Using Plop Boot Manager for USB Boot

Portability is a huge advantage that Linux enjoys over most other desktop operating systems as most major distros work very well when installed to a flash drive. However, there are still machines in service that just won't play ball when it comes to USB booting. Fortunately, I found a nice little utility that can work around this problem.

Carrying data around on a flash drive is handy, but with Linux, it's possible to carry around an entire work environment. Unfortunately, however, there are some older systems that won't boot from USB. For example, I have a Sempron 3000+ system with 2GB of RAM that won't boot from USB, even though it's a usable system for some things. If the BIOS doesn't support booting from a flash drive, there's not much that GRUB can do as it doesn't contain any drivers and relies on the BIOS to find bootable media.

Plop Boot Manager aims to overcome these limitations. Like most boot managers, it presents a selection menu to choose the boot partition when the machine first starts up. As it contains its own USB drivers, you can use it to convince older hardware to boot from a device such as a flash drive. It's a quite a flexible piece of software. For example, you can set it up to be loaded by GRUB or the Windows boot loader menu or even something more exotic such as loading Plop from from a floppy disk drive in order to initiate a network boot. In this example, I'll be documenting one single use case in which I used it to enable an older machine to boot from a USB drive.

Standard disclaimer: If you're carrying out a job like this, a single mistake or one bug in the software can easily wipe the contents of the entire disk. Back up valuable data.

In this case, I installed it to the MBR (Master Boot Record) as this is the simplest option. A word of warning here: when installed to the MBR, it will overwrite an existing GRUB installation if it too was placed in the MBR. As Plop isn't a Linux loader, this means that Linux will no longer work. In other words, you will have to reinstall GRUB onto the Linux boot partition itself, if you don't already have it working like that. There might be a slight problem here as USB keyboards wont work until the operating system itself has booted. This means that you can't actually select anything from the Grub menu if you are using a USB keyboard, which should’t be a huge problem for most uses. Obviously, Plop Boot Manager can select between operating systems. An existing Windows installation should continue to work without modification.

Within the archive, there are a few directories with the files needed for different types of installation. In this case I took the ISO installer image (all 480k of it) and burnt it to a CDR. As I said, if this isn't an option with the machine that you're working with, you can install from within an operating system that is already running on the computer. As with all of the system, the installer uses a flashy mixture of text mode and graphics. It's a simple system and it installs very quickly.

Rebooting, you're presented with the installer itself with options for booting from different types of media. As hoped, this allowed me to boot Xubuntu from the USB flash drive. One limitation of the program is that it can't handle booting from USB DVD/CDROM drives which is a shame. It's an interactive boot manager and you can reconfigure it on the fly to change things like appearance and default boot options.

Plop Boot Manager is a versatile piece of software. Risking the ire of Linux graybeards by saying it, I've often wished that more Linux distros made use of something a bit friendlier than the perennial GRUB. If you work with a lot of older hardware and would like to boot from a memory stick, the the ISO version of the boot loader on a CDR might be worth adding to your bag of tricks.

I've only scratched the surface of what Plop can do. Hit the docs for a full feature list.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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Also for the general good

Anonymous's picture

PLOP fits nicely on a 'credit card size' CD, the kind you can carry in your wallet ( I do ). Boot PLOP from that, up to your USB with your tools like Windows password resetter, etc, and you're in FAT city :-)

USB 3 vs USB 2

Anonymous's picture

For the benefit of the community, my experience :

I carry ~ 24 boot images on my USB drive. Rescues, AV, tools, etc. I use VMware for testing bootability from USB, which runs Grub4DOS to boot the other ~24.

I found that my PCI based ( not PCI-E ) third party USB3 card will not work with PLOP. However, just plugging into the origiqnal USB2 ports on the machine will work as always, allowing me to continue by boot test / verification etc of images under VMWare.

I had thought that my recent F'ing around with some other USB stuff ( TV tuners etc ) had hosd my ability to test under VMWare with PLOP. Not so.

Happy daze :-)


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plpbt.bin in /boot

Hoyt's picture

I leave plbt.bin in /boot and use a GRUB menu entry for it to allow booting in ways that the BIOS and memdisk do not.

A handy tool is a handy tool no matter what the license.

Closed Source

BB_1999's picture

Please keep in mind that this is NOT open source software, even though it is free. The author will not share the source to this to allow enhancements or changes, nor does he share the source with his other projects - like the VMDK booter.

That we can see that this is

Trancoso's picture

That we can see that this is half open sofware, at least it's free to use. I can understand that the author doesn't want to share his code, but if he changes and upgrades it then for me there is no problem

I use this with VMWare to test live distros on USB

plpbt.iso addict's picture

I've found this handy to test out a live distribution on a USB flash drive after making it with unetbootin. I have a VMWare VM with no hard drive and the plpbt.iso image in the "CD drive". This boots and I'm able to use it to boot off of the USB drive. I also have plpbt.iso burned to a CD-ROM to use with older or uncooperative machines. It's very handy, something that should be in everyone's toolbox.

Broken link in article

link clicker's picture

Your link for "the docs" has a space before the http:// that makes it not work when middled clicked to "open in a new tab" in Firefox. Looking at what gets copied when I copy the link location, I see this, which looks very wrong:

USB boot from GRUB

Anonymous's picture

The key question is: "Why do I need PLoP (freeware but not open source) when I have GRUB already installed?"

An answer is:
Because complex GRUB cannot do such a simple and basic things like boot from CD, boot from floppy or boot from USB stick. And that is why I install floppy image with PLoP to my GRUB menu to every computer I have.... On several computers, PLoP is my primary bootmanager that starts GRUB...

plop bootloader

Col's picture

I have used plop several times over the last few months to boot to a live USB without installing anything.

There is an ISO image within one of the plop folders called plpbt.iso

Burn to a cd and boot from the cd on the computer with your USB Drive inserted. The live USB must be inserted before booting or it will not
be detected.

The USB flash drive will be in the list of boot options.

You should re-read the docs

Jerry McBride's picture

You said, "One limitation of the program is that it can't handle booting from USB DVD/CDROM drives which is a shame"

Since when? Right on the website it says just the opposite. Booting a such a media is... slow...

---- Jerry McBride

(Sorry if this message

Michael Reed's picture

(Sorry if this message appears twice)

According to the docs (link now fixed):

"Only USB mass storage devices are supported. The USB support allows to boot from usb harddisk, usb sticks and usb cardreaders. USB floppys and CD/DVD drives are not working."

Have you actually verified that it works?

UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


xrat's picture

Thanks a lot for this article. I wish I had known Plop sooner :)

BTW, the last link ("the docs") is broken.

XOSL was great, too, but it's not maintained anymore. I doubt that it can boot USB sticks and such. Does it work?


Anonymous's picture

In the past I used XOSL, which I installed on my laptop which had booting from CD disabled, but with XOSL it was possible. It also includes Ranish Partition manager. And it has a nice graphical interface too.