Can’t boot from a DVD/CD drive

In order to install a new operating system on a computer, you can make a bootable DVD that includes the software to install the new system, put it in the DVD/CD reader, and reboot your computer. If all goes well your computer will boot off the DVD/CD reader and then you follow the install process and there you go.

But sometimes this doesn’t work. The most common reason is that your computer is not configured to boot from the DVD/CD reader first (if it has a bootable disk in it). You have to go into bios and change the “boot order” so “boot from DVD” is on top of the list, above “hard drive.” A less common problem is that your motherboard is old and not configured properly at a deeper level, which may require installing a new bios. Another, probably common, reason is that the DVD you made is messed up somehow. The “.iso” image you downloaded is corrupted or something went wrong during the burning process. One way to check that is to use the checksum hashtag to verify the image. Never heard of that? Just look it up. It involves obtaining and comparing two numbers which are constructed from the image. One number is provided by the maker of the image using specific software that does this, the other number is obtained on your final version of the image (or downloaded version) using similar software. If the numbers are different, the data are corrupted. This might be more likely if your computer was doing wonky things while downloading or burning, or if the drive you did the burning with is messed up. (Yet another possibility is that the disk is dirty or damaged, but if you just made it, that seems unlikely.) A typical run down of the problems, in the context of installing Ubuntu Linux, is here.

But I think there is yet another explanation that occasionally happens. It is possible that your DVD/CD reader will only participate in the boot under certain circumstances. This would be the case either with older DVD/CD readers, or possibly, a matter of a broken or dirty DVD/CD reader. I’m pretty sure this is the case because I have an old computer with a DVD/CD drive into which I can put known functioning bootable CD’s and get results, but that will not boot off a known functioning bootable DVD.

I could have cleaned the DVD drive, or I could have replaced it (they are cheap). I did not do the former for no particularly good reason, and I did not do the latter because a long time ago I learned it was better, when buying a new DVD/CD drive, to get a nice external drive so it can be moved between computers.

What I did do in this case was to burn a regular CD rather than DVD with a system. This is a problem if you want to install Ubuntu because, apparently, there are no longer such images available for current versions of the operating system. But, Debian sill has an image that does this. Since I was giving serious thought to installing Debian rather than Ubuntu (which is based on Debian but with a lot of changes that I don’t like), this was a good move. Someday I’ll clean the DVD.

I am not certain that I’ve isolated an actual problem, but when I search around for explanations for what I observe, I tend to find the same thing over and over; the usual explanations are repeated and the user with the problem is left wondering. So, I’m putting this on the Internet for people to run into while searching for answers.


  1. #1 Kari Pahula
    September 2, 2014

    I haven’t burned a DVD or CD as an install medium for years. The Linux install .iso files can be copied on USB sticks directly and any semi-modern bios should know how to boot those. I don’t know what you’d use for writing such an USB stick on Windows, but on Linux a simple dd directly on the device will suffice.

    CD/DVD drives have rubber parts in them and they can fail due to old age, even when not used at all.

  2. #2 Donal
    September 2, 2014

    I use the USB drives, too. Canonical sells them preconfigured via Amazon, or you d/l the iso and use an old one.

  3. #3 Brainstorms
    September 2, 2014

    Many XP-era PCs cannot boot from USB… And they’re still in use. The issue isn’t “why don’t you boot from USB”, it’s “what do you do if your CD/DVD has troubles booting” — when that’s all you have as an option.

    I have some “Model T” machines from the 90′s, one of which cannot even boot from a CD; you have to boot a floppy, which then continues booting from the CD (which is inserted into a read-only external drive that’s cabled to the laptop). It was built for Win 98, but it runs Linux, too.

  4. #4 Mike Haubrich
    September 2, 2014

    The .iso for Ubuntu is too damn big for a CD is why CD’s are no longer available. They once had an option to not include the multimedia extras to squeeze it down to 700MB, but that is no longer even an option.

    I don’t have your answer, big fella, on the booting from a CD/DVD.

  5. #5 Brainstorms
    September 2, 2014

    Here’s the answer:

    You start by installing the *server* edition of Ubuntu. The server ISOs *are* small enough to fit on a CD, rather than a DVD (typically around 600 MB, since they don’t have the GUI packages present).

    Once installed (or during installation, as an option, for the latest versions if you’re on the net), you can ask to install the GUI desktop of your choice. This will, of course, require a network connection…

    If you do a straight server installation, and then boot to the command line when done, you then log in and enter this:

    sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop

    And it will spew forth a list of some 1200 packages to download and install. (Which is why the CD installation will seem to go oh so quickly…)

    If you prefer the Xubuntu desktop, you instead install “xubuntu-desktop”. Etc.

