You can make VMware Server boot from the host USB drive. This is an easy way to test if your bootable USB drive is really bootable without having to reboot your Windows system and boot it from the USB drive instead. Note however that if it boots under VMware it does not guarantee that it will boot from every system for real!
Note: I cannot seem to get WinPE v2 or v3 (Vista/Win7) based boot files to fully boot using this method with VMware Server, although DOS and linux work OK (all work with Qemu though!).
However, you can make the free Oracle VM VirtualBox boot from USB - see here for a tutorial and YouTube video below. IMPORTANT: Create the .vmdk file using your largest USB drive - if you later run Vbox using a larger drive than the one you used to create the .vmdk file it may not work or boot correctly - e.g. can't find GRLDR error. If this happens re-create the .vmdk file using the new USB drive.
Although VMware Server is faster, Qemu Manager v7 works with most USB sticks without needing PLOP. Just make sure you have \\PhysicalDrivex included in the hardware inventry (where x is the drive number as listed in Windows Device Manager).
So now, on your Windows system, test your bootable USB Flash Memory Drive (UFD) within Windows by booting it via a Virtual Machine using VMware Server as follows:
1. Download VMware server and install it onto your Windows PC (my PC is running Windows 7 64-bit Ultimate)
2. Click on the Desktop shortcut which was created during the VMware Server installation (VMware Server Home Page icon):
Note: The Google Chrome Browser is not compatible and you will get this error - try Internet Explorer instead!
3. Enter your Windows logon credentials when prompted (i.e. same username and password that you normally use to log in to your Windows Desktop - e.g. myname + mypwd)
Use your Windows credentials to log in (obvious isn't it!)
4. Extract the plpbt.iso file from the ZIP file and place it in your VMware Virtual Machine folder (in my case C:\Virtual Machines)
5. Now create a new virtual machine called USB BOOT (choose OS, Memory size, CPU numbers, size of new virtual disk, add a network adapter, add a DVD - Use an ISO image - browse to plpbt.iso, add floppy if required, add USB Controller, Finish). If you already have an virtual machine configured, select it and in the Summary tab click on the CD/DVD drive icon and choose Edit and then set Host Media and ISO image and Browse to the plpbt.iso file. The iso file must be present in the same folder as your virtual machine folder or you will not be able to select it in the VMware ISO browser applet.
Fig. 1 Ensure the plpbt.iso image is selected for the CD/DVD drive.
6. OPTIONAL: Now click on the Configure VM Command and highlight the Advanced tab - tick the Disable Acceleration radio button. If you do not do this, the PLOP manager may fail to boot and hang at the 'LOADING UHCI' or 'LOADING EHCI' progress text.
Fig. 2 You may need to disable acceleration (try it first and then enable it when you have a USB drive booting successfully).
7. Now start the VM by clicking on the Console tab and the large Arrow that you see in the Window (Fig. 3) - if you do not see the USB icon (as in the top smaller red ring in Fig. 1 above) appear shortly after clicking the large arrow (and a Windows 'Ka-Plob' sound as the UFD is disconnected from the host Windows system), ensure you have a SINGLE USB drive inserted before you start the VM. You may need to run the VM twice before you see the USB icon. When the USB icon appears, wait for about 5-10 seconds before selecting it and you should see an empty tickbox for Kingston USB Mass Storage Device - tick the empty box and you should hear the Windows sound for a USB Device removal - see Fig. 4 below).
Fig. 3 Click the large arrow to start the VM session.
Fig. 4 Once you start the VM, wait a few seconds and select the USB icon and tick the box.
You should hear a re-asssuring 'USB device removed' sound from Windows when you do this. No sound - no worky!
Fig. 6 Now click on the window to open a console and see what is happening.
8. Now click inside the window to window as directed to open the Virtual Machine in a new window (Fig. 7) and when the PLOP menu appears (Fig. 8), click inside the console window again and use the down cursor key to select USB from the PLOP menu and press [Enter] - the USB key should now start to boot!
Fig. 7 The VMware Remote Console should start.
Fig. 8 This is the PLOP boot manager screen - select USB using the cursor keys.
Fig. 9 Here is my grub4dos menu!