Install Windows From USB 2.0 Key

As I’m typing, I’m installing a Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V server from a USB stick.  Why would you consider doing this?

  1. Have you noticed how many server suppliers consider a DVD drive to be an option now?  With money being tight, everyone wants to save a few bucks.
  2. It’s a pain to burn DVD’s for the occasional install.  And I can never find a DVD-RW.

However, 4GB USB flash sticks are pretty cheap and common now.  Heck, most of the USB memory or thumb drives that I have were free at events, etc.

I wanted to burn the ISO I downloaded from Microsoft but didn’t want to go searching for a DVD-RW.  I knew the Windows installer could be put onto a USB; I was given the Windows 7 RC on a 4GB USB and had installed from that.  What I’m going to do now should be feasible with Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2.  We’re going to use a USB instead of a DVD to “burn” an image and install Windows from a USB 2.0 stick.

  • Download the ISO from Microsoft for the version of Windows you want to deploy.
  • Install something like Virtual CloneDrive to mount the ISO.  We’ll call this the G: drive, for example.
  • Make sure there’s nothing valuable on your 4GB+ USB 2.0 stick and insert it into your admin PC.  That might be the I: drive.
  • Fire up command prompt with “run as administrator”.
  • Run DISKPART.  Then run the following sub commands:
  • List disk.  Identify the USB stick, e.g. #1
  • Select disk 1.  Using disk #1
  • Clean
  • Create partition primary
  • Select partition 1
  • Active. 
  • Format quick fs=fat32.  That gives us a quick format FAT32 file system on the USB stick
  • Assign.  We now have a bootable USB drive.
  • Exit.  The disk is now prepared.
  • You now need to copy the contents of the mounted ISO (G:) onto the USB stick (I:).  Do that by running: xcopy g:*.* /s/e/f i:
  • That will take a while.  Once it’s complete you have a USB that you can install windows from.
  • Make sure your machine can boot from USB.  Insert the USB stick and boot it up.  be sure that either the boot device is the USB (may require a prompt or a boot order configuration, depending on the BIOS).  The machine should boot from USB and load up the WindowsPE for installing the version Windows from your ISO.

If you’re installing lots of machines then you should check out the network installation methods:

  • WDS: Windows Deployment Services
  • MDT: Microsoft Deployment Toolkit
  • ConfigMgr: Configuration Manager 2007

One thought on “Install Windows From USB 2.0 Key”

  1. Microsoft does have a tool here: that will do all of this work for you. BUT, your USB stick must be at least 4GB in size. Well, I just so happen to own a 4GB USB stick but when you put a partition on it, the size is 3.7GB. So the tool doesn’t work on that USB stick. Doh!

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