HowTo: Bootable USB Stick for OS Install

Some USB sticks.A bootable USB stick – AGAIN?

This has been covered in many places, but I am still surprised that not everyone knows how to do this.

First off: find yourself a large enough and fast enough USB stick to use as your bootable media. I prefer my OCZ Rally 2 myself – 8 GB and FAST.   Remember – you get what you pay for – flash drive speeds vary greatly, choose yours wisely.

  1. Run DISKPART with admin rights
  2. Type in LIST DISK to list off all disks attached to your system. Make note of your disk# representing your USB stick
  3. Type SELECT DISK # where # represents YOUR USB STICK
  4. Type CLEAN to erase everything / every partition on the disk. Remember you validated what disk to clean in step 2, right?
  5. Type CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY to make your new primary partition
  6. Type ACTIVE to mark partition as active
  7. Type FORMAT FS=NTFS QUICK  to perform a quick format
  8. Type EXIT to close diskpart – unless you want to make more bootable USB disks

Next up – extract the source files your favorite ISO file to the root of the USB stick. Windows 7, Server 2008 R2, Windows Server “8” or Windows “8” Consumer Preview. You can use whatever tool you prefer – I used to use WINRAR to open and expand them. Now I just mount the ISO in my Windows 8 Consumer preview by right clicking on it and choosing MOUNT. I can then select all files and SEND TO my newly formatted USB stick.

Voila – you now have a bootable USB stick. The only way for fast OS installs in a modern world.

I was going to record a quick screencast and YouTube it up – but then again – why? It’s so simple, this text should do.

** EDIT ** – based on @tommyLee’s suggestion – I’ve created a quick screencast on how do make one yourself.

You can get more elaborate and custom make the OS with injected drivers and all sorts of deployment goodness if you CREATE your own ISO with the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit. I’ll revisit the USB OS install post in a while when the tool refreshes with the next OS update.

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36 CommentsLeave a comment

  • You should go ahead and do a YouTube video. Although many of the words you used sound familiar, I may not know exactly what you mean. Seeing it in a video makes it way easier to know if I am on the right path. 🙂

    • I couldn’t find the link for that one – thanks! I put one up into the feed and my YouTube channel and edited the post. Thanks Pierre.

  • Hey Rick, Great Post! I have been making DOS boot sticks for a few years now. I use them to flash BIOS on Servers. This install method will be handy as we continue to migrate away from DVD drives in systems. minit-ITX and Tablets for sure. Cheers!

    • DISKPART.EXE is a built in utility for managing disks and their partitions / configurations. it’s by default in c:windowssystem32 run it from an elevated command prompt.

  • hi,
    i did as per your description but i have made my usb drive as active partition and now I am not able to boot my exiisting os and usb became bootable .please give me idea so that i can boot/start my system as usual.

    • @Pritam – you will need to open disk part, do a List Disk command to view all disks on your system. Identify which disk is your main hard drive (in my case it is drive 1) and then type in Select Disk {YourDiskNumber} (mine was Select Disk 1). Once it has been selected type List Partition to view all partitions on the drive. Identify which partition is your system drive (in my case it is partition 2) and type in select partition {YourPartitionNumber}. Finally – to make it bootable, type Active.
      You are basically doing the same steps you did for making your usb drive active and bootable and repeating them on your main system.

  • How do I change the USB back to normal after installing the OS?
    It’s the only USB I have

    • The USB stick can be left as a “bootable” one provided you have the space to do what you need with it (I have a 32 GB that I keep bootable and also have folders for my docs and resources). If it is the only one and it’s small – you can always delete all the folders and use as normal once again. If you ever need it bootable – you don’t need to repeat any of the steps – except re-copying the ISO files back onto the stick.

  • I get BOOTMGR is missing when I try to boot my newly created flash drive into my new PC. I’ve copied the ‘boot’ folder into the root drive of the USB stick. Any ideas?

    • @mikehabis – sounds to me like you didn’t do the DISKPART command correctly. As per article, stick in the drive, list all disks, select the USB stick, Clean it, Create Partition Primary, Format fs=ntfs quick, ACTIVE then copy the contents of the Win7 / Win 8 / WS2008R2 / WS2012 over to it. It’s not just the one folder structure you need – but also an active system partition.


  • I get the error message “BOOTMGR is missing Press Ctrl+alt+Del to restart”
    I managed to create a windows 7 install usb thumb drive but I can’t create a windows xp one. Any tips?

  • I’ve followed your instructions very carefully. I have tried two different USB thumb drives and an SD card. However, this method does not seem to work for windows XP and I still get the boot manager missing message. If you have any tips, I’d be grateful.

    Problem I have is with an Advent netbook. There is no method to invoke the system recovery at boot. You have to boot into windows and then run the recovery application. As I cannot boot the machine, due to the fact that I have previously tested windows 7 and Ubuntu linux on the machine, I have no way to recover this machine back to it’s original windows XP installation. I was able to install both Ubuntu linux and windows 7 from a USB thumb drive using your method for windows 7 and unetbootin for Ubuntu.

    All the best, John

    • unfortunately John – these procedures are only for Windows Vista, windows 7 and Windows 8 as well as Server 2012 and server 2008R2. There are no “official” XP OS bootable USB stick instructions as they require special licensing for the WindowsPE environment.

      That being said – if you searched with your favourite search engine, you could get the following results.

  • hi I have a similar problem on an hp mini that has 7 starter I’ve installed 7ultimate with your instructions but I cant boot from usb I thought it might be the mini so I tried to boot from my desk top but it doesn’t boot it does give me the op but once selected it tries to go to normal startup
    p.s. I was formating the mini with iso image and it went off before It could finish
    need help urgent

    • Your hardware has to support booting from USB – the mini you are talking about might not support that boot method – or it might be disabled in the BIOS. As for the installation that turned off in the middle of the process – that’s not good. You’re likely going to have to start over again.



  • Hi Rick,but how to run the diskpat.exe command if u cant into the system thanx, my pc don’t have a cd rom and the OS is corrupt

  • How can I fix this? when it comes to formatting the usb into ntfs it encounters error

  • i really want to thank you for this, im 14 and have an old pc from my friend, this really helps me out!!! (ps im not doing this without permission from my parents and have a lot experience if i compare to other kids from my age haha)

    • Glad to help. I was the same way at 14, but it wasn’t a PC I had back then, it was a Commodore 64 or Sinclair ZX81.

      Keep at it. Passion for technology pays off.

  • Rick i did exactly as you said… several times. however my usb turned into a ide drive? i cant put my files on it to use on another computer?
    what did i do wrong?

    ps i followed this method 100% any help would be favored.

  • rick further research proved useful, i ended up not having the usb labeled by letter to fix this i opened start menu right click computer opened manage open storage then disk management. i located my usb primary partition and assigned a letter to it now i believe it will work. i just wonder why it wouldnt assign the letter itself? maybe you could add to your post so people who went through what i did dont have to scour the web for results. ty rick illlet you know if it worked or not.

  • rick i am now fixing my secondary computer thank you. youve been helpful

  • I have dificulty in identifying which is my USB drive in the disk list. Please give me any idea how to indentify it correctly.

    • The Easiest way to identify your USB stick in the list of disks is to go by size. You’ll see that your USB stick will be the smallest drive size in the list.

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