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]

  • Arktronic

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

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

  • @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.

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

    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 😉


  • Edward Aschan

    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.

  • Brandon

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

  • Mikkel Bachmann

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

  • John Visser

    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

  • You made my Windows Server 2008 R2 simple.

  • Levi

    Thanks for the great instructions! Works beautifully.

    I used Virtual CloneDrive to mount the image…

  • 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!

  • Adrian Mos

    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.”

  • Hi Adrian,

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

  • kissson

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

  • nako

    @ kissson : you can’t

  • Pete

    Thanks for that helped loads !!!!

  • Cam

    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. 🙂

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  • 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.

  • K

    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)

  • Packdude

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

  • Rick

    Thanks man!
    It’s just easy 😛

  • Mike

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

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

  • Greg

    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.

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

  • Jesus

    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).

  • MSBob

    Worked perfectly for Windows 2012 Server Essentials

  • jzam

    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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