Windows

How do I create a Windows 7 installation flash drive with WinToFlash?

Jack Wallen shows you how to create a bootable USB flash drive with operating system installation files on it using WinToFlash.

In his recent Windows blog, Greg Schultz wrote about how you can "Configure a USB Flash Drive to Be a Windows 7 Installation Platform." This handy and reliable method uses the command-line tool DiskPart. Of course, not everyone wants to use the command line. Fortunately, for those who wish to stay away from the command line, there are GUI tools that can tackle the same task.

One such tool that I frequently use is WinToFlash by Novicorp. This tool can take your Windows 7 (Vista or XP) installation CD/DVDs and pull the contents onto a USB drive. And better still, WinToFlash also preps the USB drive for you and sets the drive as bootable.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

But why would you want to transfer your installation media from CD/DVD to a flash drive? If you want to install a different operating system on your netbook, you are going to have to have a USB drive ready with installation files. And we all know that CD/DVDs get lost, scratched, and cracked and that CD drives go bad. USB? Not so much. Flash drives are reliable, portable (I have multiple flash drives on my keychain), and work faster than CD/DVD drives. So why wouldn't you migrate your installation disks to flash drives?

Now there is one small problem that goes along with this. When using a CD/DVD you can always write the activation code key on the disk -- so you would have to lose the disk to lose the code. With a smaller flash drive, you don't have space to write the code key on the drive itself. So, you are going to have to come up with a system to store your keys. One possibility is to write the code key on a file and save that file on the flash drive. But do this after WinToFlash does its job, or you will overwrite the file.

Another item to note is the size of the USB drive. To successfully copy Windows 7 to a USB drive you will need approximately 2.37GB of space. To be safe you will want a 4GB flash drive. For Windows XP, obviously, you can get away with a much smaller drive (1GB will do).

Now, let's take a look at how this is done.

Downloading and installing

There really isn't an "installation" to be done with WinToFlash. What you do is download the zip file from the main page and unzip the file. Once the file is unzipped, you will see a new directory called Novicorp WinToFlash XXX (where XXX is the release number). Within this directory are a number of files and subdirectories. One of those files is WinToFlash, which is the executable file. You can right-click this file and pin it to either the Start menu or the Quick Launch menu for easy access.

Usage

When you fire up WinToFlash, you might see a warning that WinToFlash is not supported on your operating system. As of this writing, Windows 7 is not officially supported; however, WinToFlash does work flawlessly on Windows 7. So you can ignore that message.

The main window is very simple to use. As you can see in Figure A, you simply need to click the Windows Setup Transfer Wizard to begin.

Figure A

The Wizard will walk you through just a few simple steps to get you on your way.
Using the Wizard is not the only method. You can also click on the Task tab (Figure B) to set up the process.

Figure B

The default creation is Windows XP.

The first step is to select Windows 7 from the drop-down menu. You will notice that there are two Windows 7 choices: Windows 7 Pre-install Environment (PE) or Windows 7. If you install the PE, you will be able to get away with a smaller flash drive. The simplest method is to select the non-PE version. After you have made this selection, click the Create button to go to the next step.

The next screen is the Basic Parameters tab (Figure C), which is all you will need to configure for your installation.

Figure C

You cannot change either the USB drive type or the Format Type options.

The most important section on this window is the "setup files path" and the "USB drive" options. Make sure these are selected properly or you could wind up overwriting data on a drive you don't want to lose.

Also, on the Process Steps tab, you can select what steps you want to take place. From that tab you can select:

  • Format drive
  • Collect information of setup
  • Create folders structure
  • Copy files

It is best to leave all these steps checked, or else your installation might fail.

Once you have all your options configured, click the Create button on the Basic Parameters tab. When you click this button, you will have to accept the licensing terms and click Continue. The next window will warn you that all data will be lost. Go ahead and click OK and the process will begin.

The creation of the USB installation drive doesn't take too long (should take approximately 15-30 minutes -- depending on the speed of your machine). When the process is finished, you will get an OK window, which you can dismiss.

