USB flash drives are the bread and butter of transferring data via hardware, worthy successors of the original hardware transfer methods – CDs and DVDs. However, similar to their predecessors, if you want to install an OS on a PC, you can’t just simply copy the files onto a USB and call it a day; a process similar to burning CDs has to be performed beforehand. That’s what bootable USB making software is for, and there are a lot of them available nowadays.
Both Rufus and Etcher are quite big in the world of bootable USB-creating software. Each of them has its strengths and weaknesses and, while they do perform the same core function relatively equally, they also have some other functions and they differ from each other quite a bit. We’ll compare them based on three criteria in the list below.
Let’s start with the basics: both of these are freeware, free-to-use open-source software pieces that have no hidden payments anywhere, they both have their respective GitHub repositories from which users can download the latest version, read documentation, get support from the developer team, as well as obtain the source code if they want to tinker with it. Rufus is under GNU General Public License v3, while Etcher is under Apache License 2.0.
Rufus was written in C++, while Etcher was made in Electron framework, which might be one of the reasons it has rather persistent bloatware; the other one being its owner company – balena.io. Users have noticed (and went into an understandable outrage) that the program is constantly trying to connect to the Internet, and not just trying to ‘phone back home’ to check for updates (both of these programs have automated updates, by the way), but also trying to access some websites such as Facebook, Google Analytics and GoSquare, which are known to collect user data, even after the option “Anonymously report errors and usage statistics to balena.io’ was unchecked; this is a rather big minus for Etcher.
As for updates and support, they’re both being updated regularly, and have plenty of support available on their GitHub repositories, forums, FAQ, etc. Rufus offers localization in 38 different languages, while Etcher doesn’t seem to have any multi-language support yet, although there are mentions of it in its GitHub issues, with users offering their help in the translation process. They both ask for user validation I.e., authentication as an administrator before commencing the writing process.
While Rufus is a Windows-exclusive program, Etcher works on all three major operating systems – Windows, macOS, and just about all the major Linux distributions. They both can boot all three types of OS. As for Windows, they both support versions from 7 onward, while Etcher also works on every macOS Yosemite or above. Additionally, Rufus can make bootable FreeDOS and MS-DOS USB flash drives, while Etcher does not seem to have such an option.
Both of them can very successfully burn images onto USB drives and SD cards and, although we all may agree that using CDs or DVDs to install operating systems is a thing of the past, Rufus still retains respect for the old-fashioned gentlemen of the industry and has the option to burn CDs, while Etcher doesn’t. They can both work with compressed files, but since Rufus only works on Windows, it won’t work with some of the compressed file types made in macOS or Linux-based compressing tool alternatives, but Etcher will.
One of the more famous features of Rufus is that it’s a portable program, which means there is no need for installation – you just need to run the executable file you’ve downloaded and it directly opens the program, unlike the usual installation process that occurs whenever a new program is downloaded, Etcher included.
Rufus is allegedly the fastest at making bootable USB devices, but Etcher is one of the faster ones, too. In fact, according to some speed tests performed by users, Etcher seems to be even faster than Rufus, although it does largely depend on the PC configuration and USB port type.
Rufus boasts automatic detection of a removable hardware device so that users don’t accidentally format and wipe their internal hard disks in the process. They both have an extremely simple graphic user interface, with Etcher’s being the simpler, more straightforward, and user-friendly (also arguably more aesthetic) one (Rufus looks rather basic, like any default Windows window). However, although simple, Rufus has way more advanced options available under its belt, including support for GPT/UEFI with NTFS UEFI support, provided the computer you want to install the OS on has the configuration new enough for it.
GPT is a more modern partitioning method than the old-school MBR – it means Globally Unique Identifier Partition Table – every partition in the world has a unique identifier. While MBR was created in 1983, it’s natural it’s a bit outdated, it only supports hard drives up to 2 TB size, and it has no way to know data is corrupted unless the said data doesn’t allow the OS to boot, while GPT stores multiple copies of data across the hard disk and, since it can single out corrupted data with its cyclic redundancy check, it can also replace that piece of data with the ‘healthy’ one from one of its backups. UEFI is, essentially, a more modern and less clunky version of BIOS. This makes Rufus more up-to-date for newer configurations, at least.
Although Rufus doesn’t win in all of the comparisons we’ve had here, it does take the cake in those more important ones, aside from the cross-platform support, basically (and we’ve heard rumors of Rufus getting a macOS version soon, so cheers to that!). Etcher users seem to have a problem with its rather shady data collection and sharing, which is a big minus in this day and age when people are becoming more and more aware of their safety and privacy on the Internet. Our final verdict would be: if you are not a Windows user, get yourself Etcher; otherwise, go with Rufus, whether you’re experienced or not, it will do the job just right.