a persistent, bootable Ubuntu USB drive that works on both UEFI-based and BIOS-based hardware.

Choose the Version of Ubuntu to Download

Download Ubuntu by visiting the Ubuntu Desktop Download site. Select a version that meets your needs. The LTS version offers a five-year support window, but it's not as cutting-edge as the current non-LTS releases.

Ubuntu Desktop download site

Whichever version you prefer, it downloads as a single ISO image on your hard drive.

Create the Ubuntu USB Drive Using Etcher

The best tool for creating a Ubuntu USB drive is Balena Etcher. It's free software.

  1. Download and install Etcher.

  2. Launch Etcher if it didn't start after it finished installing. Insert a blank USB drive into one of the USB ports on your computer.

    If the USB drive isn't blank, everything on the drive will be permanently erased.

  3. Press Flash from File then locate the Ubuntu ISO image you downloaded.

  4. Press Select Target, and choose the letter of the USB drive that you inserted.

  5. Press Flash to begin writing the Ubuntu ISO to the USB drive.

    Create Ubuntu Drive Using Etcher
  6. Ubuntu is written to the drive, and a validation routine runs. After it has completed, you can boot into Ubuntu.

How to Boot Into Ubuntu

When you reboot the computer, it may boot straight to Windows. This is because Windows is usually set to boot before anything else on most computers. However, you can override the boot order. Press the hotkey during the computer's start-up process to display a boot sequence menu.

Check the list of hotkeys for the Boot menu to identify the key sequence for your computer.

When the boot menu appears, choose the option that matches your USB drive.

Make the Ubuntu USB Drive Persistent

To install applications and save settings on a live USB drive, it must include a writable filesystem. Ubuntu looks for a file called casper-rw in the root partition to provide persistence.

Create a casper-rw file using PDL Casper-RW Creator. Download this Windows application then double-click the executable to open it. Insert your Ubuntu USB drive, then select the drive letter within Casper-RW Creator.

Create a persistent file using Casper-RW Creator

Drag the slider to determine the size of the Casper-RW file. The larger the file, the more you can save, within the space constraints of the USB drive. Select Create.

Edit Grub to Add Persistence

To get the USB drive to use the casper-rw file, open /Boot/Grub on the USB drive using Windows Explorer. Edit the file grub.cfg by right-clicking the file and selecting Open With and then Notepad, or open it with your favorite text editor.

Look for the following menu entry text and add the word persistent, as shown below:

menuentry "Try Ubuntu without installing" {
set gfxpayload=keep
linux   /casper/vmlinuz.efi file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper quiet splash persistent --
initrd   /casper/initrd.lz

Save the file. Then, reboot the computer while holding down the Shift key and boot back into Ubuntu.

Programs and settings are remembered each time you boot into Ubuntu from the USB drive.

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