Like many computer technicians and responders, I seem to always have at hand a collection of bootable media; CD’s, DVD’s, USB-HDD’s, flash media, etc.
Each one allows me to “off-line” boot a Windows system to service it, image it, pen-test it, or examine it.
The end result is a large CD-carry case and a handful of USB sticks along with one or more USB external hard drives.
There are a couple of note-worthy multi-boot Linux distros out there, and with some clever work you can make a USB stick able to multi-boot various WIM files.
However there really isn’t an all-in-one solution to conquer them all. You know, a “…one-ring to rule them all…” solution.
I had wondered for some time if it was worth the effort to spend working on a custom “Super-Boot” USB-based HDD system, based perhaps on the GRUB bootloader or maybe one of the myriad other boot loaders. I had collected a wealth of links and then promptly put off even addressing the headaches this might bring.
TinyApps.Org bloggest Miles was also apparently struggling with this model of multi-boot image management.
In his post Boot any and all ISO images from USB drive he outlined a smorgasbord of possible solutions to the same issue.
In the end he met with success via the iodd 2501 hardware device.
And in an added surprise, kindly sent one to me as well, just last week.
Here are my thoughts.
The iodd is a little bit larger than two decks of playing cards placed side by side. (image on left captured from iodd web-site page and used solely for illustrative product purposes.)
It accepts a 2.5” SATA “laptop” hard disk drive.
It can be connected to a system via USB (y-cable included) or SATA2 connection (with power draw from co-cabled USB port).
Is has a physical “write-block” switch.
At this point it sounds like most any other external USB drive….but wait! There is more!
If you create two partitions, the first being a FAT32, and create a “_ISO” folder in that partition, and then dump any bootable ISO file image into that folder, guess what? Amazing things happen.
You can plug it into a system, use the toggle switch to jog to the ISO image you wish to use to boot (it will display on a LED readout all the file-names present in the _ISO folder) and the press in the toggle button to select it. Then boot the system (assuming BIOS USB-based boot support is present) and the ISO will load and run!
It can also operate on a “live” system as an external HDD like you are used to, or as a virtual CD emulator, or both.
If you happen to have an ISO image of say, a movie, you can play that too.
That means if you have installation media converted to ISO format, you can load them up, and change them, for installations.
In one fell swoop, you can do away with almost all of your CD/DVD media and keep them all on accessible from this single device.
The device itself consists of a hardware/display component with a plastic “hanger” skeleton to hold to drive. The front and back plates are aluminum and slide on/off the hanger to encase the skeleton and drive.
Here’s a video on the disassembly:
Once apart, load in your SATA drive, carefully.
Since I don’t have a spare 2.5” SATA drive lying around, I went out and picked up a WD 640 GB drive, with 8 MB cache and 5400 RPM. That was a mistake. Although it did fit, it seemed a bit “thicker” and the case covers were very difficult to slide on. It was tight as all get-out. That coupled with the fact that no matter what I did or which additional hardware tool I used to try to connect to the drive, the drive just didn’t spin up, meaning I possibly pulled a bad drive from the store shelf.
Upon return/exchange, I then went with a Seagate 320 GB drive, with 16 MB cache and 7200 RPM speed. I understand that “smaller” drives tend to not be as power hungry as well so hopefully the smaller size will be offset by the faster RPM and larger cache for performance. It did fit into the enclosure much easier and the case lids slid closed much easier as well, for what it’s worth.
Then reassemble, carefully!
One thing that is easy to miss is that at each of the corners of the long-sides are tiny molded plastic pins that snap into the side screw mount holes on the drive itself. If you aren’t careful you could bend/break them. So pay attention! They might also bend and not fully snap in during the process so make sure they are correctly seated before you attempt to install the case lids.
Depending on the condition of the SATA drive, you can either prep it (format) inside the iodd device or outside the device before installation if you happen to have an USB-external drive cable connector kit handy.
The current requirements seem to be that you can have multiple partitions on the device with multiple format types. However, the first must be FAT32. Note TinyApps found that doing a FAT32 using OS X’s disk utility didn’t work.
I myself used Windows 7’s own storage management tool to make mine.
