Creating a bootable USB from an ISO file is easy if you have the right tools.
Why You Need a Bootable USB Drive
Installations from a USB flash drive have become one of the easiest ways to update your computer with a new operating system. A USB installation is quick, extremely portable, and has the bonus of reverting to a storage device following the install. See our introduction to using flash drives on Windows 10 if you need some background.
You’ll find a fair few ISO to USB tools out there, and they feature a range of tools for beginners and advanced users. Let’s take a look at the burn time, and the resources available to each software. For science!
Note: To keep this test fair, I’m going to burn a copy of Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 17713 x64 to an 8GB Integral USB flash drive, formatting the drive between each burn.
A Mini-Glossary of ISO-to-USB Tool Terminology
Before we plow into the testing phase, there are a handful of acronyms I’d like to spell out, and a few other bits of ISO to USB jargon we’ll clear up.
- Bootloader Options: The bootloader loads the operating system. Some ISO burners allow you to choose the bootloader you’ll need for your desired operating system installation.
- Grub4dos: A bootloader package designed to allow users to select between multiple operating systems installed on a single system.
- Syslinux: A lightweight bootloader package designed to allow users to select between multiple Linux or Unix installations.
- QEMU: Short for Quick Emulator, is a hardware virtualization tool. In this context, it allows users to test their USB before proceeding with the burn process.
- Cluster Size: Defines the smallest available space for storing data. Instead of assigning individual disk sectors, the file system assigns contiguous groups of sectors, called clusters.
- File System: Controls how data is accessed and stored. Without it, your data would lump together with no beginning or end. A file system defines easy access. There are different file systems available, though your burning tool should discern your requirements via the ISO you use.
- Bad Sector: Some ISO to USB tools allow you to perform a bad sector check. Before the burn commences, your USB will be scanned, fixing any irregularities to ensure your installation is smooth. Somewhat like defragmenting your desktop, but on a much smaller scale.
Now, in no particular order, here are the ISO to USB burning tools with their respective times.
Want the TL;DR? Check out the best ISO to USB comparison video below!
Features: Partition schemes, file systems, automatic ISO detection, target system type, mode of bootable, bad sector checks, ISO write mode
First up, Rufus. Rufus is a very small executable that has consistently improved its offerings over the years. Along with standard ISO to USB options such as cluster size and file system, Rufus now automatically detects settings for the ISO you select and fills in the optimal settings. Furthermore, Rufus has a hidden Advanced Mode with a bunch of extra options.
Rufus clocked in at 21m12s which is definitely not the fastest. Regardless, Rufus is an excellent ISO to USB tool.
Such an eloquent name. You select your ISO. You select your media type; USB or DVD. You click Begin Copying, and off it goes. In what is the most basic of basic UIs, and with only two options, the Windows USB/DVD Download Tool is almost sublimely simple, comparable only to ISO to USB. This makes it a fine tool when installing Windows 10 from a USB drive.
Windows USB/DVD Download Tool came home in 17m51s which puts it toward the top of the ISO to USB timings board.
Features: Bootloader options, file systems and overrides, grub4dos, syslinux, QEMU
RMPrepUSB is one of the most complete ISO to USB packages on this list. Aside from the features above, it comes packed with a host of other bootloaders, DiskDoctor, Speed Tests, and individual user configurations for frequently prepared drives.
RMPrepUSB clocks in with a 21m38 putting it firmly toward the top of the timings board but, like Rufus, the features more than make up for the slightly slower time.
Features: Multiboot, ISO auto-download
YUMI (Your Universal Multiboot Installer) is another multiboot ISO to USB installer with settings for a vast range of Linux, Windows, and system utility ISOs. YUMI is easy to use. You scroll down the distribution list and check for the ISO you want, then select the corresponding ISO on your system from the box below. Don’t have the ISO? YUMI will take care of that for you.
YUMI clocked in at 17m46—slower than the first time I ran these tests some five years ago (it was 14m50s back then!), but still ahead of the rest.
Features: Multiboot, grub4dos, bootloader options, burning wizard, file systems, burning profiles, ISO auto-download
Novicorp WinToFlash is a popular ISO to USB utility that features a handy burning wizard. The wizard guides you through the burning process, although it isn’t unique to the utility (Rufus fills in all the information you need, for example). WinToFlash also allows you to create multiboot USBs as well as an auto-downloader for any ISO files you’re missing.
WinToFlash clocks in at 22m01, decent speed for a tool that guides you through the ISO to USB process.
Features: grub4dos, ISO auto-download (Linux only), syslinux
UNetbootin is primarily a Linux LiveUSB burning tool, but it works sufficiently well with Windows that it deserves inclusion in this list. The UNetbootin utility isn’t flashy, but it does come with a few nifty features. For instance, it has an auto-download feature for Linux distributions, letting you select from a range of popular distros and system utility tools.
UNetbootin came home in 22m01, exactly the same as WinToFlash and again, a decent time for a useful tool.
The ISO-to-USB Winner Is…
The winner regarding speed is YUMI. The winner regarding features and ease of use is Rufus, which was only 3 minutes slower than YUMI. Furthermore, both burning tools cater to slightly different markets; Rufus is for one-off ISO to USB creation whereas YUMI is excellent for multiboot tools.
Let’s not discount the other USB to ISO tools. The range of burn times didn’t vary much, so it really boils down to the features you need and find in a specific utility.
Other ISO-to-USB Tools We Tested…
I tested many more ISO to USB tools for the sake of competition—and to bring you the best overall picture possible. There were a few tools that didn’t make the grade, for one reason or another. Here are the fallen few:
- XBoot is another multiboot tool featuring an inbuilt download, but other options were faster and somewhat easier to use. However, XBOOT’s QEMU function is excellent.
- WinToBootic fits comfortably into the basic features category and clocked a decent time, too.
- Passcape ISO Burner is a multifunction burning tool, but it wouldn’t work for me. I have read other positive reviews, so it could be worth a look for other individuals.
- ISO to USB is another very basic tool. However, it didn’t make the cut through a slow time and lack of features.
- FlashBoot has a decent UI and a burning wizard to guide you through, but I gave up on the test as it had not even hit 50% after nearly 40 minutes.
- UltraISO burned the ISO to USB at a reasonable speed and has the bonus of being able to mount ISOs before burning to check their files.
What’s Your ISO-to-USB Tool of Choice?
Hopefully, you now have a better overview of the best ISO to USB tools available to you. Furthermore, you can pick your tool based upon its raw speed, its functionality, or a combination of both. If you need a guide to creating a bootable USB to install Windows from an ISO file, look no further:
For macOS users, we’ve also looked at how to boot your Mac from USB.
Got a load of USB flash drives and that you don’t know what to do with? Here are five use you might not have considered, such as installing multiple operating systems on your USB stick.