How-To: Boot Windows XP Off a Compact Flash Card

compact flash win xp bootWith the cost of solid state disks like Compact Flash and USB thumb drives coming down in price, they have become an attractive option to use as a replacement for hard drives on home entertainment PCs. They are noise free and generate very little heat. This article describes how I was able to get BeyondTV Link, a .Net application, running Windows XP Home using an inexpensive compact flash card. As a disclaimer, please note that your mileage may vary when doing this procedure so please don’t blame me if things go badly, your spouse leaves you, and/or your dog bites you as a result of this article.

My first attempt was to do this with a USB thumb drive, given the motherboard I was using, a Via Epia M10000, has an option in BIOS to boot to a USB drive. After many failed attempts and investigation, I believe Windows XP does not support booting off of a USB drive no matter how much wishful thinking, so I took an alternative road using a compact flash card and an IDE adaptor. Please let me know in the comments if you have found a way to get USB drives to boot into Windows XP.

I used a cheap 1 gig Compact Flash card but depending on your skill level and tolerance of repeated attempts, I believe this can be done on a 512MB card as well. BeyondTV Link (and the associated Firefly remote software) use .Net which increases the disk usage significantly, so if you are using a different application, I think 512MB is adequate. I also used a compact flash IDE adaptor which is pretty easy to find both online and at electronics stores.

I used two applications in the process. One I think is essential to the cause for anyone who isn’t an expert, XPLite from the, a very handy application that will help you remove components from the Windows OS. The other is Partition Magic, which makes it easy to resize and copy one hard drive to another. I believe there are open source projects that can do some of this, but I find Partition Magic easy and dependable so it’s worth the cost to purchase it.

Step 1 – Build system using a hard drive
Windows XP Home requires a minimum of 1.5Gigs of hard drive space, so the first step is to build the system using a standard hard drive. I created a partition of 2 Gigs but found it inadequate to installing Service Pack 2, so I suggest putting the OS on a 3 Gigs or bigger drive to start. I installed a fresh copy of the OS using NTFS since it has a handy “compress files” option which I use later. I then added the VIA drivers and spent a good deal of time in Windows Update getting all the latest patches. I also installed BeyondTV Link and the Firefly Remote software. I then verified everything was working properly. At this point, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to back everything up using a tool like Partition Magic in case you need to come back to this point (I learned this the hard way)

Step 2 – Turn off Virtual Memory
The first thing you’ll want to do is turn off virtual memory so it doesn’t create a paging file on the drive. This can be found by right clicking “My Computer” and selecting “Properties”. It’s under the Advanced Tab, buried in another dialog by selecting the “Settings” button under Performance. From there, it’s under yet another “Advanced” tab and it’s labeled Virtual Memory (screenshot). Make sure that when you select “No paging file” you hit the “Set” button or it won’t actually adjust the settings.

Step 3 – XPLite from LitePC
The next step for me was pruning back the OS using XPLite from LitePC. The first thing you should do is “disable” Windows File Protection in the aptly named “Window File Protection” tab (screenshot). If you don’t, you’ll find windows constantly complaining about missing files. I removed most components including those Advanced Components you can get to show up by changing the default settings (screenshot). Be careful though, since you’ll likely remove the System Restore feature which gobbles up a lot of space, but prevents you from doing something completely irreversible. See my review on XPLite for more information on how to use the product. Make sure you reboot a couple times afterwards to remove any system restore points.

Step 4 – Clean up
The next thing I did was to boot into Windows Safe Mode (hold down the F8 key) to do some basic clean up of the system. Make sure you have changed file explorer to show hidden and system files. This can be found in the “Folder Options” menu in the “View” tab. Your final system will likely be different from mine, but here are a few good things to remove or change to get more disk space:

  • Delete anything in the Windows directory that starts with $NTUninstall.
  • Delete anything I the Windows/SoftwareDistribution/Download directory.
  • On larger directories, go to the properties dialog and select the “Advanced” button and pick “compress contents to save disk space”. Note that this is only available if you formatted your drive using NTFS. I did this to the following folders: Program Files, Windows/Microsoft.NET, Windows/.inf, Windows/system32.

Doing just that, I got the system down to 750MB or so. Being more aggressive, at one point I had a working system under 500MB.

