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Create bootable Windows installation media on a USB stick

So, you need to troubleshoot Windows Vista or 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1, or Windows 10, but your device does not have a CD/DVD drive?
Maybe you just want to install Windows without a CD/DVD?

If your PC is able to boot from USB drives, you can copy Windows installation files to a USB media and boot from it. Alright, you need to make the USB stick bootable first, but do not worry – it’s all listed in this tutorial. 😀

Here’s what you need to create a Windows installation media

  1. A Windows PC with enough free space (about 600 megabytes for creating bootable Windows XP USB media, about 4 gigabytes for Windows Vista, 7 and 8/8.1, and about 4-8 gigabytes for Windows 10).
  2. A USB stick with the minimum total capacity from 600 MB to 8 GB. Warning: you will lose all data on that USB drive!
  3. ISO image of Windows installation media (that’s what takes up the disk space on the PC).
  4. Administrative rights on the device: you cannot format a media without being a member of the Administrators group, or without knowing the user name and password of an administrator account.
  5. Rufus utility (free). This tool allows creating bootable Windows installation media on a USB drive: create Windows 7, 8.1 or 10 x64 USB installation media on Windows XP x86, or whichever way you like, even Windows Server products are supported.

How to get a Windows installation image with or without Rufus:

Rufus 3.5 and later have a built-in option to download Windows 10 and 8.1 ISO images. Select Download from the Select combo box/button and then click the button.

Rufus 3.5, click ‘Download’ to get Windows 10 or 8.1 ISO image

Then choose the version, edition, language, etc of the Windows you need.

Rufus 3.5, Download ISO Image options for Windows 10

Alternatively, you can get the necessary ISO images as follows:

OEM license owners can get further help from the https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/326246/how-to-replace-microsoft-software-or-hardware-and-order-service-packs page.

Quick overview video of using Rufus

Here is a short video tutorial for Rufus, but more details are included in the article below.

Using Rufus to create the bootable USB drive with Windows installation files

First, head to https://rufus.ie/, scroll down a bit and click the download link for the portable version (no need for installation).

Rufus download page, get the Portable version

Plug in the USB drive you want to make bootable and launch the downloaded file. Rufus will ask whether you like automated updates, click Yes.

Rufus update policy. Click Yes.

The Device combo box lists all connected USB drives, make sure to select the correct target drive there. Everything on the target drive will be removed.
The total capacity for a drive is listed inside square brackets.

Rufus, target USB device selection

Next, click or touch the SELECT button to choose the bootable ISO image. Rufus will set most parameters according to the selected image file.

Rufus, select Disk or ISO image

Windows 8 and newer support Windows To Go images, but this is not what we need here. Ensure that the Standard Windows installation option is selected in the Image option dropdown.

Rufus image option: Standard Windows installation is usually correct

Partition scheme and Target system are usually selected according to the selected ISO image file.
GPT and UEFI (non-CSM) are the default for Windows 8, 8.1 and 10; MBR and BIOS (or UEFI-CSM) are the only way for Windows 7 and older because they do not support UEFI boot.

If your Windows 8 or 10 device uses MBR/BIOS boot, change it here.

Rufus, Partition scheme GPT requires UEFI boot

Please note that the MBR partition scheme allows enhancing compatibility with older BIOS types: click the Show advanced drive properties button and tick the Add fixes for old BIOSes checkbox.

Rufus, Partition scheme MBR allows fixes for old BIOSes

Format options (Volume label, File system, Cluster size) are automatically set according to the above settings, there is no need to change them.
Double-check that you chose the correct target device and click Start.

Rufus, click ‘Start’ to begin bootable USB drive creation

Rufus will warn you that all data on the selected device will be destroyed – please triple-check that you’ve selected the correct USB device for the destination before clicking OK.

Rufus, the final warning that all data on the target device will be destroyed

Drive creation usually takes 15 or more minutes.

Rufus does not notify about the process completion unless the GPT partition scheme and NTFS file system were selected. In this case, Rufus reminds about disabling Secure Boot before attempting to boot from the freshly created USB drive.

Rufus notice about Secure Boot

After the process completes, click the Close button in the Rufus window. Now leave the USB drive connected and restart your computer. If you want to install or repair Windows XP, remember to set IDE/SATA controller to Standard mode: good old XP does not support AHCI out of the box.

Oh, and do make sure your PC is set to boot from USB, and remember to turn off Secure Boot in UEFI settings. 🙂

See, the creation of bootable Windows installation media on a USB stick is not quantum physics! 😀