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Did you ever format a hard drive, only to realize that the computer doesn’t have a DVD or CD drive? And now you need a bootable USB flash drive? Or maybe you thought the computer could be booted from a USB drive, but the version of the BIOS doesn’t allow for that?

Even if you don’t need it right now, go ahead and create your bootable Windows USB or DVD with us now. It’s not something you’ll need often, but that one time you do, you’ll be so glad you already have it!

Frustrated Woman with Steam Coming Out of Her Ears

Whether you’re just stepping into taking ultimate control of your computer, or you happen to be the one friends go to for computer help, or if you are a dedicated computer technician, it is nice to know a few different ways to install Windows. ISO is the simplest file format to build a bootable disc or USB device.

NOTE: If you want to create bootable CDs of Windows, you will only be able to do that with Windows Vista or XP. If that’s the Windows version you’re running, might I suggest switching over your older computer to Linux The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees The Best Linux Distributions For Windows XP Refugees Read More ? I’ve spent about two hours looking for legitimate Vista or XP downloads to make bootable CDs for installing them, without any luck. Even searches on different bit torrent sites came up with nothing promising.

What’s an ISO? What Are ISO Files & How You Can Create, Use & Burn Them For Free In Windows 7 What Are ISO Files & How You Can Create, Use & Burn Them For Free In Windows 7 ISO files can be created from any CD or DVD you have lying around. They’re called "disc images" because they’re an exact image of a disc. An ISO file contains an exact representation of the... Read More

That’s a fair question. Any file that ends in .iso is generally referred to as an ISO. An ISO file is a sector for sector copy of all the data from a disc. It’s a virtual copy of a CD or DVD, with the same file structure and the same data. Think of it like a perfect photocopy of a photograph. The copy will have all the colours, shadows, and nuances of the original. Perhaps that’s why ISO copies are referred to as ‘images’ of the original.

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The acronym ISO comes from the name of the organization responsible for creating industry standards – International Organization for Standardization. Yes, that should be IOS, but they figured ISO was better.

Having an ISO of a disc is also useful for sending a copy of a disc from one computer to another. With it being a perfect duplicate, nothing gets lost in copying or compression. You’ll often see ISO files of programs and operating systems on bit torrent directories or other file sharing sites. Maybe you’d like to make your program install discs into ISO files No DVD Drive? No Problem! Create And Mount ISO Files For Free With These Tools No DVD Drive? No Problem! Create And Mount ISO Files For Free With These Tools My computer doesn’t have any optical drives anymore. That means CD drives, DVD drives, Floppy drives--they’ve all been cut out and done away with forever. If a particular piece of peripheral gear doesn’t have a... Read More .

What Does Bootable Mean?

Any media, whether it’s a USB flash drive, CD, or DVD is bootable if you can use it to boot your computer from the USB drive or disc, instead of the computer’s hard drive. When installing Windows, the media you use must be bootable.

How Do I Get an ISO of Windows?

Well, that all depends on what version you need. Let’s take a look at Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10. All are available from Microsoft through downloads that include a tool to create your bootable media.

Windows 7

The official way to create recovery media is through Microsoft’s Software Recovery page. Before you head over there, make sure that you have your Windows 7 Product Key Microsoft Retires Windows 7: This Is How You Can Still Get A Copy Microsoft Retires Windows 7: This Is How You Can Still Get A Copy Windows 7 Home and Ultimate editions have been retired. If you want to get a computer without Windows 8.1, your options are limited. We have compiled them for you. Read More .

Be aware, for this method to work, you can not use an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) key. It has to be from either a Windows installation disc or from a previously downloaded ISO purchased from Microsoft. If your key came from anywhere else, there’s still a way to get a proper and safe ISO, which we’ll look at in a few paragraphs.

You can find your Windows Product Key either with the original installation media, or in an email from Microsoft from when you originally bought it. If you have none of these, you can recover your Windows key from your computer using product key finder software 3 Portable Applications To Help You Find Serial Keys On Your PC [Windows] 3 Portable Applications To Help You Find Serial Keys On Your PC [Windows] If you've ever paid a chunk of change for a shareware application or subscription, you know the drill. Serial keys in the form of plain-text strings or files are pretty much the universal standard. The... Read More .

