Installing Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 from USB Stick


With Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 recently going RTM, I’ve found myself installing them in quite a few different configurations. One configuration that I’ve recently ran into is installing it into a machine with no CD drive of any means. I know I could carry around a USB-based DVD drive but instead, I wanted to have a USB pen drive to install it from. After some research, I found that it was relatively easy to create such a tool!

  1. Either mount the ISO or insert the DVD for Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 into your computer. Let’s say it’s at D:\
  2. Format your USB stick to FAT32 (I used default settings for everything via the Windows format tool). Let’s say it’s at H:\
  3. Run the following commands at a command prompt:
d:\boot\bootsect.exe /NT60 h:
 
xcopy d:\*.* /s /e /f h:\

At this point, you should be able to boot off of your USB stick (pending proper BIOS settings on the machine you’re booting up from) and it will install Windows off of the flash memory! Easy as that! This has been done from Vista and Win7. I’m not sure about other OSes.

[edit]Updated: Thanks to Arktronic for identifying a missing command. Apparently my USB stick was made bootable previously and I didn’t realize that.[/edit]

27 Comments

  1. Comment by Arktronic on August 28, 2009 2:47 pm

    You forgot an important part – namely, making the disk bootable. You have to run:

    d:\boot\bootsect.exe /NT60 h:

  2. Comment by Shane Milton on August 28, 2009 2:52 pm

    @Arktronic:
    Strange, I did no such thing. I formatted, ran the command, and it worked. Could what you mention have survived a format? I certainly did nothing after the format other than run that command.

  3. Comment by rsvr85 on August 29, 2009 7:19 pm

    You can get away with making the stick bootable if you intend on installing on a dual boot.
    Via. an elevated command prompt type;
    diskpart
    list disk
    select disk #
    clean
    create primary partition
    select partition 1
    active
    format fs=fat32 quick
    assign
    exit
    exit

    Now, if you are in Vista and want a dual boot just run the USB stick setup from the contents of the ISO you just copied into it ;)

    Simples………

  4. Comment by Edward Aschan on August 13, 2010 6:59 am

    The above will most likely fail for some since the ISO contains symlinks and they don’t appear to be supported in FAT32. My recommendation is to format the USB to NTFS in step 2 before proceeding to step 3.

  5. Comment by Brandon on August 31, 2010 12:34 pm

    Remember to run CMD as Administrator! Otherwise you’ll get permission errors trying to run the bootsect command.

  6. Comment by Mikkel Bachmann on August 31, 2010 2:31 pm

    Would it not be fun to use an SD card, then you can have your windows in your wallet:)

  7. Comment by John Visser on September 8, 2010 2:17 pm

    In the above diskpart commands from rsvr85 the statement “create primary partition” doesn’t work in Windows 7, change it to “create partition primary” for correct results

  8. Comment by Arun Raju on December 5, 2010 2:50 pm

    You made my Windows Server 2008 R2 simple.

  9. Comment by Levi on January 8, 2011 1:18 pm

    Thanks for the great instructions! Works beautifully.

    I used Virtual CloneDrive to mount the image…

  10. Comment by Shane Milton on January 10, 2011 7:32 am

    I LOVE Virtual CloneDrive. I use it for so many machines whether they’re netbooks, laptops, or VMs. It’s so much easier just mounting the ISO than dealing with disks. I keep most of my disks’ ISOs on a network share so I can avoid disks as much as possible. Glad this helped!

  11. Comment by Adrian Mos on February 7, 2011 2:12 pm

    This doesn’t work, at least for Windows Server 2008 R2 x64. As long as a USB stick is inserted, the setup will fail when trying to install with a “Setup was unable to create a new system partition or locate an existing system partition.”

  12. Comment by Shane Milton on February 7, 2011 2:37 pm

    Hi Adrian,

    Your error is unrelated to the USB drive. See this conversation for help with that error.

  13. Comment by kissson on March 26, 2011 11:28 pm

    how can I run bootsect.exe on my 32-bit OS ?

  14. Comment by nako on May 30, 2011 3:01 am

    @ kissson : you can’t

  15. Comment by Pete on June 7, 2011 3:23 pm

    Thanks for that helped loads !!!!

  16. Comment by Cam on June 8, 2011 6:51 pm

    Thanks for this, with the key formatted to NTFS; created on Win7Pro64 and installed on a machine with a P45 chipset, works perfectly. For those who are running into trouble, run the command window as an administrator. :)

  17. Comment by Maggie Gabbard on June 20, 2011 12:49 am

    Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your article seem to be running off the screen in Opera. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know. The design look great though! Hope you get the issue resolved soon. Thanks

  18. Comment by Aaron on August 26, 2011 12:33 pm

    This worked perfect. I did have to format the drive as NTFS; FAT32 would not boot on our Dell PowerEdge 2950 that only has a slimline CD drive, not a DVD drive. Install speed rivaled that of a new VM with the ISO mounted from the datastore on our SAN. Go USB! Thanks for the simple, straightforward instructions.

  19. Comment by K on October 24, 2011 9:50 am

    Thanks everyone for the initial instructions and helpful comments, very simple and effective.

    the first method didn’t work for me because i’m running win 7 32 bit and the 2008 R2 bootsect.exe needs 64 bit host to run. So i followed rsvr85 method and applied the suggestions from Edward Aschan and John Visser and then did the xcopy, worked on it’s own and when used with the HP SmartStart install CD on a DL360 G5, used MagicISO to mount the 2008 ISO (if anyone’s interested)

  20. Comment by Packdude on December 7, 2011 10:18 pm

    Thank you very much for this article! It worked perfect for my Win 2008 R2 USB install…

  21. Comment by Rick on January 18, 2012 1:05 pm

    Thanks man!
    It’s just easy :P

  22. Comment by Mike on April 3, 2012 9:56 am

    Getting an invalid or damaged bootable partition error, had to add the /mbr switch like so

    d:\boot\bootsect.exe /NT60 h: /mbr

  23. Comment by Greg on April 12, 2012 3:58 pm

    Is anyone aware of a way to create an image with multiple OS’s. for example Windows 7, 2003, and or 2008R2 installations on the same thumbdrive?
    I currently have three different thumb drives but would like to have them all on one.

  24. Comment by cdonner on May 31, 2012 7:04 pm

    FAT32 and /MBR worked for me. NTFS without /MBR did not work. I did not try other combinations.

  25. Comment by Jesus on October 21, 2012 10:59 am

    This did not work for me. Get the partition table error. Nothing I did worked. With or without /mbr it did not work, just trying to boot from and install Windows Server 2008 (not R2).

  26. Comment by MSBob on January 9, 2013 12:25 pm

    Worked perfectly for Windows 2012 Server Essentials

  27. Comment by jzam on March 10, 2013 11:37 pm

    This was really helpful for me. I have no blank DVDs remaining at the moment, and I needed to install Windows Server 2008 R2. It works flawlessly.

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