However, if you want to make your primary FAT32 partition larger than the stock 32 GB limit, we both unequivocally recommend using the free FAT 32 Formatter utility from Ridgecorp. Even easier for the masses is their Windows GUI version of fat32format. Want a 100 GB FAT32 partition? It’s yours with this great tool!
I was a bit OCD and used this GB to MB unit converted to make mine exactly 32 MB reported size.
I stuck with the 32 GB partition because, really, I don’t need more than that many ISO images to store on it (doubt I will even come close) and besides on a more practical level, the more you get on there, it takes a long time to toggle through them all to find the one you wish to select.
I used the remaining space to create a second simple volume and formatted it NTFS so I could land large (over 4 GB) image files if needed.
The product includes a foldout iodd2501_manual but it really is more than a little bit light for anyone but the really hard-core tech crowd who wouldn’t bother reading the manual anyway.
Instead download the full iodd manual (english) which covers everything (and then some) that you need to know about the device, from field-dressing the parts to software, to drive prepping, to usage, all in incredible detail for an overseas product.
Spend some time also acquainting yourself with the following additional on-line support resources:
Final Device Prep
Once the drive is formatted and installed, and connected, you will need to go to the first partition (your FAT32 one), and create a folder called “_ISO” on the root of that drive letter. It is into this folder you may next place all your ISO files.
Next I wanted to update the firmware to the latest version.
However, the executable isn’t support (apparently) on x64 bit systems, of which mine are.
So instead I went the easier way and downloaded the latest firmware in ISO format (Firmware Upgrade v1.42.24 (iso) ), copied the ISO file to the _ISO folder on the iodd, then selected that one. Bam…it loaded the ISO, installed the firmware directly, and was done! Easy and all internal to the device.
There are three “modes” of operation, CD-Mode, HDD-Mode, and “Dual-Mode”.
To use the device to pick/load an ISO, just toggle through the list of your “installed” ISO files (it appears arranged by the order copied to the folder rather than alphabetically) and once it appears on the bright blue LED readout, press the toggle switch “IN” to select/load it.
Because the ISO holding drive is FAT32, you can’t use/store/access ISO’s larger than the 4 GB file size limit, which is a drag if you have a Blu-Ray movie ISO or a distro image file that is DVD-sized.
However, you can use a File Splitter (Windows) offered by iodd or any other so long as you stick with the proper file-splitting naming convention it expects.
Here are some more videos (mostly in Korean) that show the device in action:
Where do I get one?
TinyApps secured his from LinITX.com, but they appear to be out of stock at the current time. I’m confident with some Google or Bing work you can track down a source.
A forum source linked to I-Odd USA as the company’s US web-presence location, but it doesn’t seem to be linked from the mothership web page, so I cannot (for now) certify it’s authenticity but it seems legit at this point. Use your web-spidey-sense accordingly.
Currently listed at the time of this post at $70 USD there.
Where do I begin with ISO’s to load on it?
Here is a lineup of the ISO’s I’m loading on mine, each in various grouping of need.
I’m obviously not including installation/setup disks, but examples might include Windows OS installation media, MS Office setup disks, various programs requiring installation from optical media, etc.
Look over them closely and come back often, I was surprised to see that many have newer release versions!
All are free, unless specifically noted.
System Administration/Support Distros
All of these are tools I keep at hand for response to troubleshooting/stress-testing/repair-response to Windows systems.
- pgpwde injected PE 3.0 Boot disk – A GSD Blog special of course! How could I not list it first?!!!
- GParted Live on USB – partition manager
- Parted Magic – partition manager
- MHDD – partition manager and drive health tool
- Memtest86 – memory tester
- Memtest86+ – memory tester
- Clonezilla – drive cloning tool
- KON-BOOT - ULTIMATE WINDOWS/LINUX HACKING UTILITY :-) - bypass Windows GINA’s
- Offline NT Password & Registry Editor – blank out local Windows account profiles (newly updated!)
- Trinity Rescue Kit | CPR for your computer – Rescue and response distro
- SystemRescueCd – Rescue and response distro
- Ultimate Boot CD – Rescue and response distro
- UBCD for Windows – Rescue and response distro
- Inquisitor – System burn-in distro
- Phoronix Test Suite - PTS Desktop Live – Rescue and response distro (more info here).