Step 5 – Resize and Copy
I ran the floppy boot disks for Partition Magic to resize and move the OS to the compact flash card. Make sure you resize the hard drive partition small enough to fit the compact flash card, and then from within Partition Magic, copy the drive over to the compact flash drive.

Final Step – Remove original Drive and put Compact Flash Drive in its place
The final step is to remove the original hard drive and switch the connectors so it puts the compact flash drive in its place. Make sure it’s in the same location on the ID Bus (e.g Master Drive, Primary IDE channel) or you’ll quickly run into a “NTloader is Missing” error. With any luck, it will boot up as it did before, albeit a lot more quietly than that squeaky old disk you were using before.

Filed in: Peripherals

  • theharmonyguy

    Pretty interesting hack . . . I’ve wondered before when/if flash memory will catch up with hard drives. Sure would be nice to have solid-state instead of platters.

  • jaxun

    I explored this scenario a few months back, but was wary of this option because of the limited rewrite capacity of any given sector on a CF device (here’s some nerdbabble about solid state drives).

    While I have no idea how many rewrites would be involved on a boot “disk” like this, as long as the swap file was disabled or on another drive, it would make a great backup/recovery boot volume if the main crapped out.

    “Mileage may vary” truly approprite here!

  • Wired

    Where can you find these IDE -> CF adapters? I’ve seen some on eBay as low as $ 0.99 ($10 shipping). Avg price with shipping looks like 11-15 bucks.

    Anyone seen them from a retailer?

  • jaxun
  • Wired

    Yes, I already googled it, but thanks.

    Tempted to ask some UK friends about the store that has them.

  • Will Wagner

    That’s a good point about rewrites, jaxun. I’d heard about that limitation before, but didn’t consider it when I built my system. It would definitely be a bad idea to use the compact flash for the swap file.

    The other limitation of compact flash is speed, which in my system, didn’t have a real impact on BeyondTV Link, except for a slight extra delay when loading. Compact flash as a media is much slower than a traditional hard drive, and I was surprised by how vastly different the transfer rates are for different compact flash cards. This article has a good chart on the differences between cards.

    The overall point being that not only do applications that are disk intensive have an impact on the longevity of the card, but it also could make it slower than hell.

    I wish I would have made those two points in the original article, but I’m glad you posted the comment on them to make the point.

  • MrJambo

    I have tried this. However partition magic 7 and 8 both refuse to see my compact flash card. (within XP it is showing up fine as drive E: ) It doesn’t matter if I connect it as a USB drive or through the CF-to-IDE adpater on the secondary master IDE. It always shows up in windows xp as a removable 1GB drive and partition magic can not see it. I can format it through xp to be an NTFS partition fine.

    But because it can not be seen in partition magic I am unable to copy the partition from my C: drive (hard disk) to my compact flash.

    I am not booting from a floppy. My PC does not have a floppy drive. Would this make a difference? Can anybody help me. How do you make the CF appear as a drive in partition magic?

    Totally baffled…

  • MadMrH

    (updated 5/3/05)

    I had same issue with Partition Magic 8.0
    I had same issue with Partition Magic 8.1
    I had same issue with Norton Ghost v9.0

    Worked with Norton Ghost v7.0

    Following GHOSTing system would not boot from the CF card, error “NTLDR is missing”
    This is beacause I forgot that CF card MUST go back in same place as original drive same IDE cable/channel and same master/slave position (thank you Will for the reminder – see below). I started from the wrong point, I used a SATA hard drive so could never have got this right, You should always start with an IDE hard drive

    “If possible and buget allows get a 4Gb CF Card on a 2Gb CF Card I think you can just install XP direct to the card and wont need to use Partition Magic or Norton Ghost.
    Since my original text in quotes above I have now installed XP Pro inc SP2 from an original windows disk and it is possible to do a full installation using about 1.77Gb
    I then tried to load it direct onto the CF card from cd-rom, this works and loads perfectly up until the point windows reboots the machine to start the actual windows installation… this point it is unable to boot from the cf card…….I am currently working on this but have spent 2 days on it so far and no light at the end of the tunnel!

    I bought a standard speed CF card, again if you can buy the faster ones.

