Burning Linux ISO Images

Updated 8/3/06

Burning ISO Basics

Have you burned an iso image before and tried an install of any other Linux distro?

If so, then you probably got lucky, or already know how to burn an iso image and do not need this tutorial. However, successfully burning a Linux iso image before tells you that your drive is probably functioning properly and the burning software that you are using is set up correctly.

One of the most common issues that new users of Linux make is improperly burning iso images. Just burning the file on a cdr media as a data file does not properly set up the disk or make the disk bootable (which is what you want to do).  Simply put,  do not burn the iso as a data cd.

In order to properly burn an iso image, you must instruct your burning software to use the "burn image" function. Also, make sure to burn all the images that you downloaded this way. For example, in Nero, you go to the main file menu and just choose the "burn image" option.

Another, less often seen mistake is to extract the iso files to a hard drive, or extract the image to a directory using a utility like isobuster, then attempt to burn the directories and files to a cdr disk.  This will not work. Also, just putting the iso files on a hard drive does not make them bootable or usable.

Do not use the Windows XP utility to burn your images. The XP utility only burns a data disk, which is not what you want.

Make sure that you have the bios set correctly to boot the cd drive before the hard drive. Many systems do not do this by default. The system may seem to check the CDROM drive, but not seek the drive for a boot image. The order can be floppy, cdrom, then hdd0, or in older systems (if you have two choices) cdrom, then hdd0. Make sure to save your changes and have the cd disk in the drive when the system re-boots.

What Burning Software are you using?

The software that you are using to burn the iso file drastically affects how the iso files are burned to a cdr disk.  Equally as important, burn the images at a slow speed - such as 4X or 8x. The images do not burn correctly if they are burned at too high speed.  You may need to change the burning speed of your software for the burn to assure that the speed is set low enough to properly burn the images.

Do not choose any options in the burning software to make the CD bootable, as the "burn image" function will automatically layout the files properly and make the cd bootable for you.

If you are using a Linux distro to burn your images, try k3b. It automatically checks the md5sum of the image, so you can check it against the author's verification (checksum) numbers. It is now included in most Linux distros.

If you elect to use Windows (this is your first Linux iso burn), then try Nero. If you are looking for a free burning utility, CDBurnerXP Pro  should do the trick. Another fine utility for Windows is BurnCDCC which is designed to burn iso images exclusively. Good for those newbies that don't want the hassle in figuring all this out!

Remember...if you go slow, you will be ready to go!

What medium did you burn the images on, cdrw disks or cdr disks?

While this may not seem to be an obvious issue to many, what media you use to burn the iso image can affect the outcome of your attempt to burn the image on a disk, as well as if your cdrom drive will be able to read the image.

Always use quality cdrom media. Try to resist buying cheap media, just because of the price was right. Make sure that the media is compatible with your CDRW drive in terms of speed and type. If you have 4X rated cdr disks, you can only burn at that top speed. If you have faster rated media, burn the iso's at 4X or 8X.

How Old is your CDROM/CDRW Drive?

Usually there are no problems burning CDRW disks for a distro and booting them from the same CDRW drive that they were burned on. However, older CDROM (not cdrw) drives often have incompatibility issues with CDRW media burned on newer CDRW drives.

The most frequently seen problem is burning the cdr media on a newer CDRW drive, then attempting to boot or use the burned CDRW disk on an old CDROM drive. Always attempt to boot the burned image with the same cdrw drive that you burned the images on. If you burned the images on a cdrw drive, then attempt to boot the image on another system with a CDROM drive that is older, this can be a reason for a variety of boot errors that you will see when trying to install the distro.

Where and How did you get the iso's and Download Them?

The least obvious issue.

Occasionally you can get a bad download of the iso image. Not common, but it happens. The system will boot the cdr, but fail at some point during the install. Modem connections tend to be interrupted when downloading large files (such as iso images). So, don't be surprised if the image download is not intact. Try to use a download manager when fetching images, if you can, so if the download gets interrupted, you can resume the download where it left off. A sample of such a utility is SmartFTP.
Did you verify the iso's that you downloaded (that the checksums were OK)?  Mandriva and Fedora will also verify the burned disks for you during it's initial install procedure. It does take some time, but is worth the effort.

Hardware Issues

How the CDROM or CDRW drive is configured in your system can make a difference. Some drives like to be set up as slave, while others like master or cable select. This is especially pertinent if you have built a system yourself and installed two drives, say one burner and one CDROM drive.
If you have set up such a system, double check the manufacturers instructions for the drives to get their suggestions on how to set the jumpers. Make sure that the jumpers are set as per the manufacturer's suggestion. Consult the diagram on the CDROM device itself, or the instruction manual. Of course, if you have a prebuilt system (and have not installed any of the drives) this is not relevant.
If you run into weird behavior with a drive, especially with using the drive in general, consult the motherboard's web site to see if they have any faq's on CDRW or CDROM issues. This may reveal some possibilities and solutions.

If you still have problems with the drive, a remote possibility is a bad ide cable or improperly matched cable(s). Consider this as well. Remember, the outermost cable connection on an IDE cable is primary, the innermost is slave. Most ide cables are marked to guide you. Finally, make sure that the pin assignment is correct. Pin 1 on the ide cable (red stripe) to pin 1 on the CDROM drive. Consult the CDROM's users manual if you are confused about this. This is less of an issue with modern cables, as they have a notch on the cable connection that will allow the cable to be inserted only one way. Ditto for newer CDROM and CDRW drives.

If you experience erratic behavior of the CDROM drive during a burn, or the drive seems to have problems consistently reading disks, check the lens on the CDROM drive. It can become dirty and may need to be cleaned. Consult the manufacturer's web site FAQ on how to clean the lens. If this does not work, you most likely have a failing CDROM drive. Since such drives are quite inexpensive now, consider replacing it, or buying a CDRW replacement drive.