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Old 12-15-2004, 01:18 PM
Will Wagner Will Wagner is offline
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How-To: Boot Windows XP Off a Compact Flash Card

With 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.
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Last edited by Alexander Grundner : 12-17-2004 at 08:03 PM. Reason: Updated compact flash IDE image
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Old 12-15-2004, 08:10 PM
theharmonyguy theharmonyguy is offline
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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.
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Old 12-17-2004, 11:17 AM
jaxun jaxun is offline
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CF limited rewrites to consider

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!
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Old 12-17-2004, 11:37 AM
Wired Wired is offline
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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?
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Old 12-17-2004, 11:47 AM
jaxun jaxun is offline
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CF adapters

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Old 12-17-2004, 12:23 PM
Wired Wired is offline
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Yes, I already googled it, but thanks.

Tempted to ask some UK friends about the store that has them.
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Old 12-17-2004, 12:32 PM
Will Wagner Will Wagner is offline
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solid state rewrites

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.
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Old 02-16-2005, 12:21 PM
MrJambo MrJambo is offline
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CF always showing as removable drive

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...
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Old 02-24-2005, 02:29 PM
MadMrH MadMrH is offline
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(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 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
2x16 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)

Last edited by MadMrH : 03-22-2005 at 08:01 AM.
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Old 02-25-2005, 09:50 AM
Will Wagner Will Wagner is offline
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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.


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