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How to make HP and Compaq computers boot off USB

Booting off USB is easy. You go into the BIOS, find the option that says USB boot, enable it, and then go into the boot order, select USB, and move it to the top. Well, not if you have an HP or a Compaq, you don’t. How do you make HP and Compaq computers boot off USB?

I’ll tell you.

HP and Compaq computers boot off USB

Making HP and Compaq computers boot off USB isn’t always obvious, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

HPQ machines usually do have an option to enable USB boot, but when you go into the boot order, you’ll never find USB. For some reason, they make it tricky–I suspect it’s so that people don’t accidentally render their machines unbootable by keeping non-bootable USB drives plugged in all the time.

The easier way

On some models, including but not limited to the Mini 110 and the HP Compaq 6910p, you can just plug in your USB device, reboot, hit F9 while the system is running through POST, and you’ll have an option to choose what drive to boot from. If you have this option, it may be preferable, since you don’t have to change anything. You can just let the system boot off the primary HDD or SSD, and it will boot faster since it’s not looking for anything else. Then, any time you want to boot off USB, CD, or something else, just use the menu.

The harder way to boot HP or Compaq computers off USB

If you can’t find that option, or that option doesn’t work, here’s another way.

Shut down the computer.

Plug in your USB device.

Enter the BIOS by mashing the appropriate key (F10 on my Mini 110, but for some reason I think it may be F1 or F2 on some models).

Make sure USB boot is enabled.

Go look at your hard drives. You’ll see your USB device listed there, and chances are it will be lower priority than your internal drive. Set your USB device to have priority over the internal hard drive.

Save your changes and reboot.

I don’t tell you exactly which screens have which options, because it varies a bit from model to model and I haven’t seen enough different models to know what the pattern is. But the procedure was very similar on the last four different HP machines I’ve looked at. What I tell you here should be enough to get you going if your HP or Compaq computer won’t boot off USB and you need it to.

Specific instructions to boot the HP Mini 110 computer off USB

Since I happen to have my HP Mini 110 handy, here’s exactly how to do it on that machine:

Plug in your USB drive


Hit F10 to get into the BIOS

Using your arrow keys, navigate to System Configuration

Again using your arrow keys, navigate to Boot Options

Still using your arrow keys, choose Boot Device Priority

Select your USB drive. Hit F5 until it becomes the first boot device.

Hit F10 to save your options and exit. Your Mini 110 will now boot off a USB device, assuming it’s bootable.

Once you’re done booting off USB, you may want to change the boot order back so you don’t accidentally boot off the device again. Accidentally launching Windows setup is harmless enough; but if you keep a copy of Darik’s Boot and Nuke on USB laying around, it’s reasonable to want to have to jump through some hoops to launch that.

Further reading

If you’re interested in installing Windows off USB, here’s some help with that too.

What about other makes of computers, you ask? Well, it happens that Toshiba laptops are similar.

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