With the multitude of ways available to deploy Windows onto new or refreshed equipment, it surprises me to find many IT personnel still running around with optical media that have various flavors of Windows burned to them, as well as some necessary updates or required application files.

It surprises me because I honestly don’t know how they do it. Anyone who has worked IT in the last 10 or 15 years knows the “sneakernet” method of deployment. That is, grabbing a few CDs or DVDs and running around the network performing fixes. But nowadays, with the advent of PXE services, Windows Deployment Services, and a robust network, deployments are mostly automated and highly configurable.

I do, however, keep a few USB flash drives (UFDs) with multiple Windows installations on them in the event that a computer does not (or rather will not) play nicely with network deployment systems in place.

It’s during these times that I am glad for the flexibility offered by rewritable media such as UFDs, allowing me to mitigate issues if they arise without having to reinvent the wheel. Plus, they are small, lightweight enough to carry around “just in case.”

SEE: Five portable antivirus and anti-malware tools to carry with you at all times

Before we jump directly into the steps necessary to create a USB flash drive installer, let’s look at the requirements:

  • Computer running Windows 7 or newer
  • 8GB USB flash drive (minimum)
  • Copy of Windows installation DVD or ISO

With the requirements out of the way, let’s move on to to creation process.

Configure the USB flash drive

Insert the USB flash drive into an open USB port on your computer. While the computer is loading any necessary drivers for the UFD, launch CMD.

Once CMD loads, enter diskpart, followed by the key to enter the disk partitioning utility used to configure your UFD (Figure A).

Figure A

In diskpart, enter list disk and hit Enter to identify the disk that correlates to your USB flash drive. It is important that you select the correct one, as the data will be cleared during the process (Figure B).

Figure B

Since I’m using an 8GB drive as my example, Disk 1 is the match, so I entered select disk 1 and pressed Enter (Figure C).

Figure C

Type clean and press Enter to irrevocably delete all the data on the USB drive, including the partition table (Figure D).

Figure D

To create a new partition table, type create partition primary and press Enter (Figure E).

Figure E

Type active and press Enter to mark the new partition as active and allow for booting to it in the future (Figure F).

Figure F

Now you need to format the drive. Type format fs=ntfs quick and press Enter to complete the process quickly (Figure G). The time required for the process will vary depending on the size of the drive being used, but it’s typically very fast (Figure H).

Figure G

Figure H

To assign the partition a drive letter, type assign letter=Z and press Enter (Figure I). You can choose any letter you want so long as it doesn’t conflict with one that’s already assigned to a drive or partition.

Figure I

The setup of the UFD is almost complete. Only the boot files and actual OS installation files are necessary. Type exit at the diskpart command and press Enter to return to the command prompt (Figure J).

Figure J

Copy boot files to the UFD

If you’re using an ISO file, extract the files to a directory before proceeding. Once the extraction is complete (or if you’re using optical media or a mapped drive), enter the path to the Boot folder in the hierarchy of the Windows installation files directory with the switches below to copy the relevant boot files to the UFD:

D:\Boot\bootsect.exe /nt60 Z:

Once these files are copied, the UFD will be bootable and detectable by the BIOS during boot (Figure K).

Figure K

Copy installation files to the UFD

For this last step, all that is required is for the installation files to be copied to the newly created UFD through any means. Manually copy the directories or script it–whichever is your preferred method–to copy the files over in their entirety. When the copy process is complete, your newly minted Windows installer will be ready for use. Just select the device from your computer’s boot menu to launch the installer (Figure L).

Figure L

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