Installing Windows 7 from a USB thumb drive

Carrying around DVDs is a bit of a pain when you’re installing Windows a bunch. For starters, they’re a slow medium, having to spin up a big circle of polycarbonate before they can have stuff read off them. They’re also quite bulky, and scratch with ease if you’re not fastidious about the safety of your optical media.

But thankfully with the introduction of Windows Vista (and by extension, Windows 7), we have some new options for installing Windows which don’t need disk wallets to be carted around wherever we go.

For this neat way of carrying around your install media, you’ll need a copy of a Windows DVD as well as a USB thumb drive. My copy of Windows 7 Enterprise is 2.23Gb in size, so I’ll be using a 4Gb USB thumb drive.

First, plug in your USB thumb drive and backup any data you wish to keep, as this procedure will erase it.

Open a command prompt and type DISKPART.

Accept the UAC which appears (if you haven’t already wound down the UAC settings so they don’t bug you) and you’ll be presented with the diskpart window.

Think of diskpart as a more advanced (and less comfortable) version of the computer management disk manager. You can add, change and remove partitions, as well as a bunch of other funky things.

Now we’ll select the disk we’re going to run on. Type LIST DISK to list the disks which are currently connected to your system. Mine looks like this:

I can see that my 4Gb thumb drive is disk 4. I’ll type SELECT DISK 4.

Now that we’re working on the disk we want to use, let’s blow away any existing partitions and start from scratch. We’ll use the clean command first. Ignore the error it gives – it’ll still destroy the partition whether it errors out or not.

and we’ll create a new partition with the create command.

Now we’ll move into the new partition we just created:

Activate the partition:

Format the partition as FAT32:

And go and make a cup of tea. The format will take a while to complete. The reason we’ve used diskpart is mainly because the standard format menu within windows explorer will only allow us to format the stick as either NTFS or exFAT – both are unacceptable for this exercise. When the format is complete, we’ll assign (get windows to assign the USB thumb drive a disk letter):

And exit.

Make a note of the drive letter of your Windows DVD and your newly formatted thumb drive:

Now we’ll copy everything from our Windows DVD across to our USB thumb drive. Do this from a Windows command line as follows:

The different slashes after the xcopy command will copy absolutely everything off the disk and display what’s being copied as it’s doing it’s thing.

Once it’s finished copying, congratulations! You’re now the proud owner of an extremely compact and ultra fast install medium for Windows Vista or 7.


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