Do you have a Windows CD or DVD, but can’t use your optical drive to install the operating system (OS) on your new computer? Or maybe you’re concerned about CD/DVD rot and just want to create a backup.
Instead of a disc, you can use a USB drive to install Windows. Flash drives are smaller, have more storage, and can be used to install multiple OSs — if you use the right technology.
Here is how to create a bootable USB drive, instead of using a Windows CD.
Benefits of a USB Drive
There are several situations where USB drive installation media is beneficial:
- You can easily create backup installation media.
- Significantly faster installation rate vs regular installation media.
- Keep original installation media in pristine condition.
- Easy to carry multiple operating systems on a single USB drive.
Our relationship with Windows CDs and DVDs has changed, too. For instance, Windows 10 is available for sale on a USB drive. Discs are still available but are no longer the only method of installation. Furthermore, newly purchased hardware usually comes with an OS pre-installed. Consequently, some users never actually use or even see installation media.
Copying Your Disc with WinToFlash
USB drives are all very well and good, but you still need a copy of your Windows installation disc. In the past, it involved manually copying files, opening the process up to mistakes. However, we can easily automate that process using WinToFlash. The WinToFlash Personal Edition will create a bootable USB directly from your Windows installation media.
Download and install WinToFlash Personal Edition. Once installed, open WinToFlash. You will have to accept a EULA, and view a non-intrusive advert. Open the Advanced mode tab.
Select Transfer Windows Vista/7/8/10 setup to a USB drive. Set your Windows setup file path. Next, select the USB drive you’d like to install to. Finally, press Run.
Please note the selected USB drive will be formatted during the process, so back up any important files!
WinToFlash also has multiboot support. You can build a customized bootable USB drive filled with Linux distros, recovery disks, and other handy tools. The only limit is the size of your USB drive.
Head back to the Advanced mode tab and select Create Multiboot USB Drive. On the next screen, select Add. This opens the Add new item panel. Like other multiboot USB drive tools, WinToFlash has a long list of potential tools. Scroll down the list and select a tool.
The option to Download selected ISO now will appear. Choose this option to download the latest version of the selected tool or OS. Alternatively, you can select and add ISOs already stored on your computer.
Complete your selection and select Run.
Please note that WinToFlash Lite will only allow two ISOs on your multiboot. I’ve curated a comprehensive list of multiboot USB tools that do the job much better, and without restriction.
Windows 10 Media Creation Tool
WinToFlash is great for making a bootable USB from your physical installation media. But in this day and age, many users eschew the traditional and head straight to the internet, keeping it digital.
The Microsoft Media Creation Tool has made the process of downloading Windows ISOs that much easier. Accordingly, the Media Creation Tool automatically downloads an ISO to your specification, eliminating the need for copying physical media to your computer, then onto your USB drive.
Download and run the Media Creation Tool. Accept the licensing agreement. Select Create installation media for another PC.
Next, select the language, edition, and architecture of your OS. The Media Creation Tool offers recommended settings. However, if you are downloading an ISO for a different system, you may need to change these settings.
The next page has two options: USB flash drive or ISO file. The latter creates an ISO file from the details entered on the previous page. This can be installed to a USB drive using alternative software, such as Rufus. In this instance, select USB flash drive, then Next. Now, choose your USB drive and create the installation media. It will download the latest version of Windows 10, so it could take a moment.
I find downloading an ISO extremely handy. Then I can create as many USB installation drives as I want without having to complete this process again. I’ve given a short tutorial below on how to create Windows installation media using Rufus.
Please note there is a separate tool for Windows 8.1. It follows a very similar process to the one detailed above.
Those searching for a Windows 7 ISO must have their license key at the ready. Head to the Windows 7 Disc Images page and follow the instructions.
A Quick Rufus Tutorial
I’m going to quickly show you how to create a bootable USB drive using Rufus. Rufus is a handy tool that “helps format and create bootable USB flash drives.” It is very simple, and gets the job done — a great combination!
Head to the Rufus website and download the latest version of the utility. Once downloaded, run the program. Under Device, set the USB drive you’d like to install to. Next, select the small disc icon and browse to the Windows ISO you would like to create installation media for. Set a new volume label if you desire, but it isn’t necessary. Select Start, and let Rufus take care of business.
Can I Boot From USB?
This is a very common question. It is largely system specific but can be altered by the user via the BIOS. This is controlled by the boot sequence.
Your system will usually seek to boot from wherever your OS is installed. The drive containing your main OS will be the first option in the boot sequence. It is possible to manually override this, instead of booting from a USB drive containing new installation media.
BIOS configurations are different for each manufacturer. I would suggest searching the internet for “[hardware manufacturer] BIOS tutorial/boot sequence.”
Ready to Install
You’re now ready to create a bootable USB drive for Windows 10, 8.1, and 7. This installation process should speed up your next clean installation, while giving you chance to get rid of some of those pesky old discs. Just remember to write down your license codes and keep them in a safe place!
Do you keep your Windows installation discs handy? Or have we seen the back of traditional installation media? What is on your multiboot USB drive? Let us know your thoughts below!