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Installing Win7 using a USB drive

Installing Win7 using a USB drive

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Installing Win7 using a DVD takes around 40 minutes or so, if you install Win7 using a USB drive (Thumbdrive), it can take less than 15 minutes.  It is fairly simple, you do need to have a computer with a BIOS that allows you to boot from a USB drive, not all computers that can run Win7 support booting from a USB drive.  Win7 will run with less resources than that required by Vista, which means that you could consider upgrading machines that are running Windows XP, although you do need at least 1 gigabyte of memory.  As to the USB drive, I used a USB drive that didn’t support ready boost, but has 4 gigabytes on it.  This won’t work if you can’t boot from the USB drive. 

  • Use this process only if you are going to do a clean build, that is: Are you willing to wipe the drive and everything on it?  If yes, use this process, If no get Win7 and put it on a bootable DVD.
  • This process is not a Microsoft approved installation process

There are two ways to boot Win7 from your thumbdrive, using the files and not the ISO image, this is more time consuming than the ISO approach, but it allows you to use the remaining space on your USB Drive.  The ISO approach consumes the entire space of the USB Drive.

Before you start preparing your USB drive, start the download of Win7 now from: (at least till the download is pulled, if you have access to MSDNAA, then you could use that subscription).

The steps that you need to take are:

  1. Download Win7 from:
  2. Determine if your computer supports booting from USB, you will need to enable this capability, if your computer doesn’t support booting from USB, you can stop here, you will need to use a DVD
  3. Make the USB Drive bootable
  4. Add the Win7 files to the USB Drive
  5. Modify your BIOS to boot from the USB Drive

1. Download Win7

2. Determine if your computer supports booting from USB

  • You will need to restart or boot your computer and then press the key to force the BIOS to display, this varies from computer to computer, you will need to check your documentation or builder web site.
  • Locate the Boot tab in the BIOS (it will look like an old DOS application, scroll through the tabs till you see something like Start-up or Boot
  • Determine how you change the BIOS, again this varies with computer

3. Make the USB drive bootable

Open the command window, at the C prompt type in diskpart image

A new window will appear,  type list disk to determine the disk number of your USB drive. 

Type the following into the command line (ignore the bullets at the beginning of each line):

  • select disk <number of your USB Thumb drive>
  • clean
  • select partition 1
  • active
  • format fs=fat32 image /q
  • assign
  • exit

Note the format fs=fat32 /q, the /q is for quick format, thanks to Chris Tiller for his review! See the link for formatting switches!

It will take a few minutes for the format to complete, but it is likely you are having to wait for the Win7 to complete the download.  So go to my other blog and  read it for awhile, then come back.

4. Add the Win7 files to the USB Drive

Add the Win7 Files to your USB Drive, for this you use the XCOPY command, the virtual drive letter is F:, the USB Drive on this computer uses the letter H:

You have two choices, use Robocopy or xcopy, I have included both.  Robocopy is a faster and better way to go, it is included with Vista, Win7 and in the Windows 2003 Resource Kit (in case your version of Windows doesn’t have it).  Xcopy comes in all versions of the OS. (A tip of the hat to Martin Schray for suggesting this!).  Choose one or the other to do the copy, I have tested both versions, and Robocopy is definitely much faster.


To use Robocopy, at the cmd prompt, type the following and press enter:


Here is the command so you can copy it:

  • robocopy f: h: /e

To use xcopy, at the cmd prompt, type the following and press enter:


Here is the command so you can copy it, in case you are used to using XCopy, it takes longer than Robocopy

  • xcopy f:*.* /e/f h:

The XCOPY does a bit by bit copy of the DVD, and again it will take a few minutes. 


  • The switch /e, tells the command to copy empty directories and subdirectories, if you don’t want to copy empty directories use the switch /s. 


  • The /f switch is verbose which means that the files and directories that are copied are shown in the command window. If you do not have this switched on, you won’t know where the copy is at, it is will be faster if you don’t use the /f switch.

Or better yet you can use Robocopy

  • robocopy f: h: /e
Once you are done, you will still have 1.40 Gigabytes of space on the 4 gigabyte USB drive! WOW!


5. Modify your BIOS to boot from the USB Drive

You’re on your own here, the process varies from computer to computer, and even computers that look the same from the same manufacturer can have different bios screens.  I have taken a picture of my EEE PC bios set-up.  Here are brief instructions, which may not work on you unique computer and are offered as a starting point of view:

To enter the CMOS Setup, initial startup sequence. Most systems use "F1," "F2," "Ctrl-Esc" or "Ctrl-Alt-Esc", "Esc," "Del:to enter setup. There maybe a line of text at the bottom of the display that says"Press XX to Enter Setup." Where XX could be one of the following: "F1," "F2," "Ctrl-Esc" or "Ctrl-Alt-Esc", "Esc," "Del 

Upon entering the Bios setup, there will be text screens with options. Some of these are standard, while others vary according to the BIOS manufacturer. Look for something like the following:

  • Boot Sequence - The order that BIOS will try to load the operating system, this is where the modifications are made to force the USB drive boot.  If you do not see the option to use the USB to boot you have one of two options:
    • Check the Bios manufacturer to see if there is an upgrade for your version, if you don’t know what that means, there are usually some instructions.  It isn’t hard to learn how to upgrade the BIOS, but if you goof up it could be bad.  If there is option for the USB Drive boot or no upgrade, or you don’t want to mess with the BIOS, then you will need to use the DVD installation, it takes a little longer.
    • Use the DVD, you will need to make sure that the computer BIOS has the DVD or CD boot in the boot sequence, some BIOS don’t automatically place the DVD or CD in the boot sequence.
  • You only need to use the bootable drive process if you are going to do a clean installation, otherwise the ISO image on the USB will work fine with having to do all of this work to make the drive bootable.
  • The table below shows the screens that I used a digital camera to capture the images (that is why they don’t look all that great).  Your experience will vary, this is just to give you an idea of what may see, not what you will see, BIOS manufacturers vary.


If you have your bootable drive in one of the USB ports, you may get this type of screen when you boot. This is the one you want to use, not the next two.

Which one should you select from this screen? 


  • If you used the USB thumbdrive

USB:Single Flash Reader

  • If you make a flash card that can boot and has Win7 on it



If your computer boots to the BIOS setup utility, then you will see a screen that looks like this one.

<This is not the best way, and make sure to switch back after you do the installation>

Mouse over to the Boot Menu item and select it


You might see this type of screen, or it might be more complicated, move your removable device (USB Drive or Flash Drive)

That’s it!  Have fun loading up all of those old computers with 1 gigabyte of RAM on them, but only if you are doing a clean install, otherwise mount the ISO on a DVD and install from there.

image      To

              Martin Schray

               Chris Tiller!

  • PingBack from

  • Quick Format Command in DiskPart is now FORMAT FS=FAT32 QUICK

  • Also.... If you run CLEAN you will need to run CREATE PART before you can SELECT it

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