- Dell Diagnostic Boot CD's (Drivers & Downloads) – find and download ISO appropriate to your Dell systems…if you have any.
- grml.org - Linux Live system/CD for sysadmins and texttools-users – Rescue and response distro
- Windows Vista Recovery Disc Download — The NeoSmart Files – For Windows users
- Download Windows 7 System Recovery Discs — The NeoSmart Files – For Windows users
- BootZilla – Rescue and response distro
Another option? Slap a WinPE build with ImageX present, then use the other larger partition (NTFS) to acquire and apply ImageX WIM files of system images (you could do the same with Clonezilla as well)…heck! Do both! The iodd device makes it possible.
Couple that fact that the iodd can be set up with multiple partitions and can (in theory) support just about as large as a 2.5” SATA drive as you can cram into it, and that it has a hardware-based write/block switch to prevent accidental/malicious write-back to the device, the iodd might make a great forensic distro boot launcher and image file collection system. OORAH!
- CAINE Live CD – One of my favorites along with the next one below….
- DEFT Linux - Computer Forensics live cd – (now at version 5.1)
- Windows Forensic Environment – WinFE based on WinPE builds.
- Raptor 2.0 – Available in Intel (Windows) and PowerPC (Mac) supporting versions.
- HelixCE – A CommunityEdition (CE) of Helix. Under development right now.
- The Sleuth Kit (TSK) & Autopsy: Open Source Digital Investigation Tools – updated as of July 2010.
- Even more Distros can be found under the Tools - Forensics Wiki link.
And I’ve not mentioned the many commercial distros as well such as ForensicSoft, Inc’s SAFE (System Acquisition Forensic Environment) tool also based on WinPE.
- BackTrack Linux - Penetration Testing Distribution– the venerable pen-testing distro
- Matriux - The Open Source Security Distribution for Ethical Hackers and Penetration Testers
- The OSWA-Assistant(tm) - a freely downloadable standalone wireless auditing toolkit for both IT-professionals and End-Users alike
- Sumo Linux – multi-distro version consisting of Backtrack, Darik’s Boot-n-Nuke (DBAN), Damn Vulnerable Linux (DVL), Helix 2.0 (the last “free” version") before it went commercial, Samurai Linux, and Memory Test. Sweet!
- Katana -- via Hack From A Cave – version 1.5 released Feb 2010. Another multi-distro version containing: Backtrack 4, the Ultimate Boot CD, Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, Ophcrack Live, Puppy Linux, Kaspersky Live, Trinity Rescue Kit, Clonezilla, Derik's Boot and Nuke. With the iodd, you may not need it!
- Ophcrack – ISO’s for XP and Vista/Win7 available. Latest versions are 3.3.1.
Desktop Replacement Distros
Sometimes it’s handy to have a “LiveCD” bootable OS environment that isn’t based on the local HDD. Very good if you’ve got a particularly dead system at hand. These are my all-time favorites…
Converting Disk media to ISO files
Of course, sometimes you can’t just grab an ISO out of the box; you have to make one from, say, your setup installation media disks.
Assuming there isn’t any copy-protection preventing it, almost any of these great free utilites could be used to rip your optical media disk(s) to ISO format.
Don’t forget the FAT32 file size limit of appx 4GB still stand and you may have to use a File Splitter (Windows) offered by iodd or any other so long as you stick with the proper file-splitting naming convention it expects.
That said, I’ve had good luck with these.
- LC ISO Creator – tiny standalone executable for ripping media to ISO format via Lucersoft
- CD DVD to ISO 1.0 – burning Software from Dirk Paehl
- CDDVD COPY 1.5 – burning Software from Dirk Paehl
- AmoK CD/DVD Burning 1.10 – portable and more full-featured tool
- ImgBurn – What more do you need?
- Burn, baby, Burn! – GSD Blog post with a few more optical-media ripping options for the curious.
While the iodd won’t replace my 32 GB custom WinPE bootable flash stick as my primary Windows support weapon, it has just rendered the piles of CD/DVD boot media I carry obsolete in one fell swoop.
Special thanks again to TinyApps bloggist Miles for making this journey possible!
And in the immortal words of a young neighborhood kid just down the street from your average superhero family…after looking into the capabilities of the iodd….I only have this to say…