Windows Installer on a Thumb Drive
Optical drives are going the way of the floppy disk; many newer systems do not feature optical drives. Optical drives are bulky, and offer nothing that cannot be done better with a USB thumb drive. Systems that do not have an optical drive install Windows from a USB drive, instead of the Microsoft DVD.
There are advantages and disadvantages to installing Windows from a thumb drive as opposed to an optical drive. The main advantage of using a USB drive instead of a DVD is that Windows installs many times faster from a thumb drive than it does from a DVD. Other than that, it's just more convenient to have a thumb drive laying around than a DVD that can easily be scratched or otherwise damaged.
There is only one disadvantage to using a USB flash drive instead of a DVD: data retention. A commercial flash device must retain data on a non-powered device for the period of one year to meet JDEC specifications. What this means is you need to plug your thumb drive into a powered on USB port at least once a year to be certain all the data on your thumb drive continues to be retained.
You cannot just copy the files from your installation DVD onto a USB drive and expect it to be bootable. In order to get a bootable Windows USB drive, you have to use a tool that makes Windows setup bootable from a USB flash drive.
There are numerous tools available that can accomplish this. Microsoft has a free tool called Windows 7 USB DVD Downloader that can be used to create a bootable USB drive.
I personally do not like that tool because it will not work with all versions of Windows, it will not work with upgrade versions, or OEM versions of Windows. As you can see, the Windows tool requires an ISO (image file) of Windows to work. An ISO of your Windows Install Disk is an exact digital copy of Windows. If you purchase your copy of Windows online, you will be able to download a Windows ISO; if you have the actual Windows DVD, then you will need to create an ISO from that DVD.
I am not going to get into specifics of how to create your ISO file, but I will direct you to a simple to use (and free) tool that I personally use. There is a great free tool called ImgBurn available for download HERE. You can use ImgBurn to create an ISO file from your Windows install DVD.
I prefer using eZe Bootable USB. It will create a bootable USB drive of any version of Windows from Vista to the most current versions. You can download the file HERE. Insert the USB flash drive you intend to use to create a bootable Windows Installer on, extract the file, right click, and run as administrator.
Select the USB device you want to make bootable. The thumb drive needs to be a minimum of 4GB in capacity. Make sure format options "Quick" and "Force Dismount" are both selected. Then, give your volume a label, and select the type of file to copy to the USB drive. In this case, we are going to select an ISO image by browsing to it. There is an option to select setup files in a non-ISO format, so I imagine you can could just browse to your Windows DVD, and copy directly from there, as opposed to creating an ISO. I have never tried it to be sure, so I am just assuming it would work.
Once you have selected the ISO or setup files you intend to copy to the USB drive, hit "Start," and then hit "OK."
The tool will then extract the ISO or copy the files to your USB drive.
This will take up to 15 minutes, depending on your USB devices write capabilities. When the tool has finished creating your bootable USB drive, the tool issues a notice of completion.
Now you are ready to install Windows from your bootable thumb drive. If you used a USB 3.0 thumb drive, and you use a USB 3.0 port to install Windows, installation will take as few as three or four minutes. Once you try installing Windows from a bootable thumb drive, you will never want to use a DVD again. The only thing you need to remember to do is plug your thumb drive in once a year to maintain the integrity of its data.
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