    I will keep editing this post till its right.

    System spec – some of it…..

    HTPC using Meedio
    Windows XP Professional Operating System
    MSI motherboard 875P – latest bios using online update system, ALWAYS use a ups!
    2GB Sandisk CF card
    Twin IDE CF adaptor – allows 2 CF Cards per IDE channel
    Silent IDE DVD Rom drive
    2×16 LCD Display – using LCD Smartie 5.3
    Fanless CPU heatsink
    Fanless psu
    Fanless vga card
    1Gb network 32bit PCI
    SPDIF Audio on board
    ATI graphics card

    Media Server (modified)
    Windows 2003 Enterprise operating system
    HP LH4 with SATA modified HDD system
    8x250Gb SATA Maxtor 9 HDD
    2xRaidcore 8ch SATA Array Cards 64 bit PCI (MUST have 130 bios)
    4x300Gb SATA Maxtor 10 HDD
    4 Xeon 550MHz cpu’s
    4Gb edo ram
    3xSCSI Pioneer Slot DVD roms
    1Gb Network

    BARCO Data 801s (modified) – I want a 1209s if Santa could help
    Upgrade of HD8 rev B lenses to HD8
    Black case option
    Some Graphics 801s items fitted
    8ft high gain 1.3 16:9 velvet sided screen

    Set Top Box
    Tivo Series 1 recorder to stream/record TV
    Cachecard with ram board and network
    G series Linksys Wireless gaming adaptor

    1 x Sony TA-E9000ES pre amp (waiting for firmware update to 2.x)
    2 x Sony TA-N9000ES Amplifiers
    1 x Soundtube Sienza Speaker set up (modified)
    Pair Quad ESL63′s for stereo (Electrostatics)

    Room accoustics
    Corner reflectors
    Absorbsion panels
    Thick Carpet & underlay
    Solid Slab base for all equipment/speakers
    Black out blinds

    Aircon by Toshiba (you can tell when your Home Theatre system is big enough you need aircon in the winter)

  • Will Wagner

    For the “NTLdr is missing” error, make sure that your CF drive is at the same location of the IDE as the original drive. For instance, if the the original drive was the Master on IDE-1, make sure after you duplicate the drive to the CF, to put the CF drive as Master of IDE-1.

    I think that might be your problem.



  • vlrage

    Finally I have found someone looking to do the same thing as me. I have been investigating HTPC’s for over a year now and everyone seems to want to create one box with their hard drives in it.

    Yet rather my idea was to create a small set top box that will interact with a media server.

    Anyway my question for you is this:

    If the settop box and server are connected to a wireless network do you believe the media will stream well?

    I have yet to find anyone who is streaming their media from a media server to a small client settop box. If I find out that this is ok then I will purchase a wireless card to put in the settop box.

    Thanks in advance,
    Eugene Kelly

  • twiglet

    yes streaming works fine over wireless.
    i stream my media off my main pc to a MCE pc.
    it’s a good idea to use 802.11g, and you’ll hardly notice that the media is streamed.
    with 802.11b you will notice a slight lag when loading thumbnails and starting videos.

  • Will Wagner

    I can stream movies using the new standard 11g, but in my setup, 11b is choppy. Distance (and the number of obstructions) from your access point to your thin client computer is a factor and the weaker the signal, the lower the speed.

    I don’t know a lot about wireless technology, but if you go with 11g, you might want to pick the same vendor for both the client machine and the access point. Many of the vendors seem to have proprietary extensions to the protocol to further increase speed. It also makes it easier to set up encryption since the user interface will be the same for creating passwords.

  • MadMrH

    A complete system should be designed with an equal level of quality for all parts, your system will only be as good as “the weakest link”.

    What type of media files as you trying to stream?
    For me I am trying to create the best possible within my budget so I start with all video files in .vob format – EXACTLY as they are from the DVD with NO compression, to save some space I only have the main movie file, with one type of audio track this removes any ads, directors commentry, trailers, different camera views etc.
    DVDShrink .vob copy tool
    DVDGenie is a useful tool
    PowerDVD, Meedio .vob playback software

    :eek: If you use .avi or Divx compressed files I have not tried these as the quality is reduced. Starting with the highest quality media will allow highest possible image.

