When you are planning to install Windows 10, Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 on a PC, one of the requirements involves creating media to boot your computer into the setup wizard. This is especially true if you are performing a fresh installation of Windows. In which case, your boot options are DVDs and USB drives.
Since most PC these days hardly come with an in-built DVD drive, your options are further limited to either using an external DVD drive or a USB flash drive.
A lot of people, including me, will favor using a USB flash drive to install Windows 10. However, if you have newer hardware, it’s likely that you’re using Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), instead of the legacy Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). If this is the case, you also have to ensure that the bootable media supports the firmware type before you can proceed with the installation.
How is UEFI different from BIOS?
The BIOS will soon be dead: Intel has announced plans to completely replace it with UEFI on all their chipsets by 2020. But what is UEFI, and how is it different from the BIOS we’re all familiar with?
Both UEFI and BIOS are low-level software that starts when you boot your PC before booting your operating system, but UEFI is a more modern solution, supporting larger hard drives, faster boot times, more security features, and—conveniently—graphics and mouse cursors.
Fortunately, if your device features a UEFI firmware, you have multiple ways to create a USB bootable media to install Windows 10, Windows 8.1 or Windows 7. You can use the Media Creation Tool, which is an easy-to-use utility made by Microsoft that downloads and copies the installation files onto a removable drive with support UEFI and BIOS. Or you can use WinToFlash, which is a freely available third-party tool that allows you to quickly create a media with support for UEFI firmware.
[Further Reading: Create a Bootable Mac OS X Flash Drive]
In this guide, we’ll try to walk you through the steps to create a bootable USB flash drive with support for both BIOS and UEFI. First we will try without a software, this should work for Windows 10, Windows 8.1 & Windows 7. However, some BIOS may not recognize your USB flash drive as a boot media, using the Media Creation Tool or WinToFlash software will resolve this.
Supported Windows OS
This guide has been tested with the following OS:
- Microsoft Windows XP—It’s time to switch, no?
- Windows 7—Install Windows 7 without disk.
- Windows 8—Try Windows 8 Without Losing Windows 7
- MS Windows 8.1—How to activate Windows Defender in Windows 8
- Windows 10—Install Windows 10 with Microsoft Boot Media Creation Tool
Note, If you are performing a fresh installation of Windows 10 on a PC, you can skip straight to how to create a Windows 10 UEFI boot media using Microsoft Media Creation Tool.
You can always fall back to our troubleshooting guides should you encounter any problems while creating your bootable USB flash drive.
What you need
Before you begin, make sure you have an internet connection if you don’t already have a copy of the Windows OS install in a DVD, .iso or in a folder. You should also have sufficient data storage available on a computer, USB or external drive for the download. Other requirements may include:
- A copy of the Windows OS install .iso, in a folder or DVD. You can use this page to download a disc image (ISO file) that can be used to update or install Windows 10, Windows 8.1 or Windows 7. The image can also be used to create installation media using a USB flash drive or DVD. Windows software download is free on the Microsoft OS download page but you might need to purchase a license for usage.
- A blank USB flash drive with at least 5GB (or 4GB for Windows 8.1 and below) free space. This drive will be formatted, so make sure it doesn’t contain any important files.
- Technician PC – Windows PC that you’ll use to format the USB flash drive
- Destination PC – A PC that you’ll install Windows on
Boot Windows from your USB flash drive
Having met all the requirements above, any of the three methods below will get you a bootable USB flash drive. Make sure to pay close attention and ask any questions you may have on the comment section.
- Create a Windows boot media without using a software
- How to Create a Windows Bootable USB Flash Drive using WinToFlash Software
- How to create a Windows 10 UEFI boot media using Media Creation Tool
Troubleshooting: file copy fails
One of the most important thing to watch out for is the storage capacity of your USB flash drive. Windows 10 October release will require your flash drive to have at least 5GB storage capacity.
Also, if you are using a modern PC and your device features a UEFI firmware, you will need to format your USB flash drive using FAT32 file system which has a file size limit of 4GB. The Windows image file (sources/install.wim) in Windows 10 October release exceeds this limit.
Follow our Widows 10 boot media troubleshooting guide to walk around this problem.
Create a Windows 10, 8 & 7 Bootable USB Flash Drive without using a Software
Step 1 – Format the drive and set the primary partition as active
- Connect the USB flash drive to your technician PC.
- Open Disk Management: Right-click on Start and choose Disk Management.
- Format the partition: Right-click the USB drive partition and choose Format. Select the FAT32 file system to be able to boot either BIOS-based or UEFI-based PCs.
- Set the partition as active: Right-click the USB drive partition and click Mark Partition as Active.
Step 2 – Copy Windows Setup to the USB flash drive
Use File Explorer to copy and paste the entire contents of the Windows product DVD or ISO to the USB flash drive.
Step 3 – Install Windows 10 / Windows 8.1 / Windows 7 to the new PC
- Connect the USB flash drive to a new PC.
- Turn on the PC and press the key that opens the boot-device selection menu for the computer, such as the Esc/F10/F12 keys. Select the option that boots the PC from the USB flash drive.
- Windows Setup starts. Follow the instructions to install Windows.
