Windows

Installing Windows 7 from USB

As netbooks get more popular and optical drives become less and less of an assumption, there are many times when a USB install of an operating system is a far better choice than the old DVD/CD we know and love.

When working with USB keys, whether to install or run the OS itself, in the past it was quite the chore and involved much wrestling of vendor utilities.

Thankfully, the world has changed and nowadays installing from USB is a rather easy process --- provided you have a working Windows install or can borrow one.

For Windows 7, it all begins by going to this page and downloading the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool.

Double click on the download's icon and you will be presented with this dialog:

The standard install process occurs from this point, and nothing surprising should happen.

Once installed, start-up the application itself (it rudely likes to put an icon on the desktop) and you get the below dialog that is asking for an ISO image. Microsoft's recommended path is to have the ISO downloaded from the Microsoft Store, but any old Windows 7 install CD image will work as long as it is an ISO.

In this screen we choose "USB device":

After this we point the tool at our USB device, at which point it will proceed to format the device.

And now we wait:

Hopefully everything worked as it should have --- in my case, it did not.

I kept receiving errors complaining about not being able to run BOOTSECT.EXE, this was because I was using a 32-bit Windows XP machine to create a 64-bit Windows 7 install media. For reasons I don't understand, the tool decides to use the BOOTSECT available from the ISO, not the one that the host machine has. The solution was to get a 32-bit version of BOOTSECT and drop it into the tool's local appdata folder (the tool's troubleshooting says that folder is C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Apps\Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool, but it is slightly different in Windows XP). I had to do a bit of searching, but I was eventually able to find a 32-bit BOOTSECT and had to restart the process again.

At this point you now have a USB drive that will install whichever version of Windows 7 that the ISO you used was. But with a simple trick, we can make the install process ask us which version of Windows 7 we want to have installed.

Navigate to the USB drive's sources folder and delete the file named ei.cfg

Now we can reboot the host machine and start to install Windows 7. During start-up, make sure that you select booting from USB from your BIOS or boot menu.

After the install process starts, you are presented with this screen:

Once your selection is made, you should select the Windows 7 version that you have keys for, and the install process will continue like any other Windows 7 install.

And there you have it, this is actually a very simple process. There was no need to dive into the Command Prompt, nor use any third-party utilities.

If you remove ei.cfg you now have a handy USB key that many sysadmins will find useful in their day-to-day activities.

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5 comments
thecrosser
thecrosser

My USB couldn't be detected in BIOS, what should I do? My netbook is Toshiba with intel atom inside.

Gisabun
Gisabun

First, i have found the installation to be faster [well the first part] than on DVD. Second, this tool also works to dump the current preview of Win 8 on USB media as well.

rcm0502
rcm0502

Nice find and this surely will make installing Win7 on machines without or broken optical drive. Also you can make multiple flash drives so you can do several simultaneous installs at once. I'll surely be using this utility and keeping the resultant flash drives in my PC tech toolkit rather than bulky CD/DVD's

Boushe
Boushe

I have used this tool various times in re-installing Windows 7 on my netbooks, as well as my other laptops and desktops. Also, while this is on the subject of installing OS's via usb flash drive, there is also a program called WintoFlash that will allow you to install other operating systems from a flash drive, like xp, vista, linux, as well as windows server OS's, providing that you have a big enough flash drive

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

Try re-posting in the Q&A section.The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/questions/post?tag=mantle_skin;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer". . .