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isostick - the optical drive in a usb stick's video poster

Keep all your CD/DVD images on your isostick, it's like a CD/DVD carrier and drive for your keychain! Read more

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This project was successfully funded on August 22, 2011.

Keep all your CD/DVD images on your isostick, it's like a CD/DVD carrier and drive for your keychain!

About this project

UPDATE: **SHIPPING OUTSIDE THE USA** Please add $10 to your pledge amount for shipping to Canada, or $15 for shipping to other countries. Shipping within the US is included.

UPDATE: FUNDED!! Thanks to everyone who pledged so far, let's keep it going!

Further pledges will allow us to purchase in larger quantities, lower our costs, and ease entry into retail markets. Pledge to get an isostick of your very own!

There has been a lot of misconception about the functionality of isostick. All the optical disk magic takes place in the isostick itself, it doesn't matter if you're in the computer's BIOS, an OS, anything -- whatever you plug it into will see both an optical drive and a flash drive. Absolutely no software is required for this. The software mentioned is a convenience for configuring it, but all settings are ultimately stored in config files on the flash portion, which you can edit however you please. I hope this clears up some confusion about the isostick, and I hope you like it!

Some BIOSes only see the first drive a device presents, so isostick's optical drive comes first so you don't have to worry about not being able to boot from it!

See new warranty info in the FAQ below! 30-day warranty on all units! :)

The isostick is a USB flash memory stick that likes to pretend it is also an optical (CD/DVD) drive. As far as the computer knows, there's two things in that little device: a flash drive and an optical drive.

Any CD/DVD images (also called ISO9660 or "iso" files) that you keep on the flash drive can be "inserted" into the optical drive. The computer will think there is a real optical drive there with a real disc in it! Of course, you can keep whatever you want on the flash drive, not just iso files.

You can boot from the optical drive as well, so you can keep your OS install images on there and use them as needed. Of course, that's not much good without the ability to change which iso is loaded on-the-fly. To solve that problem, we have a little thing we call "isosel," short for "iso selector," developed by our friend Stephen. Briefly, booting from the isostick's optical drive gives you a list of all your disc images, with the last-inserted one selected by default. It works much like any other boot manager: there is a (configurable) timeout, so if you don't do anything it will go ahead and boot the last-inserted image, so unattended installs will work fine.

The isostick also has a read-only switch so you never have to worry about a nasty virus hitching a ride on it. You can feel safe plugging the isostick into any computer with the switch in the Read-Only position, it's implemented fully in the device so there's no way for rogue software to override it.

Sometimes you're waiting around for something to complete and you're not sure if the computer has locked up or if it's just busy doing something. It has been said the "everything is better with blinkenlights." We couldn't agree more, so we put a nice bright LED in the isostick to show drive activity. That way at least you'll know if it's being accessed. But sometimes bright lights can be a problem, maybe you're a vampire and you work in the dark. We've got you covered: the brightness of the LED is completely configurable, you can even turn it off if you wish.

The isostick is targeted at IT people, computer technicians, and geeks in general that are sick and tired of carrying around lots of discs that always get lost, broken, scratched, or just stop working. Often times you'll have to update your discs with the latest patches or virus definitions or what-have-you. With isostick it's a breeze, just drop the new iso on the flash drive and you're ready to go!

Currently isostick supports the FAT32 filesystem. Despite this limitation, the isostick management software will automatically split up ISOs larger than 4GB, or you can do this yourself. You can format and partition it however you please, but for right now it can only make use of iso files on the first partition, which must be FAT32. Support for reading iso files from other partitions (so long as they are FAT32) will be coming soon. Support for other filesystems such as HFS+, ext2/3/4, and NTFS, is planned although that's a low priority so please don't expect it too soon!

On that note, isostick can be updated with new firmware as new features are added and bugs are fixed. There is no limitation on this, whether you're the first person or the 100th person to get one, everyone can always keep their isostick up to date with the latest firmware.

At the time of writing, the production boards are designed and we've tested a small run of them, shown here:

Click here for more images.

There's still some kinks to be worked out and features to be added before we're ready to get them to the masses. That's where you come in. Your funding will help us finish things up and bring the isostick into production. With your help, we can start making the lives of geeks everywhere a lot easier!

Thank you very much for visiting and we hope you like isostick!


  • It reads at 12.5MegaBytes/second rarely going above or below that, from both the optical drive and the flash memory.

    That's ~continuous~ as there is practically no seek speed, and it equates to 81x in CD-ROM speeds, or 9.46x in DVD-ROM speeds!! Much faster than a real optical drive will attain!

    The write speed depends on the Class of the MicroSD card. The Class number is the minimum write speed of the card in MByte/s.
    At minimum we will choose Class 4 cards (4MB/s), but we will try our best to obtain Class 6 and higher!

    * For those who like specificity, all MegaByte figures are actually in MibiBytes, meaning 1024*1024 bytes.

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  • (If you're unfamiliar, )

    The major differences are:
    a) The isostick's bootloader lets you switch between ISOs on the fly.
    b) You don’t need to copy the ISO contents onto a special area, you simply keep the ISO file on the flash drive as you would any other file. The only restriction is the partition must be readable by isostick (at present this means FAT32, but future updates may add support for other filesystems).

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  • Yes! You can disable it if, for whatever reason, you do not want or use it. We have tried very hard to design it to be unobtrusive and not cause compatibility issues. If you encounter problems with it, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will get right on it!

    The timeout before booting the last-selected ISO will also be configurable.

    If you'd like to see some other feature, let us know in the comments!

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  • Yes, when we stop producing the isostick all designs and source code will be made available under the MIT license.
    The choice to protect the firmware was made because the hardware is very simple, so it can be trivially cloned. We realize that no protection mechanism will stop clones, but it will significantly raise the barrier.

