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The Easiest Way to Create a Bootable USB Flash Drive

It reminds me of my good old days

14 mins read
The Easiest Way to Create a Bootable USB Flash Drive
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Microsoft Windows previously could be installed via a CD, DVD-ROM, or floppy disc in the past, however, optical data carriers are now becoming less common. However, you can either buy Windows directly online, equipped with a digital license, or download it yourself, or it comes preinstalled on the system partition of a new computer or laptop.

But many users now prefer a bootable USB flash drive if they need portable installation media. It is faster and smaller than an optical data carrier, making it suitable for system setup (or reset) in addition to its many other possible uses.

A bootable USB flash drive can be used for a wide range of tasks. The most key aspect is, of course, starting the computer if it fails to start on its own due to a virus, major system failure, faulty hard disk, or partition issues. The standard method for properly rebooting and fixing a computer is to use a small piece of hardware to host an entire operating system and/or a recovery system, such as the multi-virus scanner Sardu.

It’s a good practice to have a Windows image for data backup on a USB-capable storage device (which could also be an external hard drive) on hand even if there’s no problem needing the use of a PC.

Using a bootable USB flash drive, you can also upgrade from Windows 8.1 or 10 to Windows 11 if the Windows automatic upgrade doesn’t function correctly. The drive is also able to “clean” and reinstalls the operating system if it has been too slow due to lots of junk files.

IT professionals and senior computer experts also love using a bootable USB flash drive as a “portable operating system” (Microsoft refers to this idea as “Windows2Go”). With this, you can use your chosen Windows version on computers in other countries with all of your favorite tools and personal data without having to mess with the installed operating system (whether it is Windows or something else).

By doing so, you can access all of your important files over the cloud in addition to accessing your comfortable workspace. Additionally, a portable operating system provides better security in the event that a keylogger or virus is installed on your computer or stored on a remote computer.

How to create a bootable USB flash drive?

Most retail USB flash drives are generally suitable for these multiple tasks. This is due to the fact that the majority of devices come pre-loaded only with single file systems, such as a FAT32 or exFAT file system. They lack the Master Boot Record (MBR), which is important for booting up the vast majority of PCs, particularly those with a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). So, you need to make your own bootable USB flash drive.

Of course, you can create a bootable USB flash drive on a different computer than the one you want to use later. There are really only two methods that can be used: manually or using automated tools. The first option looks a little challenging at first and is a little more error-prone due to the multiple manual processes, but it is still possible even if you are not an expert.

Make sure you have the following things:

  1. DiskPart, a Windows utility tool, or additional tools that do the same tasks.
  2. A USB drive having at least 4GB or 8GB of storage (for a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system, respectively), or buy the cheapest USB flash drive from Amazon. The purchased drive should support USB 3.0 to perform at a fast speed (Recommended). And also make sure that the USB flash drive is empty, if there’s any data in the flash then copy the data from a flash drive somewhere else in a safe place.
  3. A copy of the chosen operating system’s ISO file that includes all the setup files required for installation. However, you can make ISO files yourself with DAEMON tools (it has Ultra, Pro, and Lite versions), WinISO, UltraISO, or the InfraRecorder burn software. However, downloading the required operating system from the internet is simpler and faster. Using the Microsoft media creation tool is entirely legal when using Windows 11. For Windows 10, as well as Windows 8.1, for example, downloading can be done directly from the Microsoft website.

You can legally download various versions of Windows from Microsoft. However, keep in mind that you require a license for the operating system’s activation and legal use, which you can get online from the Microsoft website or from the other retailer websites in the form of a product key.

Your user rights are strictly restricted if this official confirmation is not received within 30 days. This means that instead of having customizing options or support for updates, you will now just get alerts that push you to activate Windows as soon as possible.

In this tutorial, I’ll use Windows 11 media creation tool. And by the way, you don’t have to download the ISO file using Windows 11 media creation, actually, you can download Windows 11 ISO file directly from Microsoft without installing this Windows 11 media creation tool, this will also save your time.

To do this, simply go to the Download Windows 11 page, look for Download Windows 11 Disk Image (ISO), and select Windows 11 (multi-edition ISO) there. Microsoft will then ask you to Select the product language, choose the language, and then show you the download button. Tap the Download button, then save the ISO file somewhere secure because you will need it in the following steps.