    I was unable to stream a movie to a high quailty over 802.11g network. I did not spend much time on this as I feel this is the wrong route to go down for my main viewing system. I’ll explain……

    A cable should never have the issue of missing data, wireless currently might have, for me this possible risk was enough to wire the main system. As software develops in this area data may stream into a buffer then the risk of lost data is minimised, slowly more systems seem to be going down this route.

    Lets look at LCD projectors (personally a hugh waste of money but thats a different topic, and yes CRT is the way BUT there are fewer of us about each year who can set them up, DO NOT MAIL AND ASK ME TO)
    These are available with a wireless system built in to many new ones. They are able to stream Video data only but not the audio as well, there is not enough room in the data transmission to do this, this is my reason for asking what type of media you wish to stream wireless. A powerpoint presentation will be fine a DVD film may glitch, HP, Epson etc. are all working on this technology.

    If you were to go down the wireless route a system might comprise of the following items

    1 Media Server linked to wireless access point
    2 Media playback PC
    3 Wireless LCD projector
    4 Tivo/Sky/Set top Box with wireless adaptor
    (Blue items mentioned in original question)
    Now there are 4 items trying to share the wireless link, maybe now you add 2 wireless networks in your playback pc one for data from server, one to projector.

    One day you wake up and think “music in the bedroom, or even a film” and the wireless system gets a little bit bigger and slower.

    Am I a fan of wireless :) ? Yes, It has its place
    At home my Printer, Tivo, and Latops are all wireless. Printer and Tivo are non critical items for data transfer, Laptop can be used in the garden to surf or to quickly pickup a file I need, for me this is the right technology in the right place.

    Speeds :
    IR –
    Bluetooth – (runs same 2.4GHz band as B&G, 700Kbps or 0.7Mbps but due to be increased)
    Wireless A – 54 Mega Bits Per Second (5 Ghz band)
    Wireless B – 11 Mbps (a step back in speed and up in distance)
    Wireless G – 54 Mbps (back to where it started!)
    10/100 network – 100Mbps
    100/1000 network – 1Gbps or 1000Mbps
    Dial up – 0.056Mbps or 56Kbps
    Broadband 1/2/4Mbps
    (my final intention to be able to stream from my server to a laptop in a hotel/bar/remote place over broadband&wireless netwok)

    Wireless A range 60ft/20m, Wireless B,G range 300ft/100m

    You see from this list that wirless technology is still being developed, at the same time the wired networks are also being improved, 1Gb network now comon and an integral part of a laptop bought 3 months ago, also had G series wireless.

    Wireless systems work on a hub idea, share of load.
    Wired systems can be hub or switch, a switch maintains constant data rate to all items.

    My system is Linksys wireless G and 100/1000 switched

    There is also the cost issue to look at, my first wireless card £100.00 now about £30.00, network cards £10.00

    “Thats all folks………..” (for now)

    PLEASE NOTE : I see many forums where people slate others, tell them they are wrong, this is better, that is better etc. The above are my opinions, and based on my personal use of many different systems, I am open to suggestions and will try and respond to thought out questions which I can answer. It would be of great help/use if people could mention what type of media you stream, at what speeds and also you final viewing point, television, lcd, dlp, crt, tft, IF you find any mistakes in my text I will edit this post, my other post above keeps being added to as well……one day a site for all my work……..

  • vlrage

    In the process of building the wireless media network. I have also decided to use original DVD files. I found a program that will rip just the movie file from the DVD without the extras.

    I then tried to convert the video files to DIVX but even with a 2.4GHZ P4 it was taking nearly 5-6 hours. With a DVD collection approaching 400 there is just no time for that.

    For my media server I will be using:
    4 x 400GB hard drives
    standard P4 motherboard
    512 DDR
    P4 2.4GHZ
    Custom Acrylic Case

    For media client box I will be using
    VIA EPIA MII 12000
    512MB Ram
    Wireless Adapter Card
    Custom Acrylic Case


    For our next topic check this idea out.

    I read somewhere that people were able to interact with there HTPC’s via PDA. The new Palm Pilots have wireless capabilities and a roughly 256MB of space.