- Remove the USB flash drive.
How to create a Windows 10, 8 & 7 UEFI boot media using WinToFlash Software
If for some reasons, copying Windows through file explorer didn’t work, you can use the WinToFlash tool to create an installation media with UEFI support. Of course, the Windows Media Creation Tool will equally work if your target is to install Windows 10 on a PC. However, it’s faster to use this tool if your already have a copy of the Windows OS install in a DVD, .iso or in a folder.
To create a Windows install media with support for UEFI, connect a USB flash drive with at least 5GB (or 4GB for Windows 8.1 and below) of space, and then use these steps:
Step 1 – Download & Install WinToFlash Software.
Download the free lite edition of WinToFlash from the official website. Under “Download,” click Lite edition Setup Download.
After download is complete, open your download path and double-click the Novicorp WinToFlash Lite [The Bootable USB Creator] x.x.x Setup.exe file to launch the installation wizard.
Step 2 – Set Windows source and destination media
After installation, click on the Novicorp WinToFlash icon from your desktop to launch the WinToFlash tool and install Windows 10 OS and below from your USB Flash Drive.
From the application start screen, click Windows Setup Bootable USB Wizard. Select the installation source of the Windows, if you have downloaded an ISO file or loading from a folder.
Click next to setup your Windows source and destination path.
- The ‘Windows files path‘ specifies the path to the Windows installation files on your PC. This can be an ISO – archive or folder – CD path, depending on your selection on the previous screen.
- Use the ‘USB drive’ drop-down to select the media you want to make bootable.
Step 3 – Wrapping things up
Click next and review all parameters. Make sure that you have chosen the right USB drive.
Complete settings by confirming to wipe USB flash drive and accepting WinToFlash terms (click on the images below to expand).
After completing the steps, the WinToFlash tool will create a bootable media, which you can then use to install Windows 10 on devices using UEFI.
Once the USB bootable with support for UEFI has been created, you can start your device with the installation media to perform an upgrade or clean installation of Windows 10.
How to create a Windows 10 UEFI boot media using Media Creation Tool
If you’re planning to upgrade or install a fresh copy of Windows 10 on a system using BIOS or UEFI, you can use the Media Creation Tool to create a compatible bootable media. Just insert a USB flash drive with at least 5GB of storage to your computer, and then use these steps:
- Open the official page.
- Under “Create Windows 10 installation media,” click the Download tool now button.
- Click the Save button.
- Click the Open folder button.
- Double-click the MediaCreationToolxxxx.exe file to launch the utility.
- Click the Accept button to agree to the Microsoft terms.
- Select the Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC option.
- Click the Next button.
Select the correct language, architecture, and edition of Windows 10 if the default selection doesn’t reflect the desired options.
Quick Tip: Under “Architecture,” you can select the Both option to create a bootable media that will work for devices using 64-bit and 32-bit processors. Also, if you’re unable to change these settings, make sure to clear the Use the recommended options for this PC option.
- Click the Next button.
- Select the USB flash drive option. (If you don’t see the drive, click the Refresh drive list option.)
- Click the Next button.
- Select the removable drive from the list.
Click the Next button. Once you’ve completed these steps, the wizard will download the Windows 10 installation files, and it’ll create the bootable media with support for UEFI as well as legacy BIOS.
Troubleshooting Windows 10, 8 & 7 Boot Media
UEFI systems cannot boot from NTFS and instead the device needs to be formatted with FAT32 which has a 4GB maximum size. If copy fails, it’s likely that the install.wim file on the media is larger than this file size limit. The solution is to split the WIM into multiple files using DISM.
Split the Windows image
Split a Windows image (.wim) file into a set of smaller (.swm) files. Use this procedure when you’re installing Windows from media that can’t handle the Windows image file size, for example:
- DVDs (A standard single-sided DVD stores 4.7GB).
- USB keys formatted as FAT32. FAT32 is required to boot many modern (UEFI-based) PCs, but has a maximum file size of 4GB.
Split the file
- Mount your Windows distribution ISO.
- Launch Windows Command Prompt. The quickest and easiest way to do that is to type “CMD” into your Windows search box.
- Right click on the resulting “Command Prompt” and “Run as Administrator”.
- Copy everything except the Windows image file (sourcesinstall.wim) to the USB drive. Either drag from the mounted ISO and drop on the flash drive, or use the command below:
robocopy D: E: /s /max:3800000000
Where D: is the mounted ISO and E: is the USB flash drive.
- Split the Windows image file into smaller files, and put the smaller files onto the USB drive:
Dism /Split-Image /ImageFile:C:sourcesinstall.wim /SWMFile:C:sourcesinstall.swm /FileSize:3700
- C:sourcesinstall.wim is the name and the location of the image file that you want to split.
- C:sourcesinstall.swm is the destination name and the location for the split .swm files. The first split .swm file is named install.swm file. The file names for the next files include numbers, for example, install2.swm file, install3.swm file, and so on.
- 3700 is the maximum size in MB for each of the split .swm files to be created. Kepp the size of the files below 4000 (4GB) to avoid getting the error 87 (invalid parameters) error.
Note, Windows Setup automatically installs from this file, so long as you name it install.swm.