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  • It will depend on demand and retailers, and it's very hard to predict, but we are shooting for around the price point on the Kickstarter. We will make our best effort to lower the retail pricing based on demand and production costs, but there are other costs associated with selling retail.

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  • Yes! The management software runs on "the big three" without any problems.

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  • Yes, please add $10 to your pledge for shipping to Canada, or $15 for shipping anywhere else.
    Those who have already pledged internationally please adjust your pledge if you are willing; if not, I will cover the shipping. My apologies for not including this initially.

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  • Probably. We want to keep our options open, but at present the plan is to use MicroSD cards on the production units as well.

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  • Yes! Thanks to the new, custom-designed enclosure, which has a slot on the side for changing the MicroSD card whenever you want :)

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  • Yes. The isostick's optical drive is agnostic to the contents of the ISO file, and simply presents them to the computer as the contents of the disc.
    This is done at the protocol level by implementing the SCSI commands used by optical drives (for those interested, that would be the MultiMedia Command standard, or MMC-5 standard).

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  • Not at the moment, but we are working on it. Updates will be posted as progress is made.

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  • Yes! We will continue to update the isostick with new features and bug fixes, and these updates will be freely available to everyone.

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  • MicroSD cards were chosen because of their high availability, low cost, and ease of use. The barrier to purchasing MicroSD cards in bulk is about 1000 units, and that is considered a very low number in the industry. These are some of the minimum order quantities mentioned in the video.
    The benefits of MicroSD are that it handles the bad block checking and all the flash memory control on its own, offloading it from the isostick's CPU so we can dedicate more processor time to pretending to be an optical drive.
    While flash memory chips do exist for this purpose, it turns out the pricing for a given size MicroSD card is almost identical to that of a same-size flash IC. Also the minimum order quantities on dedicated flash memory are much higher, as they deal mostly with large vendors such as those making MP3 players, cellphones, etc.

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  • As many as you can fit on the flash memory!
    The isostick is not for just one ISO image, but a whole library of them.
    Our intention is to let you carry around your most frequently used installers and utilities on your keychain.

    Thanks to the bootloader, isosel, you can freely switch between those images even without an OS installed! Keep in mind that even with the bootloader, the optical drive is still being done in hardware, so there shouldn't be any compatibility issues.

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  • It is currently targeted at PC, but we will test it on several Macs in the coming weeks. When we have a solid answer this will be updated, and we'll post an update for the project.

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  • Yes! All isosticks, including Early Adopter units, have a 30-day replacement warranty. This covers early failure of the internal storage and failure due to manufacturing defect.
    We will test each unit thoroughly before shipment, but we want to cover any failures that slip past us! Note that this does not cover accidental (or intentional!) damage to the unit by the end user.

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  • As soon as possible after the Kickstarter is funded, but here are some estimates. Please do not take them as hard deadlines, we will work as quickly as we can.

    Early Adopter units should ship within 1.5 months of the Kickstarter ending. That is based on: it may take up to 2 weeks to clear all the money, and another 2 weeks to get the enclosures back, plus some overhead for testing, packing, and shipping them.

    Others should start to ship a few weeks after that. The interim will be spent fixing bugs with the Early Adopters.

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  • It's in the plan. We'll release an update to support those later.

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  • Not yet. This is a feature we plan to add in a future update. This would allow you to "burn" to the isostick, and it would show up as an ISO file on the flash memory, no problem!
    We feel this would be especially useful for computers which come with software that lets you burn the recovery disc, but don't come with a physical copy or a download on the website.

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  • The isostick is protected from static discharge (ESD) and voltage spikes that may occur. It also protects both itself and your computer from overcurrent by using a self-resetting fuse.

    The technical details, if you're curious:
    There are ESD protection diodes on the USB data lines to keep them safe during handling and plugging in / unplugging.
    The +5V USB supply is run through a PTC self-resetting fuse and a ferrite bead to filter it and prevent damage from overcurrent.
    The voltage regulator inside the isostick has a thermal shutdown in case input voltage or output current remains high for extended periods, despite the other precautions. The regulator can withstand a maximum input voltage of 7V, providing plenty of margin as USB ports are specified as supply no more than 5.5V.

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    Backers pledging $10 or more will receive a pack of stickers with fun designs relating to the isostick.

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    12 backers All gone!

    Early Adopters may pledge $75 to get an 8GB *BETA* isostick and a sticker pack. If you choose to be an early adopter, please be willing to file bug reports and test on a variety of computers. The cosmetics of these may differ slightly from the final production devices.

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    Backers pledging $125 receive one 8GB isostick and one pack of stickers.

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    Backers pledging $175 receive one 16GB isostick and one pack of stickers.

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    Backers pledging $225 receive one 32GB isostick and one pack of stickers.

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    Small Office Package. Pledging $575 gets you *five* 8GB isosticks. That's $10 off per unit! Includes one pack of stickers.

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    Small Office *16GB* Package. Pledging $825 gets you *five* 16GB isosticks. That's $10 off per unit! Includes one pack of stickers.

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    Large Office Package. Pledging $1000 gets you *ten* 8GB isosticks. That's $25 off per unit! Includes one pack of stickers.

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    Small Office *32GB* Package. Pledging $1075 gets you *five* 32GB isosticks. That's $10 off per unit! Includes one pack of stickers.

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    Large Office *16GB* Package. Pledging $1500 gets you *ten* 16GB isosticks. That's $25 off per unit! Includes one pack of stickers.

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    Large Office *32GB* Package. Pledging $2000 gets you *ten* 32GB isosticks. That's $25 off per unit! Includes one pack of stickers.

Funding period

- (30 days)