Laptop fails to detect USB I want to boot from

Right, so this probably isn't an Ubuntu-specific issue, but I'll take whatever help I can get at this stage.

In the wake of the recent Windows 10 April 2018 update causing computers to stop booting properly, my friend's Toshiba laptop has ended up as such, and I'm trying to help him recover his data. I've made a bootable USB of Ubuntu 17.10.1 (amd64) via macOS with dd, and it boots just fine on that MacBook and another PC laptop (not Toshiba, and which currently successfully runs Ubuntu, just for reference).

The issue that I'm having is that my friend's laptop doesn't seem to be able to detect any USB with Ubuntu on it whatsoever (or maybe any USB at all; I haven't tested this). Plugging in the USB, and holding F12 on boot, I'm presented with a menu listing boot devices, including USB, ODD, HDD, and Network. Note that all items except USB have some sort of description of the specific device beside them, such as its brand name. As such, I believe the USB stick is not being detected at all, as I would expect a similar description of it to appear. Attempting to boot from the USB by choosing the option here simply fails, and the laptop then attempts to boot from HDD.

Going into the UEFI configuration, I've disabled Secure Boot and Fast Boot, but to no avail. Before anyone suggests enabling CSM/legacy mode, surely that shouldn't be necessary since both Windows 10 and Ubuntu 17.10 are fully UEFI compatible.

If anyone has any suggestions—maybe the lovely Rod Smith is reading this!—please do let me know. Cheers.


EDIT 2018-05-30: In response to comments:

  • @jdwolf: I have tried enabling CSM, but there is no change in behaviour. Let me also clarify that I was not installing Windows 10 in UEFI mode, and then the system became unbootable, but rather, Windows 10 was already installed in UEFI mode and working for some time (both since the laptop was bought with it preinstalled, and also for the last year or so when it had to be reinstalled for other reasons, which was actually done with a bootable Windows 10 USB installer, ironically, so I know this thing can boot from USB as its done so in the past), and a recent Windows update has left the system unbootable.
  • @sudodus: The laptop has been owned since around late 2013. It's a Toshiba Satellite L850-1WC. Here is a link to its product specifications page, and you can find its support page (drivers, etc.) by filling out the model details here.

Regarding possible issues with dd, I've also tried making the USB on a laptop running Ubuntu using its "Startup Disk Creator", with no luck. The behaviour is exactly the same.

Thanks again.


EDIT 2018-05-31:

I have another USB stick, 1GB in size, lying around which has an LED that is illuminated when plugged in, blinks when being read from/written to. I thought I'd give that a try in the problematic laptop, as I had a suspicion that maybe the laptop just wasn't powering the 4GB USB stick I was using before—I'd be able to see whether it was being powered based on whether that LED was on or not. As it is only 1GB in size, I couldn't put Ubuntu, Lubuntu, or Debian on it, so I went with Arch Linux (~500MB), and lo and behold, for some reason, the laptop dealt with that USB stick just fine... I'm doing a successful backup with rsync as I write this.

I suppose this issue is "solved" in the sense that I'm now able to do what I wanted, but the issue of why my other USB sticks weren't working still remains a mystery. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to comment them for anyone who happens across this thread in future.

For records' sake, the USB sticks I tried previously were manufactured by HP and Kingston, so perhaps those are just problematic with Toshiba laptops. (Though having said that, those same USB sticks have worked fine in my own 2008 Toshiba Satellite many years ago, so it's really quite a conundrum...) The working USB stick is a no-name brand I was given by my school years ago.

Answers 1

  • Congratulations :-) You found a solution

    I have another USB stick, 1GB in size, lying around which has an LED that is illuminated when plugged in, blinks when being read from/written to. I thought I'd give that a try in the problematic laptop, as I had a suspicion that maybe the laptop just wasn't powering the 4GB USB stick I was using before—I'd be able to see whether it was being powered based on whether that LED was on or not. As it is only 1GB in size, I couldn't put Ubuntu, Lubuntu, or Debian on it, so I went with Arch Linux (~500MB), and lo and behold, for some reason, the laptop dealt with that USB stick just fine... I'm doing a successful backup with rsync as I write this.

    I suppose this issue is "solved" in the sense that I'm now able to do what I wanted, but the issue of why my other USB sticks weren't working still remains a mystery. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to comment them for anyone who happens across this thread in future.

    Analysis and comments

    USB systems in computers and pendrives are not completely standardized. Most of them work as expected, but some hardware and (built-in) software have problems communicating in all situations. They are not compatible.

    • Almost all USB pendrives work as mass storage devices in all computers

    • Most USB pendrives can be made into bootable live/install drives, but some pendrives will not boot all computers, and some computers will not boot from all USB pendrives. This can be independent of brand name, but can be specific to the model or number series of the product.

    • I have Kingston pendrives, that work in my Toshiba. I have no pendrive made by HP (or branded by HP).

    • I have also noticed that 'no name' pendrives may be 'more compatible' than branded ones (but they are often rather slow).

    • The following current Ubuntu family ISO files can be cloned to a 1 GB USB pendrive and used as a live operating system,

    Read more


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