    Imagine loading software like myHTPC or medio on the palm and using that like a remote to interact with your client HTPC box. I believe by doing this we could bypass using Girder and an IR device. I hear the Girder software is a pain in the ass to learn.


  • MadMrH

    I have now started my own post “welcome to MY world” in the “Just Chatting” section as we are now way off topic but I feel still a very useful one.

    I have added answers as I see to your post.

    In the process of building the wireless media network. THINK what you are try to achieve in the very long run, wireless could end up expensive and needing upgrades, Cable is still my prefered MAIN system.

    I have also decided to use original DVD files.- Excellent Choice

    I found a program that will rip just the movie file from the DVD without the extras. I use DVD shrink, what did you find?

    I then tried to convert the video files to DIVX but even with a 2.4GHZ P4 it was taking nearly 5-6 hours. BAD IDEA, if you start with the original .vob files WHY would you ever try and make them worse? If you use DVDShrink you can compress any amount you want from the original in the same time as a normal rip, eg 9-20 minutes depending on your machine.
    You could also end up with BIGGER divx files than you started with!
    DivX, AVi – good for internet downloads.
    With DVDShrink at about 10-15% compression you will start to loose picture sharpness and definition, depending on your screen size, how close you sit etc each person will have a different idea of “quality” they are happy with.

    With a DVD collection approaching 400 there is just no time for that. – currently 462 films on my server, 2.8 Tarra Bytes of info. HOWEVER if you do decide to divX them, the idea is to run batches overnight and slowly change your collection, though to me a waste.

    For my media server I will be using:
    4 x 400GB hard drives – IF you dont have these yet look at 250 & 300, more space for your £,$ – cheaper to have more smaller drives, Raidcore / Broadcom SATA 8ch card about £225.00 MAKE SURE YOU COOL YOUR DRIVES, dont have to be cold but airflow is what matters
    standard P4 motherboard
    512 DDR
    P4 2.4GHZ
    Custom Acrylic Case

    For media client box I will be using
    VIA EPIA MII 12000
    512MB Ram – Same here always has 50%+ free so you could use less.
    Wireless Adapter Card – If you have too!!!!!
    Custom Acrylic Case

    All the best,

  • kbergner

    the process went pretty well except that the system is hanging at the windows splash screen the mouse is still active but seems to be hung. i have tried this on a few different motherboards and CF cards but to no avail.

    any ideas ?

    thanks in advance for the help


  • Tom0000

    I have used the same IDE/CF interface like in this topic with Kingston 1G high speed CF . I have connected it as slave with dvdrw on the same controler. The windows from hd is starting and before I see blue initila window it is restarting.
    I have found, someone has had the same problem. He has tested 3 cables – all 80 wires. But he has used one 40 wires and all is OK.
    Why ?

  • ZTZebra


    I have the same problem as MrJambo.
    Tried Acronis Tue Image 8 and Partition Magic 8 and Norton Ghost 9: all refuse to see my compact flash card. (within XP it is showing up fine as drive D: )

    It doesn’t matter if I connect it as a USB drive or through the CF-to-IDE adpater on the secondary master IDE (type CFDISK.2E see
    BIOS identifies it as Samsung CF/ATA (CFC is a Kingston Elite Pro 1Gb).

    Quote”It always shows up in windows xp as a removable 1GB drive and partition magic can not see it. I can format it through xp to be an NTFS partition fine.” (similar problem

    But because it can not be seen in partition magic I am unable to copy the partition from my C: drive (hard disk) to my compact flash.

    How do you make the CF appear as a drive in partition magic?

    Or is it possible to use “bootprep”? Or something else?


  • Fritz

    The problem with booting from a USB is that XP will take control of the USB ports and reset them during the boot process. There is a great program utility called pebuilder (freeware for private) that is available at It is originally intended for creating a bootable WinXP CDROM. Great for testing systems or recovering a crashed system. Recently they have also added support to create a bootable USB stick. The following link will point you to a very good article on how to do this.…cleID=177102101

    I downloaded this and created a bootable stick with no problem. Took about 45 minutes from start to finish.

    One other problem that can come up with booting XP from a Compact Flash module also is that the Hardware ID is set to REMOVABLE and it needs to be set to FIXED. You should be able to get a utility from your manufacturer that will allow you to change this (usually requires booting from DOS – Yuck!) or you can use a CF module from Simple Tech ( since they come set to FIXED already. Hope this helps someone.

