We have been using CDs and DVDs to install operating systems on our computers for quite some time now. With the ever increasing popularity of netbooks, things are about to change. In such cases, an external optical drive or a USB drive is required.
There are couple of situations where the use of USB drive brings a certain benefit:
- When you are trying to install Windows on a netbook or your optical drive is broken
- When you want to create a live USB from an ISO image (requires some extra effort)
- Theoretically, the transfer speeds should be better and the installation process is a little faster
- You can protect your original install media from wear and tear.
There are a number of ways to create a bootable USB drive, however most of them require copying files manually – making it prone to mistakes. WinToFlash makes the entire task a lot simpler by the magic of automation.
Download WinToFlash from here. It is a portable application, all you have to do is extract the zip file and you are ready to go. Start WinToFlash, pop in the Windows CD/DVD, plug in the USB flash drive and specify the paths. Click ‘Next’ and sit back and watch WinToFlash create a bootable USB drive from the installation media. This might take some time depending upon the size of the installation media.
WinToFlash can also be used transfer Preinstalled Environments (PE’s) to a flash drive. Go to the ‘Tasks’ tab and choose the appropriate option you want to use.
Creating a bootable flash drive from an ISO image is a little more involved. WinToFlash doesn’t let you specify an ISO image as the source for Windows file. To get around this limitation, you can do one of the following:
- Extract the ISO file. Most modern archiving software can extract files from an ISO image. I used 7-zip.
- Virtually mount the ISO image (try Virtual CD-ROM control panel) and specify the virtual drive as the Windows file path in WinToFlash.
The rest of the process remain unchanged and you will get a bootable USB drive after successful completion.
I want to install Linux using a bootable flash drive?
As the name suggests WinToFlash only works with Windows installation media. If you want to install Linux using a USB drive we suggest you have a look at UNetbootin. It works well with ISO files and can even download the required files if you don’t currently have them on your computer. You can also use built-in tools included in many distributions these days, if you already have Linux installed on another computer.
How do I check if my computer can boot from USB drive?
That is a question I get asked many a times. You can refer to your computer’s manual to check if you are able to boot from a USB drive. If that doesn’t work or you have a custom-built computer than you can always check the BIOS settings to see if there is an option to boot from External drive or USB drive. If there is one, make sure your computer is configured to look for a USB drive before it defaults to boot from the hard disk.
After you are through with the installation, I would suggest that you move the USB drive option back down the order and protect the BIOS settings with a password to minimize the risk of your computer being compromised.
If you have some other nifty ideas on installing/upgrading operating systems without burning a DVD, we would love to hear about them in the comments!