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How to Upgrade to Windows 7 or 8 with a USB Stick

No optical drive? No problem, Mathew shows you how easy installation via a USB is in this handy guide.

Save your optical media and opt for the much more flexible and faster bootable USB drive. In this article, I will demonstrate how to correctly format and upload Windows 7 or 8 to your USB drive and it is completely legal, assuming you own the ISO and relevant key, and it even uses a Microsoft Tool for the job!

A few common mistakes

It isn't simply a case of using your existing Windows machine to format a USB drive and then copy the ISO across or even mount the ISO and then copy the files you can see. It has to have an active partition, made bootable and then the ISO has to be properly sent to the device. Many times across the web I have seen users banging their heads against a desk saying that the Microsoft Tool get to 95% copied and then crashes out with a "Cannot Copy Files" message. Here I will show you step by step how to get your USB Stick ready for the job.

What you will need

  • A working Windows PC with Admin access
  • A USB Stick, preferably 4Gb or more
  • The ISO file you want to use
  • The Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool (works with Windows 8 too!)

Of course I don't need to tell you to make sure that you back everything up to ANOTHER DISK before you upgrade. When you have your new USB stick ready and you opt to upgrade your OS, you do have the option to upgrade with a clean install which is what I would always recommend. Another thing, make sure you have run any upgrade tools from Microsoft before this and make sure that you have taken remedial action to prepare any devices or software that may have problems with your new OS.

Step 1:

Back everything up to another disk
 Run and action any upgrade issues detected by the upgrade wizards
 Download and install the Windows 7 USB Tool from Microsoft

The Windows 7 USB/DVD Tool when launched

Step 2:

 Have your ISO file handy

Windows 7 Ultimate x64 DVD ISO file ready

Step 3:

 Insert your USB Stick into your machine
 Press Start --> Run (or for shortcut fans Windows Key + R) and then type in "cmd" and you should get the following window pop open

 Type in "diskpart" and wait a few moments for the prompt to re-appear
 Type in "list disk" and remember which disk number is your USB drive
 Type in "select disk n" where "n" is the USB drive number above
 Now type in "clean"
 Type "create partition primary"
 Now type "active"
 Next, format the disk with "format fs=fat32" where this could take some time if you are using a large stick like mine (oooh matron)
 Final step is to type "assign"
 now you can close the cmd window or type "exit" twice to close down.

Above is what you should see after each entry in DISKPART.

Step 4:

 Launch the Windows 7 USB Tool you downloaded earlier
 Click "Browse" and find your ISO file and click "OK"

Selected ISO ready

 Click "next" to get to Step 2/4

Choose media, USB naturally

 Click "USB Device" and you will get to screen 3/4

 Once you have selected the appropriate disk, click "Begin copying" and away we go.

Your completed screen should look like the above

Step 5:

 Now the copy is complete, close the Windows Tool and launch the setup.exe from the USB device.

 Sit back and wait for your new OS to arrive

And that is pretty much it on how to install Windows 7 (or 8) from your USB stick. There are other tools on the internet (download and use at your own risk) that let you "burn" ISO files to USB and this work all the same. You just have to follow the DISKPART instructions to "cleanse" your stick and then you can burn ISO's until your happy. It reduces the number or spent DVD's laying around the house and also you are only limited to the capacity of the stick so you can now transfer Blu Ray size content.

Be careful when using DISKPART, so many disasters can occur when selecting the wrong disk. To make sure, power down or eject any disks you are not using, this will minimise the risk a little bit. Also, if you do use DISKPART on an SSD, make sure you don't do it too often as writing "0" to the disk frequently can reduce the drives life span.

For another cool tool, you can try ISOtoUSB which is free and I have also used this to distribute Office throughout a host of desktops in the past.