Install Windows from USB stick – fast and easy!

Physical DVDs are old technology, slow, and subject to scratches. USB sticks are cheap, fast, and very portable. So why not install your operating system from a USB stick? Well there’s nothing to stop you, assuming BIOS support for booting from USB. The steps are pretty darn easy, and it worked like a charm for me with Windows 7.

1. Download and install the evaluation copy of UltraISO.
2. Insert your USB key drive (4GB or larger).
3. Launch UltraISO with admin rights and open your OS ISO file.
4. From the Bootable menu select Write Disk Image.
5. Select your USB stick and make sure the write method is USB-HDD.
6. Click on Write and wait a few minutes for it to ‘burn’ and verify.
7. Reboot and change your BIOS settings to first boot from USB.
8. Reboot again and verify the OS installation routine starts.

I ran into a couple of snags during my attempt. First, my USB drive wasn’t listed in UltraISO when I tried to write the image. I had to go into the Windows 7 Disk Management and remove the drive letters for all my empty memory card ‘drives’. Second, my BIOS was a bit tricky to configure. The USB stick actually came up as a hard drive, so I had to change the hard drive boot order and put the USB stick first. After that I was able to successfully get to the Windows 7 setup routine.

Also note, this make it really easy to change the contents of the “ISO” without having to reburn to DVD media. For example, on Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 you can delete the sourcesei.cfg file and the installer routine will give you all possible OS choices.

A company could also create an emergency restore USB stick for employees which contained the OS, and any other vital software like Office.

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