With 2GB and 4GB pen drives becoming common these days it often makes more sense to burn (or rather setup) the Operating System installer onto a pen drive rather than burning it onto a CD or DVD. This is especially true if you love trying out new linux distros, or rush to install the latest leaked build of Windows 7. Not only that many notebooks such as Acer Aspire One doesn’t come with a built in CD/DVD drive and USB drives are the only way users can install the latest build of Windows 7 or Ubuntu (or whatever operating system they wish to use).
This tutorial will teach you how to install any (well…almost) operating system from a USB drive.
Windows 2000 and XP
For creating a bootable USB drive with Windows 2000 or XP installer we are going to use a utility called WinSetupFromUSB. Download it from MSFN forums and install it. You are going to need the Windows 2000/XP installation disk. If you have an ISO, extract the iso. Enter the path to Windows 200/XP installer as Source. After this, plugin in your USB device and format it. You can use the PEtoUSB tool to format USB drives smaller than 2GB as FAT16 drive. However I would recommend using HP Format Tool to format drives as FAT32 or NTFS (recommended). That is all you need to do to create a basic installer for Windows 2000 and Windows XP on your pen drive (USB device). Don’t bother yourself with any of the other settings. Click on GO to begin the process. WinSetupFromUSB is a fairly advanced tool and allows to you create multiboot pen drives that can have Windows Vista, Windows 7 and even Linux installers. If you want to know more about this utility just read through the thread at MSFN forums.
Windows Vista and Windows 7
The procedure described below is slightly cumbersome.
For a completely automated method use Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool
First we need to copy the bootsector from the Windows Installation DVD to the USB drive. But before that we need to format the USB drive and prepare it.
Start Command Prompt by typing CMD in the start menu and hitting Ctrl+ Shift+ Enter (for Windows XP and older OS simply type CMD in the RUN prompt and hit Enter).
Type LIST DISK
Note down the disk number (###) of your USB drive.
Type SELECT DISK # (replace # with the disk number e.g. SELECT DISK 1).
Type CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY
Type SELECT PARTITION 1
Type FORMAT FS=NTFS
Now we will copy the bootsector from the original disk. If you have an image you will need to mount it using a tool like Slysoft Virtual Clone Drive. Now I am assuming that the drive letter for the installer disc is X. You need to open up CMD one again.
Type CD BOOT
Type BOOTSECT.EXE/NT60 Y:
where Y is the USB drive letter.
Now that the DVD is setup all you need to do is copy the contents of the DVD to the USB Drive (or extract the ISO file).
LINUX (Ubuntu and almost all other popular distros including BSD variants)
Installing almost any version of Linux from a pen drive(USB device) is ridiculously simple thanks to UNetbootin (Universal Netboot Installer). All you need is a bootable image and a pen drive. Start UNetbootin, point to the location of the cd/dvd image and set the USB drive letter. UNetbootin will do the rest. If you don’t have an iso file handy I would suggest that you create one using your favourite disk burning tool (such as Nero). Although there are other solutions they are slightly complicated and creating an iso is the simpler solution. You can find the full list of supported Distros over here.
Now that you have your USB device ready, restart your computer and enter the BIOS by pressing the appropriate key. Change the boot order and set USB Device at #1 (highest priority). Save and exit. Your system should load from the USB device (pen drive) and launch the OS installer.