Booting from an USB disk – even when your system doesn’t support it

I like using VMware Fusion on my Mac, but it has one shortcoming: it cannot boot from USB devices. You can use disk images (floppy, CD/DVD and harddisk) as well as a physical optical drive, but USB devices are not available. That’s unfortunate if you want to use VMware to prepare a hard disk for a machine, and want to test booting off that system before installing it in the machine.

When I install a new FreeBSD machine, I often start out from an existing FreeBSD machine and install directly from that running system, instead of booting off an install DVD. Obviously, using a virtual machine for this bootstrapping system, together with a USB hard disk adapter, is very convenient. But without being able to boot the VM off that USB disk, testing can be cumbersome.

I was very happy to come across Plop, a boot manager with many features. The most interesting one for me is it’s support for booting off USB devices without BIOS support. Plop includes its own U/O/EHCI driver, supporting standard USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 devices and ports.

Also very important: Plop can be run off a CD or floppy image, so you don’t need to (re-)configure your main hard disk. If I feel adventurous, I might look into patching the Plop BIOS extension into VMware, making booting even easier. For the time being, I’m using the floppy image, since none of my virtual (nor physical) machines have floppy drives any more.

Also, when you have an older machine which BIOS does not support booting off USB devices, Plop might be very helpful!

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