There are several to choose from, however for this article, let’s use Magical Jellybean’s KeyFinder. The free version will do. Upon finishing the installation, it will immediately show you your product key. It’s the 25 character key labeled CD Key. It’s a good idea to write that down in a safe place, in case you need to refer to it later.

Magic Jellybean KeyFinder

Armed with your product key, head over to the Microsoft Software Recovery page, and follow the instructions there. At the end of the process you’ll have an ISO of your version of Windows and a tool to make a bootable USB drive or DVD.

Where Else Can I Download an ISO of Windows 7?

You can still download Windows 7 from TechRiver, an official e-commerce provider for Microsoft. Here are some direct download links for you.

If you’re looking for Windows 7 in a different language, TechVerse has a series of links to the TechRiver downloads.

Just in case those links go dead, Softpedia is another site from which you can download Windows 7. Although these might not be Microsoft approved downloads, Softpedia has a reasonable reputation for delivering safe software. You can find several versions of Windows 7 there, or just use the handy links provided below:

Downloading is going to take awhile. The x86 (32-bit Windows) versions are about 2.6GB and the x64 (64-bit Windows) versions are about 3.1GB. Depending on your Internet speed, it could take several minutes or hours.

Windows 8.1

Let’s say you need Windows 8.1 ISO. No problem. You can get that. Simply point your browser to the Microsoft Create Installation Media for Windows 8.1 page. Note that if you’re not running Windows 8 or 8.1 on the computer you’re trying to create the media from, you’ll need to provide a product key Four Places to Find Your Windows 8 Product Key Four Places to Find Your Windows 8 Product Key With Windows 8, finding the 25-digit product key got harder. But you still need it to download installation media or install on a machine that didn't come pre-installed with Windows 8. Read More . The instructions there will walk you through the process of creating either a bootable USB flash drive or DVD of any version Windows 8.1.

As you go through the process on Microsoft’s page, you can choose to either create a bootable USB or DVD. If you choose the USB route, you will need a USB flash drive at least 4GB in size and with no files on it. Anything on the drive will be erased by the process. The USB method also requires the USB drive to be plugged in to start the process.

Where Else Can I Download an ISO of Windows 8.1?

For free and completely safely? At the time of writing this, there isn’t any. Of course, you could download it via bit torrent, but that’s just asking for trouble. Sorry.

Windows 10

The latest, and arguably greatest, version of Windows, can be downloaded as the Windows 10 Technical Preview ISO from Microsoft. Take note, this is a Technical Preview – meaning that it isn’t necessarily stable or that it will run well on your computer. If you’re going to do this, make sure you have a backup of your current operating system, or perhaps install Windows in a virtual machine Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Read More on your computer. As good as it looks, you might not want to use Windows 10 as your main operating system Why The Windows 10 Technical Preview Should Not Be Your Main OS Why The Windows 10 Technical Preview Should Not Be Your Main OS If you think Windows 10 is a keylogger, you know nothing about the purpose of a Technical Preview. That's OK because we're here to explain. Read More , just yet.

Make a Bootable USB Flash Drive

Now that you’ve got your Windows ISO, it’s time to put it either on a DVD or USB flash drive and make it bootable. Let’s start with a USB flash drive.

There are several good utilities to help you make your ISO into a bootable USB. Possibly the simplest one to use is Rufus.

Rufus does require you to have Administrator level access on the computer you’re using it on. Once it is downloaded, right click on it and select Run As Administrator.

Once Rufus opens you’ll see the following window:

Rufus Bootable USB Creator - Step 1

In the Device field, make sure you have selected the specific USB flash drive you want to use. Note that it should be at least 4GB in capacity. If you aren’t sure which flash drive is which, it’s safest to remove all of them from your computer, except the one that you want to use.

Don’t concern yourself with the next four fields. They will automatically sort themselves out when you choose the ISO you want to use. Make sure that the Quick format, Create a bootable disk using, and Create extended label and icon files boxes are checked.

Right next to the label Create a bootable disk using, there is a drop-down box. Click on it and select ISO Image. To the immediate right of that, there is a button that looks like a DVD in front or a hard drive. Click on that and navigate to the location of the ISO file you want to use. Double click on the ISO file to select it for use.

Rufus - Select ISO

Take a look at Rufus now. See how some things have automatically changed? That’s good thing.

