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Whether you are dual-booting your Mac or formatting a new PC, the best way to get Windows 10 is through a fresh installation, not an upgrade. But you’ll need to create a bootable Windows 10 USB drive first. The process is a little more complicated if you’re using a Mac.
Microsoft offers a simple tool to create a bootable USB on Windows, but there is no such tool for Mac users. Fortunately the process is pretty easy, if you know how.
Plus, this is a great opportunity to get Microsoft’s last version of Windows for free. Remember, on July 29, Microsoft will end its free upgrade to Windows 10 for existing Windows 7 or 8 users. So if you have an old laptop, you could use that license to activate and dual-boot Windows 10 on your Mac.
What You Will Need
- An 8GB or larger USB drive whose data you don’t mind losing. You can pick up a new 8GB drive for as little as $5.
- Your MacBook power adapter should be plugged in. You don’t want the laptop running out of battery in the middle of creating the bootable drive.
- This method obviously requires a valid Windows 10 license to activate the operating system.
- An active Internet connection to download any updates required.
1. Download the Windows ISO
Microsoft has free downloadable ISO files for Windows 10 on its official site. There are two things to keep in mind when you download:
- Make sure it’s Windows 10 version 1511—you’ll see the digits 1511 in the file name if it is. Older versions don’t let you use Windows 7 or 8 keys to activate it directly.
- Don’t worry about “K”, “N”, “KN”, “Simple Language” or other suffixes. Just download the plain Windows 10. Those suffixes are for lighter versions of Windows made for Europe and South Korea, due to anti-trust litigation against Microsoft.
Download: Official Windows 10 ISO
Once you have downloaded the ISO, keep it in a location you can easily find later, like your desktop or downloads folder.
2. Plug in Your USB Drive
Disconnect any other USB hard drive, optical drive, or other storage media you have connected.
3. Start Boot Camp Assistant
Mac OS X’s built-in Boot Camp Assistant (BCA) is capable of creating the bootable Windows 10 installer USB drive, so you don’t need any third-party apps.
To start BCA, press command+spacebar to bring up Spotlight, type “Boot Camp Assistant” (without the quotes), and press Enter.
Click Continue at the introduction dialog box.
4. Configure Boot Camp
Check the box for “Create a Windows 7 or later install disk”.
The other options will probably be greyed out, but in case they aren’t, check the second box for “Download the latest Windows support software from Apple”, and don’t check the third box.
Click Continue when done.
5. Choose Your ISO Image & USB Drive
Browse to and select the Windows 10 ISO file you downloaded.
In Destination Disk, make sure you see your 8GB USB drive.
Click Continue when done.
6. Copy The Image to Disk
BCA will format this USB drive, so again, make sure it has no important data on it that you can’t lose.
All the data will be wiped. Click Continue to proceed. The installation process will now start and you don’t need to interact at all. Just let it run.
If you’re on a MacBook, don’t shut the MacBook’s lid! It’s an instinctive act that several of us do when we aren’t using the laptop, but this will put your Mac to sleep and interrupt the process.
When everything is done, you’ll see a window that says “The Windows support software has been saved.”
Click Quit to finish your procedure, unmount and unplug your USB drive. Congratulations! This is now a bootable Windows 10 installer.
While Booting: USB vs. UEFI
When you go to install Windows 10 on a PC with this USB drive, your motherboard might not boot with it, even if you have set to boot with the USB first. It’s a common problem with a simple solution.
Go to your motherboard’s BIOS settings by tapping F2 or Delete as it powers on. In the Boot settings, you will likely see two options for your USB drive that seem similar, titled something like “USB Mass Storage Device” and “UEFI USB Device”.
Choose UEFI instead of USB Mass Storage. Save the new settings, exit BIOS, and restart. This time, your computer should boot into your Windows 10 installer USB drive.
UEFI is a new type of firmware for motherboards instead of the traditional BIOS, and BCA uses it by default when creating USB installation media. It makes no real difference to a regular user, so just change the setting and you’re good to go.
Alternate Method to Create the Installer
The Boot Camp Assistant is the easiest way to make a bootable USB installer for Windows 10, but some users have reported problems with it. El Capitan users, in particular, have noted that BCA does not offer the “Create a Windows 7 or later install disk” option at all. In case you face this problem, there is an alternative to create your bootable drive.
Use VirtualBox to create a virtual Windows machine on Mac. Then it’s just a matter of using the Windows Media Creation Tool or any of the other methods to create Windows installation media. It takes more resources and the process has more steps than BCA, so use this as the last option.
This method will usually not use UEFI firmware, so the BIOS settings change won’t be needed.
Are You Dual-Booting Windows 10?
With all of these options, you should be able to easily make Windows 10 installation media on your Mac. The question is, are you going to use it?
As the July 29 deadline approaches, we are curious to know how many of you are dual-booting Mac OS X and Windows 10 already, and how many of you plan to do it in the near future? Is Windows 10 better on a Mac than earlier versions of the operating system?