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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Windows 7 installation files are ready.
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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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 jackwallen.com.