A little while ago I wrote an article "Don't Let USB Creator Eat Your Thumb Drive", and this got me thinking about using my thumb drives a little more. So, when Windows 7 was released my first thought was "Hey, can this be installed from my trusty USB key?". I had imagined this to be a day project, but within an hour I had not only managed to configure my USB drive for a Windows 7 install, but I'd also used it to install a Windows 7 PC too -installing Windows actually appears to have gotten easier!
The process is really simple;
- Copy over the Windows 7 source files onto your USB Drive
- Run BOOTSECT to give the USB drive a bootsector suitable for booting Windows 7.
Although I did all this from an XP computer, I see no reason why this process can't be driven from a Vista or Windows 7 computer. And many of you may notice the process I document today does not involve DISKPART. For disk partitioning and formatting this tool is a tad over-zealous and only serves to make the process appear much more complicated than it really is. I will use instead HP's USB Disk Storage Formatting Tool instead.
The process in detail is as follows,
Download and Install HP's USB Disk Storage Format Tool
This great little tool from HP can be downloaded from pcworld
Format USB Drive as NTFS
Put you USB Drive into your computer and fire up the HP USB Drive Formatting utility. Double-check that your drive is big enough to accomodate the Windows 7 install source of 2.2GB. I've selected the filesystem type as NTFS, although technically FAT32 should also work (my only reason for selecting NTFS here is because I heard a rumour that installing Windows Vista from FAT32 was slow -I didn't want to have the hassel of experiencing this myself, so NTFS seemed sensible)
Click 'Start' to continue
Confirm you've saved your USB Stick Contents!
Now is a really good time to check the contents of your USB stick. Once you click 'Yes' it will be formatted with the result you'll lose everything on it.
Click 'Yes' to continue and format your USB Drive
Copy over Windows 7 Install source
Insert your Windows 7 Install Media into your DVD drive (or mount the ISO) and copy the contents of the DVD over to your USB Stick. This may take some time, so good time for a coffee break.
Make USB Drive Bootable
In order to write a master boot record to the USB Stick which is compatible with Windows 7, we need to use the Microsoft utility BOOTSECT. This will allow us to write a suitable boot code to a designated drive letter. Open up and command prompt and navigate to the boot folder on the CD. From here, run the following command (where you'll need to change the last argument E: to the drive letter for your USB drive),
BOOTSECT.EXE /NT60 E:
Microsoft's BOOTSECT purpose is to write to the designated drive letter a Master Boot record appropriate to the target operating systems OS loader. The /NT60 switch is to write master boot code which is suitable for Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems which use BOOTMGR. If we were doing an XP install, we'd be using the /NT52 switch which writes an NTLDR compatible boot record.
Boot off USB Drive on Destination Computer
Unmount the USB drive and take it across your computer requiring Windows 7. Boot off it, and within 30 minutes you'll have Windows 7 up and running!
Today's little article covers a simple process of creating a Bootable USB Pen Drive which is suitable for standalone installs of Windows 7.
In order to provide a build mechanism which should work across 2000/XP/Vista/7 computers i've avoided the use of Microsoft's DISKPART for formatting the USB drive. Instead used HP's USB Disk Format Utility which makes the entire process a little cleaner and clearer.
The Windows 7 installation method shown here is virgin -just as if you had installed Windows 7 off your install CD. If you want to do a fully unattended installation from USB stick, just drop your autounattend.xml onto the USB stick -it works a treat!