    I do this for most of my desktop installs. Why? Because they fixed the problem of the desktop installer not having LVM (yea!) but they still haven’t added RAID support to the desktop DVD.

    And they took away the “Alt Install” disk and broke installation from a desktop trial session into a manual RAID config… Oy! Now you can only install to RAID from the server CD. Desktop installed separately… But it works fine.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    September 2, 2014

    Yes, you are probably right! I had earlier tried that, though, and Ubuntu server failed to manage my network connection. The thing about the Debian install is that it is a whole desktop distro so when you’re done you’re done.

  7. #7 Brainstorms
    September 2, 2014

    Yes, the server install does disable “Network-Manager” (which you use from the GUI), which is fine — and necessary if you never install the GUI.

    However, when you *do* install a GUI desktop, Ubuntu makes the mistake of NOT enabling Network-Manager for you. It doubles this flaw by not telling you any of this!

    Here’s what you do: Edit (as ‘root’) the ‘/etc/network/interfaces’ file and comment out the lines for the interface (eth0, typically). Then reboot (I’ve never had success trying to simply restart networking services).

    When you get back to your desktop, the familiar network management interface will then be working as expected.

    Really, they should at least inform you of this on first bootup. Better: They should offer to do this for you (and do whatever-it-takes to save you a reboot at the same time).

  8. #8 Brainstorms
    September 2, 2014

    Speaking as a seasoned system administrator, you’re never done! (Only “done for now”.)

    I’m writing this waiting for updates to gel on a Windows Server 2003 system… still being patched, still kicking, still in use. Part of me wishes it would die so that it really would be “done”. (It’s getting close.)

    Because there’s no funding for it any longer. So when it’s done, it’s done.

    Well, for the time being, that is. Something will replace it eventually (hopefully I can ensure it’s Linux — Debian is fine), and then there’ll be more work to be done.

  9. #9 K7AAY
    September 2, 2014 is a direct download link to the latest Ubuntu, but with the lightweight LXDE desktop. Once installed, you can install any other Linux desktop environment you want, plus all the apps for Ubuntu, but I find the quick, snappy response of LXDE eminently desirable.

  10. #10 Brainstorms
    September 3, 2014

    @9: “Once installed, you can install any other Linux desktop environment you want”.

    True… However, what irks me is that you’ll install and see, e.g., the Unity desktop after login (what you intended), but having installed Lubuntu first, you’ll (unexpectedly) see its LXDE “greeter” panel on boot-up, and find other residual elements of its interface here & there. It feels very “Frankenstein” as a result.

    By installing Server first, then manually installing your desktop of choice after first boot, you’ll get the consistent desktop interface you’re expecting throughout. (Might save someone a re-install after finding out the long way.)

    LXDE is lightweight enough to be a good choice for very old (Pentium, P-Pro, and P-III) systems with RAM limitations. Also a good choice for a simple GUI on a home file server if you really can’t stand dealing with the command line.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    September 3, 2014

    Brain, that is exactly right and it is a problem inhibiting adoption by regular people. I would like to see the underbelly of desktop deployment taken to a place closer to the kernel so major flavors would have the same engines and configuration files, like the situation with package management. Then desktop developers would still be free to be creative but less messy.

    Example. Xscreensaver is an ancient but good technology. Gnome created a panel that is called gnome screensaver, but it is a GUI for xscreensaver. In current gnome panel, the traditional version of gnome, screensaver is installed and runs, but gnome’s screensaver tool is gone and there is no apparent user interface. So you are running a screensaver but have no controll over it. A similar situation exists with Debian menu vs gnome menu. Not to mention unity and gnome 3s complification of desktop icons and menu items, making that basic technology unavailable to regular people.

    Linux could be just as clean and smooth as a Mac if this chaos was brought under controll.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    September 3, 2014

    Gnome-panel out, XFCE in.

  13. #13 Brainstorms
    September 3, 2014

    Xubuntu (XFCE Ubuntu) is my choice for older hardware.

    I just upgraded a pair of Pentium III systems to 14.04, using Xubuntu. Either could be a “daily user” for modest needs.

    I agree about the problem of inhibiting adoption… There are other issues, too (such as multi-media packages that have to be installed after the fact).

    I read Jaime’s blog regarding issues with Xscreensaver, and while I like it, I decided against further use. (Security issues, mainly.)

    I used to install & use Gnome 3 with each distro, but after having some installation issues, I tried Unity 7.. and now I find it to be a reasonable “daily user” itself.

  14. #14 SmarterThanYourAverageBear
    September 3, 2014

    Then there’s the new type of laptop/desktop that doesn’t have a CD/DVD player at all. It’s a move to getting everyone to live in the SaaS world.