Installing Windows 7 from a USB Thumb Drive

Adam Jones - Systems Engineer

My brother received a fantastic Lenovo netbook from Santa Clause this year! It’s a great piece of hardware but he was not pleased that it shipped with the extremely limited Windows 7 Starter Edition. We set out to upgrade his new toy with Windows 7 Pro but Santa seemed to forget an external optical drive. Oops! Luckily for us, we had a surplus of USB thumb drives with which we could make bootable and install a FULL featured version of Windows 7.

The prerequisites for this installation method are simple. You will need a target computer that is capable of booting from a USB device, a thumb drive with at least 4GB of free space and the contents of a Windows 7 installation disk. To get started, you will first need to use a tool such as diskpart to create a primary partition on your thumb drive and format it with the NTFS file system. Next, from an administrative command prompt, switch to the directory that contains the contents of the Windows 7 DVD and prepare the drive using the bootsect.exe tool. Assuming that you have the installation files in a DVD drive on another machine, change directory to the “D:\Boot” folder (Where D: is your DVD drive). This is the folder that contains the bootsect.exe tool. The commands are listed in order below for preparing the drive:

(In this example F: is the drive letter of your USB thumb drive):  

C:\>D:

D:\>cd boot

D:\>bootsect.exe /NT60 F:

When completed, you should see a message stating “Bootcode was successfully updated on all targeted volumes.” The final step is to simply copy the files from your Windows 7 DVD to your thumb drive.

In our case this method cut the installation time almost in half. It’s a quick and convenient way to install Windows especially since there are so many ultra-portables out there that lack optical drives.