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How do I create a bootable flash drive for installing Windows 7?

If you have a Windows 7 installation disk but do not have an optical (CD/DVD) drive on your computer, you can create a flash drive to use in the installation instead. To do so, your flash drive must have at least 4 GB of space, and you'll need the valid product key that came with your Windows 7 software. You can create a bootable flash drive on either a Windows or Mac OS X computer.

Warning: The process in the steps below will delete any data currently on the flash drive. Before continuing, be sure to backup your flash drive's data by copying it to another flash drive, your computer, or an external hard drive.

Acquiring a Windows .iso file

Before creating the bootable drive, you must first obtain a Windows 7 .iso file. An .iso file gathers all the individual Windows files into one. Because of this, you cannot simply copy this file to a USB drive, and you must use special software to write it properly.

You can download legal .iso files for Windows 7 Ultimate from Digital River, in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. Be sure to download the bit version that matches that of the Windows 7 disk where you obtained your product key.

Creating a Windows flash drive installer on an OS X computer

Note: In Mac OS X, the option to create a Windows 7 flash drive will only appear if the computer you're using does not have an optical drive. On Macs with optical drives, the option will be either missing or grayed out.

In Mac OS X, to create a bootable Windows 7 flash drive:

  1. From the Finder, open the Applications folder, and then Utilities.

  2. Open the Boot Camp Assistant, and then click Continue. The next screen should give you a list of options.

  3. UITS recommends making the USB drive installer first. You can skip the actual Windows install and downloading the support software at this time, as it will be easier to do both later. To proceed:

    1. Verify that the USB drive you will be writing to is plugged in.
    2. Uncheck the Install Windows 7 and Download the latest Windows support software from Apple options.
    3. Check Create a Windows 7 install disk and click Continue.

  4. Your USB drive should be listed in the "Destination disk" area. Use the choose button to browse to your .iso file; after selecting it, click Continue.

    If prompted, confirm your action and/or provide an administrator's password. The process of writing the .iso file to the USB drive can take twenty minutes or longer.

Creating a Windows flash drive installer on a Windows computer

  1. From the Microsoft Store, download and install the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool.

  2. From the Start menu, open the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool Setup Wizard.

  3. When prompted, browse to your .iso file, select it, and click Next.

  4. When asked to select the media type for your backup, make sure your flash drive is plugged in, and then choose USB device.

  5. You'll likely be prompted to insert the USB device even if the flash drive is already inserted. Ignore this, and simply choose the USB device you'll be writing to.

  6. Click Begin Copying. If prompted, confirm that you wish to erase the flash disk.

  7. The .iso files will start copying to the flash drive (the process can take several minutes). When finished, close the wizard and eject and remove the flash drive.

To use the flash drive you've created to install Windows 7, see At IU, how do I install Windows 8 or 7?

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Last modified on March 24, 2014.

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