When the process is complete, you can look at the contents of the USB drive (Figure D) to see that all the usual Windows install suspects are present and accounted for. Now all you have to do is insert the drive and boot the machine from USB to install Windows 7.

Figure D

The Windows 7 installation files are ready.

Final thoughts

WinToFlash has to be the easiest method of creating a bootable, installable copy of Windows on a flash drive I have ever used. This is definitely a keeper for your administrator tool kit.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

15 comments
christinemura
christinemura

Can you actually RUN the operating system off the USB

christinemura
christinemura

My question is can you actually RUN the operating system off the usb.

dragon2003
dragon2003

That's cool and very handy, but how can you install windows 7 on a desktop using and iso image?

ks.choi
ks.choi

Isn't this the same as "Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool" which Microsoft provides with Windows 7?

fred5122
fred5122

The author said they "work faster than CD/DVD drives". However, I tried recently with DiskPart on a USB 2.0 disk (both the drive and the port), and it ran 10 times slower than my DVD drive (SATA), at least for the portion of reading & copying files from the flash drive. The PC I use is fairly decent: 2.4Ghz Quadcore, 4Gig Mem, etc. Am I missing something? Anybody knows?

kdailey
kdailey

Are you aware of any way to create a USB drive with multiple operating system installations on it? In other words, can I make a combination Windows 7/Vista/XP installation USB drive all-in-one?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you use bootable USB flash drives for installing operating systems?

ron.gooding
ron.gooding

According to the Microsoft Store policy that is not an option: Can I use the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool to backup other files? No. This tool is only for use with the Windows 7 ISO file purchased from Microsoft Store It appears that WinToFlash is also free.

mford66215
mford66215

They don't perform the same, v2.0 or not. I have some sticks that are MUCH faster than others but are from the same manufacturer. try using the usbdeview utility (or others) to check the speed of the device. usbdeview is at http://usbspeed.nirsoft.net/

lhehe
lhehe

I've been using WinPE for imaging XP and Win7 machines for some time now, and different brand PC's process things differently. Speed of memory modules, hyper-threading, USB port drivers, all play a part in how fast the system is copied into the RAM drive that is created as part of the installation process. The early Dell 2400's, circa 2003-2004, are notoriously slow in booting, the HP 5100, circa 2005, is another example. Both are similarly equipped for ram, video, and processor speed, but crawl at a snail's pace. Other models from the same years don't suffer this malady. If I were to pick the primary cause, I would suspect slow ram is the biggest culprit. On the positive side... Once everything is loaded, they process at speeds you would expect to see. BTW, what speed is your flash drive? USB 2.0, or 1.1?

BrucePurcell
BrucePurcell

Why not do it with this? WinToFlash just makes the drive bootable, then you copy your CD/DVD drive contents onto it. Sounds a 4 gb drive would take care of XP and Win 7. If you want Vista on there too, just use an 8 gb drive. Just put each into a sub-directory. Modify your autostart.inf to select which setup to run or just go without one.

fred5122
fred5122

Thanks for the info of the utility. I used it to test several of my usb flash drives, even they are all usb 2.0 (as shown in the usbdeview description for the drives), they did show a big difference in speed; like 3 times difference in write speed, and 2 times in read speed (slower for the cheaper models). The 4gb drive I used is a cheap free gift I got from Microcenter several weeks ago. When I said 10 times difference in performance between my sata DVD and the USB drive, I may be a little exaggerate. May be I'll do some benchmark test. Thanks!

fred5122
fred5122

I don't think it's the memory module, as I also ran the Windows 7 installation with a DVD disc from my SATA drive (exactly the same content as on the USB flash drive). Please read my reply post to mford66215. I download the usb utility and the thumb drives I used are USB 2.0 as shown in USBDeview's drive description. The USB ports on the PC are also USB 2.0 standard (a pretty new PC). The 4gb drive I used in the install did perform poorly in the speed test with the utility: 2 to 3 times slower than my better model 8gb or 16gb drives. That's why. I may be a little exaggerate in saying 10 times difference in performance. However, like you mentioned: once everything is loaded, they process at more or less the same speed. Thanks!