(Tips: Sometimes large file takes lots of time to download and if it gets an error such as network problems, it starts again from start, and this will lose your internet data. To download large files at the fastest speed with the pause/resume option, then try the Internet Download Manager (IDM). IDM is a tool for increasing download speeds by up to 5 times, and for resuming, scheduling, and organizing downloads. The program will resume unfinished downloads due to network problems, or unexpected power outages.)

Directly download Windows 11 ISO file from Microsoft
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However, you can still follow the following steps if you wish to download Windows 11 ISO file using Windows 11 media creation tool.

(Note: Above direct ISO file download and below steps will not create a bootable USB flash drive, however, you can find a detailed guide later these steps.)

Step #1 — Start the Microsoft media creation tool after the download, and accept Microsoft’s terms by clicking on the Accept button.

1 - Windows 11 media creation tool - Terms agreements
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Step #2 — Then select the Language and edition or simply leave this setting default and click the Next button.

2 - Windows 11 media creation tool - Select language and edition
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Step #3 — This step will ask you to Choose which media to use. Select the ISO file option and click the Next button.

3 - Windows 11 media creation tool - Choose which media to use
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(Tips: You can create a bootable USB flash drive for Windows 10 directly in the media creation tool by choosing the USB flash drive option (I have added detailed instructions for these steps below), for this, you will need a Pendrive, or if you don’t have one get the cheapest Pendrive from Amazon.)

Step #4 — After choosing the ISO file option, the tool automatically downloads an ISO file of Windows 11 directly from Microsoft, now choose the download location and save it in a safe place, the download will start shortly once you choose the download location. This process can take a while since the image is several gigabytes large.

Step #5 — After finishing the download, click the Finish button.

(Tips: You have the option to burn the downloaded ISO file to a DVD by clicking on the Open DVD burner option. But you could simply click the Finish button instead.)

Method 1/5 — Create a bootable USB flash drive for Windows 11 using Windows 11 media creation tool

Step #1 — Start the Microsoft media creation tool and then select the Language and edition or simply leave this setting default and click the Next button.

2 - Windows 11 media creation tool - Select language and edition
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Step #2 — From here, choose the USB flash drive option and click the Next button. This will let you create a bootable USB flash drive for Windows 10 directly in the Windows 11 media creation tool by choosing the USB flash drive option, for this, you will need a Pendrive (Recommending 4GB Pendrive for the 32-bit operating system and 8GB or higher capacity for the 64-bit OS), or if you don’t have one get the cheapest USB flash drive from Amazon.

3.1 - Windows 11 media creation tool - Choose which media to use
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Step #3 — Now, the Windows 11 media creation tool will automatically download necessary files into the flash drive, so you can use this flash drive as a bootable flash drive after download completion.

Method 2/5 — Create a bootable USB flash drive for Windows 11 using Command Prompt (CMD)

If you want to do the necessary tasks manually, you may easily create a bootable USB flash drive on any operating system, from Windows Vista to the most recent version of Windows 11, by using the cmd.exe tool, commonly known as Command Prompt.

DiskPart (Command Prompt/Command-line utility) is required to prepare the USB flash drive before you can create a bootable USB flash drive for Windows 11. If you are a pro/advanced user and are familiar with the Windows Command prompt tool, then this program is very simple to use. And for beginners, I strongly advise them to practice it (the procedures below) on an old computer or laptop that has no data on it or is otherwise useless, such as a very old computer or a slow computer.

Because the methods that follow will delete all of the data from your USB flash drive (don’t worry, I’ll add a notice in the instructions indicating when that command will cause your USB flash drive data to delete), so, be sure to take a backup of your USB flash drive before you proceed.

There are several backup tools available, however, I strongly advise doing a manual backup of your USB flash drive or using AOMEI Backupper. For more information, read our AOMEI Backupper review.

Make sure you have a 4GB Pendrive for the 32-bit operating system and an 8GB or larger capacity for the 64-bit OS before you follow these simple guidelines to create a bootable USB flash drive for Windows 11. If you don’t already have one, get the cheapest USB flash drive from Amazon.

