Video Screencast Help

Windows 7 Virgin Install from a USB Pen Drive

Created: 27 Oct 2009 | 12 comments
Language Translations
ianatkin's picture
+10 10 Votes
Login to vote

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,

  1. Download and Install HP's USB Disk Storage Format Tool
    This great little tool from HP can be downloaded from pcworld

  2. 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)

    W7FU-1.JPG

    Click 'Start' to continue

  3. 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.

    W7FU-2.JPG

    Click 'Yes' to continue and format your USB Drive

  4. 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.

    W7FU-3.JPG

  5. 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:

    W7FU-4.JPG

    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.

  6. 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!

Summary

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!

Kind Regards,
Ian./

Comments 12 CommentsJump to latest comment

B_Raj's picture

Thanks for sharing this information.This is interesting.

0
Login to vote
EdT's picture

NTFS is a journalling file system, which means that there are continual management updates being made.
Since Flash memory has a limited number of read/write cycles before it starts to degrade, the default format for USB sticks is therefore FAT or FAT32 which does not have this management overhead.
You may have noticed that formatting a USB key from Explorer does not offer NTFS as an option, and you need to jump through some hoops in order to format USB sticks with NTFS using Windows.

So if you choose to format your USB stick with NTFS, don't leave it plugged in when its not in use.

If your issue has been solved, please use the "Mark as Solution" link on the most relevant thread.

0
Login to vote
ianatkin's picture

Hi Ed,

Good point, and although resoundingly valid i'm not sure that in practical terms whether you'll see this unless you intend to keep you flash drives for a long time. Your point however does certainly motivate me enough to the FAT32 install a try -I wonder if it really does affect the install time.

Here's my thinking on the practical nature of the problem:

Journally Overhead

The NTFS overhead means that for every file write in the FAT32 world, you'll need three in the NTFS world. BUT -as I understand it, having a journalling filesystem doesn't mean continuous writes; it just means that when a file is updated, you'll got the journal to write to as well. As Flash Drives are generally used as "write once read many" devices, I doub't whether this overhead is important on a practical level when considering the lifespan of the drive. 

Yeah -I know there is a lot of fuss out there on the internet about it, but with 100,000 write and erase cycles per cell on the drive, and the fact is you'll rarely have a USB Flash drive for more than 3 years as you'll likely replace it with a much larger/faster drive. Most users will also not be writing to every cell on their USB drive every day. So with journalling you've still far more years of life in the drive than is practically useful.

File Access Time Attribute

However, another important factor is the fact that NTFS does record the last time each file was accessed, which means that every read potentially suffers a write. So, every time you read from an NTFS formatted device, the Master File Table at the beginning (and end) of the partition will suffer a write. In reality though, the OS managing the NTFS partition will build up the writes to the MFT and them flush them as required. Each file access will not in real terms require that a write cycle be invoked. You could argue however that the MFT has the potential  be intensively used.

USB Flash Tricks

At this point its useful to know that modern have wear levelling technologies to distribute the write cycle wear and tear across the entire drive. What this means is that you can write the same file far more than the specificed 100,000 times -the drive will relocate data on-the-fly to prevent cells being overused. So, although MFT will only occupy a few pages of the flash drive, so I doubt the loss of these cells every 100,000 write will be noticed. They'll relocate transparently to avoid over-use.

There are other little tricks employed to -like cell failure prediction to stop dying cells being used for data storage. Spare blocks are set aside at the factory formatting stage to transparently.

So, in summary while the  NTFS  overhead is significant when compared to FAT32, I'm unconvinced  this will be noticable  in today's world where USB flash drives are consumables and will useful for more than 2-3 years (Modern flash drives have a normal use lifetime of ~10 years).

