I just assembled a new server machine, which in the end I chose to house in a shiny aluminium Thermaltake Lanbox, which is relatively compact but still roomy enough for two hard drives, a bog-standard power supply, and plenty of airflow, which is what I wanted. I also knew that the fans on this case were nice and quiet (I have a black steel version as a GPU test box, I wanted a lighter version this time!), which is important for a machine that will be on all the time.
As I said in my previous posts, I was determined not to put an optical drive in this machine. It really doesn’t need one, since all the system software will be downloaded anyway - the only possible use for an optical drive would be to boot the machine in the first instance, and that seemed a total waste. I know DVD drives are cheap, but why clutter up the box with one just for the rare occasion when I need to manually boot? The same goes for floppy drives, which are such dinosaurs I can’t believe some new machines still come with one present - the only possible use for a floppy drive these days is to provide a slot that you don’t mind a toddler feeding jam sandwiches into.
No, instead I wanted to boot from a USB flash drive. I’d never done this before, so I scouted around for the best ways to do it. Syslinux came up pretty quickly as the primary contender, but being lazy I hunted around a bit longer to see if anyone had a simpler way than configuring Syslinux manually. That’s when I came across UNetbootin.
What a fantastic little project! It took literally 5 minutes from downloading, to creating a bootable USB disk with the distribution of my choice on it (UNetbootin will download your chosen distribution automatically - or you can supply an ISO of your choice if you want), to booting up the new machine. I couldn’t believe just how simple it was! I chose to put Ubuntu 8.04 Netinstall on the disk, which clocks in at a tiny 9Mb because it’s just enough to boot up the installer to start downloading the real packages direct, but if you want, and you have a big enough USB stick, you can a complete distro on there too. But this way, I can use a crappy old USB stick I have lying around as my boot device.
A great little tool anyway. I love it when things are easier than you expect.