Rufus - Self-adjusted

To start the process, click on the Start button.

The process will take a while. Rufus is not only making the flash drive bootable, it’s writing several gigabytes of data to your USB flash drive as well. Depending on different hardware factors, expect this to take around 10 minutes.

Rufus - Copying ISO Files to USB

Once the process is complete, you have a Windows Bootable USB Flash Drive. Use wisely.

Make a Bootable DVD or CD

For this section, we’ll be using the term DVD, instead of DVD and CD. If you wanted to install Windows Vista or XP, and were fortunate enough to find an ISO of either, the process is nearly identical for both mediums.

Before you start, make sure that your computer can write to to a DVD or CD. Many new laptops no longer have a DVD/CD player in them, and older computers may only have a CD reader. Be certain that is a new, blank, writable DVD to use and that it’s in your computer.

Find yourself a software utility that can help you create a bootable DVD. There are many different bootable DVD creation utilities out there. For our purposes, we’ll be using CDBurnerXP CDBurnerXP - A Great Burning Tool For CDs DVDs, Blu-Rays & ISOs [Windows] CDBurnerXP - A Great Burning Tool For CDs DVDs, Blu-Rays & ISOs [Windows] Optical discs are not forever, but although they are losing significance, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are still a great medium for long term backups, given you store them right and don't use them as your... Read More to create a bootable DVD.

If you’d like to try something different, ImgBurn is a good DVD burning app ImgBurn - Easy & Free CD and DVD Burner App ImgBurn - Easy & Free CD and DVD Burner App Read More , also.

Let’s assume that you’ve already downloaded and installed CDBurnerXP. If you haven’t, get on it! Note that when installing CDBurnerXP, it gives you the option to install another piece of software called Wajam.

CDBurnerXP - Wajam Opt Out

Now, let’s get to the business of burning our Windows Bootable DVD.

Open CDBurnerXP. In the first window, you’ll notice several options. Each option functions like a configuration wizard. Choose the job you want to do, and the program will walk you through it. Let’s choose Burn ISO Image, then click on the OK button. Now is a good time to make sure you have a DVD in your computer.

CDBurnerXP - Burn ISO Image

CDBurnerXP would like you to choose to which DVD burner the ISO file will be burned. Chances are you’ve only got one, so it will be pre-selected. If you’ve got more than one CD/DVD burner in your computer, use the drop-down menu labelled Target device: to select which one you would like to use. CDBurnerXP may make some small adjustments to its settings, depending on the CD/DVD burner that you’ve chosen. That’s okay.

CDBurnerXP - Browse to ISO

Now click on the Browse button and navigate to your ISO file. Once you find it, double click on it to select it.

CDBurnerXP - Select ISO

To start the burning process, click on the Burn disc button. You’ll see a progress window like the one below.

CDBurnerXP - Burning Progress

When it’s done, you’ll see a completion window showing you how long the burn took and the average bit rate that it burned at. Kind of interesting.

CDBurnerXP - Success

The burning process for this example only took 7 minutes and 1 second. That’s pretty fast.

Now What?

Label your DVD or USB drive and put it in a safe place where you’ll find it when you next need it. Maybe put a note on your smartphone about where you’ve put it, just in case that safe place is so safe you forget its location.

You may want to brush up on how to change what device the computer boots from How To Change The Boot Order On Your PC (So You Can Boot From USB) How To Change The Boot Order On Your PC (So You Can Boot From USB) What happens when you start up your PC? In most cases (and putting it very simply), after the power switch has controlled the flow of electricity to the motherboard and the fans have started up,... Read More , so it will boot from either.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It may not seem like a lot, yet we’ve covered everything from getting the ISO for your version of Windows, getting software to create a bootable USB flash drive and how to use it, and how to use one specific utility to create a bootable DVD from your Windows ISO.

If you’ve gotten something from this article, or know someone who might benefit from it, please feel free to share it with them. We have several ways to do that. Look on the left-hand side or at the bottom for easy-to-use Twitter, Google+, and Facebook links.

We’re big on learning, so if you’ve got a question or something to add, you’re welcome to do so in the comments down below. We’re all in this together.

Image Credits: Pointing at Computer Screen and Angry Woman with Ears Blowing Steam via Shutterstock.

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