Kind Regards,
Ian./

Ian Atkin, IT Services, Oxford University, UK

Connect Etiquette: "Mark as Solution" those posts which resolve your problem, and give a thumbs up to useful comments, articles and downloads

+2
Login to vote
KSchroeder's picture

Ian,
Assuming you have your Win7 DVD as a bootable ISO (or want to rip one), you can just use the Microsoft USB/DVD Download tool from the Microsoft store:
http://store.microsoft.com/Help/ISO-Tool?WT.mc_id=tc_blog&err=t2#at2

I haven't messed with it much yet, but it appears that it could allow you to "burn" any bootable DVD ISO to a USB key...

I blogged it here.

Thanks,
Kyle
Symantec Trusted Advisor

For Forum threads, please click "Mark as Solution" if answered.
For all content, please give a thumbs up if you agree with or support the post.

+3
Login to vote
ianatkin's picture

Hi Kyle,

 
I hadn't seen this, and had missed your blog too. 
 
Although the FAQ says its only for use with the Windows 7 ISO image (as downloaded from the Microsoft Store) I've tested it on my Windows 7 ISO and that works fine -its very simple to use. Cool tool!
 
I've tried it on some other bootable ISO images though -Linux, XP, 2003 Server and they come up with errors that the other ISOs are not valid. The tool really is limited to Windows 7 I think -which shouldn't be surprising I guess, as its kinda what it says on the tin ;-)

The filecopy with BOOTSECT is indeed a little more complex, but I reckon this should work for not only Windows 7, but Vista, XP and W2K as well.

Kind Regards,
Ian./
 

Ian Atkin, IT Services, Oxford University, UK

Connect Etiquette: "Mark as Solution" those posts which resolve your problem, and give a thumbs up to useful comments, articles and downloads

0
Login to vote
KSchroeder's picture

Ian,
Were those other images DVD ISOs or just CD?  It definitely won't work with CD ISOs (and I tried to emphasize that), but I had another ISO that came from a DVD and it looked like it would work (it didn't reject it on the first screen).

Thanks,
Kyle
Symantec Trusted Advisor

For Forum threads, please click "Mark as Solution" if answered.
For all content, please give a thumbs up if you agree with or support the post.

0
Login to vote
ianatkin's picture

Hi Kyle,

Oops -your right, I was doing CD ISOs. I thought the only technical difference between a data CD ISO and a DVD ISO was simply the capacity -I didn't actually realise there was any other difference. ;-)

I've got some bootable Linux DVDs lying around somewhere, so I'll give them a go.

What other bootable DVDs did you try it out with?

Kind Regards,
Ian./

Ian Atkin, IT Services, Oxford University, UK

Connect Etiquette: "Mark as Solution" those posts which resolve your problem, and give a thumbs up to useful comments, articles and downloads

0
Login to vote
KSchroeder's picture

Well I haven't actually used it to create a bootable USB yet; as I mentioned in the blog entry I only have a 2GB device at my disposal currently (though I've been eying some of the 64GB models!)

Thanks,
Kyle
Symantec Trusted Advisor

For Forum threads, please click "Mark as Solution" if answered.
For all content, please give a thumbs up if you agree with or support the post.

0
Login to vote
nickey's picture

well thanks for this informative article i have blogged this how to Install windows 7 from a USB Pen Drive
 

0
Login to vote
billyccfs's picture

Seems Microsoft has pulled the Microsoft USB/DVD Download tool as it contained GPLv2 opensource code (oops).

0
Login to vote
Chris_Rocks's picture

Does this work with a New Build for the install ?

0
Login to vote
ianatkin's picture

Hi Chris,

I'm afraid you'll have to be a bit more specific -what do you mean by New Build? Remember, this article is pretty much about changing your install media from DVD to USB Flash. So, in the end its just as if you inserted the Vista install DVD drive into your computer.

Kind Regards,
Ian./

Ian Atkin, IT Services, Oxford University, UK

Connect Etiquette: "Mark as Solution" those posts which resolve your problem, and give a thumbs up to useful comments, articles and downloads

0
Login to vote