Here we go:

Step #1 — Plug the USB flash drive into your computer’s USB port.

Step #2 — Find the Command Prompt by searching in the Windows start menu, just type cmd or command prompt and then right-click on it and Run as administrator, if you follow these steps on Windows 11, you can see the Run as administrator option on the right side card (see the below image).

Opening command prompt run as administrator
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Step #3 — Type the command diskpart to start the storage device manager.

Step #4 — Enter the command list disk to display all available storage devices.

(Tips: You can recognize your USB by its storage capacity, and it’s usually listed as disk 1. The system partition disk 0 is usually your PC, so a hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD) in your computer.)

Step #5 — Based on the assumption that your USB has the label disk 1, enter the command select disk 1 to select it (or the corresponding disk 2, etc.).

Step #6 — Enter the command clean to delete all files from the USB.

(Warning: Yes, as I said, this is the command that deletes all data from your USB flash drive, so please back up your USB flash drive.)

Step #7 — Enter the command create partition primary to create the main partition.

Step #8 — Enter the command list partition (you can skip this list partition command) and select the newly created main partition with select partition 1 (this select partition 1 command is required).

Step #9 — Format the USB flash drive with the command format fs=ntfs quick and then press the Enter button (Now, wait for a moment it will take a few seconds to format).

(Note: For the UEFI Platform, format the USB flash drive as FAT32 rather than as NTFS. To format the partition as FAT32, type the command format fs=fat32 quick and then press the Enter button.)

Step #10 — As soon as the process is finished (the response message will say 100 percent completed), now enter the command active to activate the partition.

Step #11 — Type exit to close the command prompt, then type exit again to fully close the command prompt.

Diskpart commands
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Don’t remove the USB flash drive from the computer until you have finished the remaining steps after completing all of these commands. You will need that Windows 11 ISO file that you downloaded in order to complete the next few easy steps. Make sure the original ISO file is stored in a secure location (in case you need this ISO file in the future, so make two copies of the ISO file, one for practice and one for emergency).

The first you need to do is extract the Windows 11 ISO file (You can use Windows-based software like WinZip, WinRAR or PowerArchiver, or any other tools to extract the ISO file). Now simply copy or drag the extracted Windows 11 ISO file files to a bootable USB flash drive after the ISO file has been extracted.

OR

Additionally, the command prompt makes all of that easy. A similar command for a source media with the drive letter D: and a USB drive with the letter G: would be xcopy D:*.* G:*.* /S /E /F (all the spaces are important; be careful; it’s a complicated task).

Create a bootable USB flash drive with additional tools

As previously mentioned media creation tool can directly write a downloaded ISO file to a USB flash drive. However, there is a ton of freeware software available that may handle the manual device management tasks and runs on all operating systems, including Linux. The most well-known ones include Rufus, WinUSB, and UNetbootin. Each of these tools includes a single, terribly short file that you can download and use right away without needing to install.

Method 3/5 — Create a bootable USB flash drive using Rufus

Rufus is one of the fastest and most reliable tools to create a bootable USB flash drive. Additionally, it supports UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface), a brand-new mainboard firmware that has mostly replaced the outdated BIOS on modern PCs. Starting with Windows 8.1, “Windows2Go” can be set up using Rufus as a portable operating system on an external storage device.

To create a bootable USB flash drive using Rufus, follow the simple steps below:

  1. First, download the Rufus tool (it’s free and also available in a portable version).
  2. Select your USB drive in the Device option
  3. Under the New volume label, you can enter whatever name you like for your USB drive
  4. Select the Create a bootable disk using and the option ISO Image
  5. Click on the CD-ROM symbol and select the ISO file.
  6. You’ll receive the warning ALL DATA ON THIS DEVICE WILL BE DESTROYED, which you can confidently confirm with OK.
  7. Click on the Start button.
  8. As soon as the green bar is full, click on the Finish button.
  9. Eject your bootable USB drive with Safely eject hardware.

Here’s how the Rufus tool looks on Windows 11 operating system:

Rufus tool interface
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Method 4/5 — Create a bootable USB flash drive using UNetbootin

UNetbootin (short for “Universal Netboot Installer”) is truly specialized for Linux systems, similar to the well-known tool Universal USB Installer. It’s mostly used to install Linux Distributions distributions on a USB drive, including Ubuntu so that users can launch them directly from the storage device.