  • leima

    Wired said: Where can you find these IDE -> CF adapters? I’ve seen some on eBay as low as $ 0.99 ($10 shipping). Avg price with shipping looks like 11-15 bucks.

    Anyone seen them from a retailer?

    sale transcend kingston sandisk kingmax CF card SD card memory stick pro duo …… at a competitive price

  • matt518000

    Wired said: Where can you find these IDE -> CF adapters? I’ve seen some on eBay as low as $ 0.99 ($10 shipping). Avg price with shipping looks like 11-15 bucks.

    Anyone seen them from a retailer?

    If you want to buy some IDE To CF Adapter , pls visit .it produce many kind of IDE-CF adapter and have good quality and cheapper than the others.

  • george

    Stop your lame babbling about rewrite limitations. Each memory cell is likely to have at least 100,000 writes. That’s each cell, and that’s writes only, reads are no problem. Basically, you’re looking at 5 years EASILY with a CF card as a boot drive. Read up about it.

  • Anthony Maw

    Regarding the limited re-write lifespan of CF memory cells, it is true that the “average” number of rewrites is about 100,000 before you get ONE bit error. Most data systems are made to compensate for single bit-errors. According to Intel (inventors of strata-flash memory) and SanDisk, trademark holders of Compact Flash) there is an underlying “wear levelling” file system that prevents the same cells from being repeatedly overwritten. This underlies whatever filesystem you’re using. Therefore with respect to “wearing out” your precious (getting less precious) CF card, I’d say “fuggetaboutit”.

  • Cristian Bordeanu

    Regarding the usage of an 80 wire ribbon cable, as i googled the problem a bit, it seems that all CF to IDE manufacturers request on using 40 wire ribbon cable only.

  • Miran

    Well its not wishfull thinking. Ive booted XP froma usb stick more than once. I had to prepare the usb stick on another computer becouse my stopd at mop.sys at boot. Youll find many programs that do this on the web, heres a link i saved

  • Ton

    i actually have a htpc using flash as an os drive and a server

    the htpc uses and ocz ssd

    the server uses a transcend flash module that (in my case) is plugged directly in the ide socket on the mobo, leaving me with 4 sata harddisk to work with. You can find them under industrial products, decent performance, long guarantee and simple to use.

    not al cf cards are created equal, cards need to support ultra dma mode 4

    also i would recommend nlite (and its vista brother vlite) this allows you to remove and add components from xp and create a custom install drive, that way you never get the bloat on the disk allowing you to start small.

    (btw for server use, there is a tiny windows server build out there that not only use little disk space but also only `200mb ram)

  • Ton

    that should be create a custom install disk

  • Ben

    What’s to stop you from just installing the CF in the IDE adapter at the beginning and doing a fresh install of Windows and customizing it there(same as you would on a standard hard drive)? It shouldn’t be to difficult when you can buy 4GIGs for about 30 bucks these days. I have a thin client that boots Linux this way and the bios just sees the CF as a regular hard drive.

  • hipokondriak

    Thanks for a very interesting read peeps.

    Been there and done it, as they say. This pc I am using now, is a CF 8Gb sandisk in a dual IDE converter plugged straight into the mobo IDE 0 (zero) socket. Windows XP SP3 and Office XP 2003 plus the usual crap (firefox, thunderbird, antivirus and firewall). External Maxtor 500 GB finishes it off. Oh yeah, a 4GB CF card on the back = 12GB flash drive.

    Slow to boot but once running, no appreciable lag over a spinning platter.
    just under a minute from power on to windows up and running. One piece of advice… DO NOT USE HIBERNATE ON A CF CARD BASED SYSTEM! My God it is so bad! Go make a cup of tea, take the dog for a walk round the block and catch a movie whilst you are out. recovery from hibernate is so slow. it is quicker on my system to cold boot every time. Maybe I have missed something out on the setup side of things, but once running, I defy anyone to say it is slow. benchtesting gives 50mbs read and 20mbs write speeds which is very good for cf cards.

    Had my system running for about 18months now with few if any grievances.
    no loss of performance that I can see.