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Hardware Emergency Room:   Boot Disks
Contents: Why A Boot Floppy?
Other Useful Files To Include
Updating Your Boot Floppy
Using Boot Disks
This section is aimed at users who run Windows 3x or Windows 9x.

Why A Boot Floppy?

Many different things may cause your PC to be unbootable, including hardware failure, bad operating system upgrades and virus infections.  There are two steps you can take to protect yourself from this situation.  The first is to make frequent backups of your data and programs.  The second is to have a backup of your bootable operating system that will allow you to start your computer even if something has happened to your hard disk.   This is what emergency boot disks do.

You might even have several different boot disks that perform different functions.   Some special Utility programs create their own rescue disk sets.  You can also make a basic boot disk yourself, following the directions included on this page.

It is important to remember that because floppy disks fail frequently, you should always make duplicate copies of your boot disks and rescue disk sets, and make entirely new sets using fresh floppies once a year or so.

To make your own bootable floppy disk, follow this procedure:

1.  Start with a new, never-been used set of floppies.

2.  Do a full virus scan on your system with a current set of virus definitions.   If you are infected with a boot sector virus, stop here and disinfect your system!

3.  Insert the new floppy disk and either view it in Windows Explorer or do a directory listing by typing "dir a:" to make sure there is nothing on the disk.

4.  If you are running Windows 3.x, use the FORMAT command by typing "format /s a:" to format the floppy and transfer the system files.  If you are running Windows 9x, open Windows Explorer, right-click on the floppy disk icon, and select "Format...".  Be sure to click the checkbox that says "Copy system files".

5.  Copy whatever additional files you want to include on the boot disk (see the following section).

6.  Write protect your floppy.

7.  Always make at least two sets of disks!

8.  Test your boot floppy by making sure you can boot off of it without the hard disk (see the Using Boot Disks section below).

9.  Label your disks and keep them somewhere safe where you will remember them if and when the time comes.

Other Useful Files To Include

By following the steps listed above you can make a useful bootable floppy disk.   However, you can make it even more useful by taking the time to add a few more files.

1.  It may be helpful to copy your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files.  It's a good idea, though, to rename them so they aren't used automatically when you boot off the floppy.  This is because they might refer to things on your hard disk that may no longer work.

2.  You will need to include utilities that will help you to partition and format your hard disk, if that is necessary.  Minimally, copy FDISK.EXE, FORMAT.COM, and SYS.COM from your operating system directory.  If you copy the wrong files (i.e., versions that correspond to the wrong operating system) you will see the following error when you attempt to run them:  "Incorrect DOS version." 

3.  It is a very good idea to include the files that will allow you to access your CD-ROM drive.  This will greatly assist you if you need to re-install your operating system.  These files include your CD-ROM driver (which must be loaded in your CONFIG.SYS system file) and the MSCDEX.EXE system extension that comes with your operating system (this must be loaded in the AUTOEXEC.BAT file).

4.  Don't forget to include a simple editor like the DOS EDIT.COM.  This can be a life saver by allowing you to make quick changes to configuration files.

5.  You might want to add a couple of simple diagnostic utilities that are included in recent versions of DOS.  MEM.EXE provides details about your memory configuration and usage.  MSD.EXE takes a brief inventory of your PC, including disks, memory, and IRQ assignments, and writes it to a small text file.

6.  One final utility that might come in handy is DOSKEY.COM.  This nifty little tool lets you recall and reuse previously-typed commands.  

Updating Your Boot Disk

Update your boot disks whenever there are major changes to your system.  This is particularly important if you upgrade your operating system.  Also, once a year re-create them even if nothing has changed.  This will protect you from "bit rot" -- the slow degradation of magnetic media.

Using Boot Disks

It is simple to boot from a properly made boot disk.  All you need to do is insert the disk into the drive and do a cold reset (using the reset button) or a full shutdown.   Do not shut down using the Ctrl-Alt-Delete keys as this does not clear your system's memory contents.  By doing this your computer will load the operating system from the boot disk.

If this does not work, check your BIOS to make sure that you have not disabled floppy disk booting.

Disclaimer:  These pages are provided for information purposes only.  We cannot be held responsible for any damage you might inflict on your system while using the information contained herein.  We recommend you always refer any technical matter that is "over your head" to a qualified computer technician.

2011 Double-Hammer Computer Services.  All rights reserved.
Last Updated: September 04, 2011

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