To create a bootable USB flash drive using UNetbootin, follow the simple steps below:

Creating Windows bootable media

  1. Download the UNetbootin tool.
  2. Click on the menu item Discimage, the ISO is already selected as the source, now select the disc image file (ISO file) by clicking on the three-dot button ().
  3. Select your USB under Drive and then click the OK button.

Here’s how the UNetbootin tool looks (Discimage) on Windows 7:

UNetbootin tool interface
(Image Credit: UNetbootin/GadgetBond.com)

Creating Ubuntu and other Linux distributions media without burning a CD

  1. Open the UNetbootin tool.
  2. Choose the Distribution from the drop-down menu option, then choose the version of that distribution.
  3. Now, select the USB flash drive under Drive and then click the OK button.

Here’s how the UNetbootin tool looks (Distribution) on Windows 7:

The Easiest Way to Create a Bootable USB Flash Drive
(Image Credit: UNetbootin/GadgetBond.com)

UNetbootin Supported Distributions:

UNetbootin Supported Distributions
(Image Credit: UNetbootin/GadgetBond.com)

Method 5/5 — Create a bootable USB flash drive using WinUSB

However, there are two differences between Rufus and the WinUSB tool: The USB can be used to store personal files and documents because it is feasible to create a bootable USB flash drive without formatting it first (if there is enough storage space); although, it is recommended to keep a backup copy of all data.

Another unique feature is that WinUSB can install as many different Windows operating systems as needed on a single drive. This makes it nearly similar to the Yumi tool from Linux.

Here are a few steps to create a bootable USB flash drive using WinUSB:

  1. Download the WinUSB tool.
  2. Select your USB with Plug and select the USB drive.
  3. Choose the ISO from the right side section of Add and then click the Next button.
  4. Enter whatever label you want for the selected Windows distribution, then click on the OK button and then the Next button.
  5. Click on the Start button.

Here’s how the WinUSB tool interface looks on Windows 11 OS:

WinUSB tool interface
(Image Credit: GadgetBond.com)

Now, it’s time to boot Window.

How to start Windows with a bootable USB flash drive

You can use your bootable USB flash drive to start your computer to test it when it has been successfully created. This is also a necessary step to set up BIOS or UEFI in advance for a possible incident.

To do this, you have to change the boot order in the boot menu:

  1. Open your computer’s boot menu. Depending on the mainboard manufacturer, this is done by pushing a different key on the keyboard. Del is the one most commonly used, but the F1, F2, F8, or F10 keys can also be used for this function (though rarely any others). Which button you have to push is usually displayed in the margin of the screen as soon as the manufacturer logo appears. But be aware: You only have a short window of time to press the right button. If you miss it, you’ll have to restart your PC and try again.
  2. If you have a newer PC, it’s possible that UEFI is installed instead of BIOS as firmware. If this is the case, it’s also possible that no button for starting the boot menu will be displayed. Instead, proceed as follows: Click on Update and recovery under System settings. Then click on Recovery and under Extended start select Restart now. The computer will now be restarted. On the following screen, click on Troubleshooting, then Extended options, and finally on UEFI firmware settings to get to the UEFI.
  3. BIOS and UEFI can look different depending on the computer model and have different names for the individual menu items. Don’t be confused by this, though – the structure is basically the same.
  4. With the arrow keys, navigate through the BIOS/UEFI. Go to the Boot tab (this might also be called Boot menu, Boot manager, or something similar).
  5. There, you can select your USB drive so the next system startup will boot from it.
  6. You can also permanently change the boot order by pushing the [Image↑] or [Image↓] keys to change the order of the boot drives. Set your USB drive on the top of the list to start from it as soon as it’s plugged into your computer.
  7. Press the [Esc] key to leave BIOS/UEFI.

The portable Windows will take a little longer to boot up the first time you turn on your computer because the hardware needs to be detected first. Windows may restart multiple times when it is being detected.

It’s still important to set up your operating system on the USB drive after the boot process has been completed. This means you need to run the Windows setup, an internet connection must be established, and any required drivers and updates must be downloaded and installed from the internet.

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