How to install Windows 8 using a USB flash drive
So you want to take Windows 8 for a spin on a computer that doesn’t have a disc drive? Not a problem. While Microsoft has only released a disc image of
Windows 8 Developer Preview, you can use the Windows 7 USB/DVD tool to install Windows 8 without a disc drive.
Update: Windows 8 Consumer Preview is now available. I’ve updated some of the links in this guide to use the latest pre-release version of Windows.
I touched on this recently when I discussed installing Windows 8 on a netbook, but if you’re looking for step-by-step instructions, well, here you go.
Before we get started, you should note that Windows 8 is available as a preview. Some features may not work, there’s no guarantee that all of your hardware or apps will be supported.
In other words, it’s probably not a good idea to install Windows 8 on your primary computer. But if you’ve got a spare machine lying around, this guide is for you. If you’re a little more adventurous, it’s also possible to install Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a separate partition on your hard drive and dual boot Windows 8 and another operating system.
In order to install Windows from a USB thumb drive, you’ll need an 8GB or larger USB flash drive. You’ll need to format the disk and erase anything currently on it, so make sure to backup any important files on your flash drive before you start.
OK, onto the instructions. Note that I’m being very thorough here and holding your hand every step of the way, which could make the process look kind of complicated, but it’s really quite easy. The short version is: download Windows 8, download the USB installer. Plug in a USB flash drive, run the installer.
1. Download Windows 8 Developer Preview from Microsoft.
Microsoft offers an installer tool for Windows 8 Consumer Preview which will help you figure out if your system is supported — but it doesn’t play well with older netbooks with 1024 x 600 pixel or lower resolution displays. Instead, you’re going to want to download the ISO file, which is basically an image you can burn to a disc or load on a USB flash drive.
There are 32-bit and 64-bit versions available. If you’re using a netbook with an Intel Atom processor you’ll probably want the 32-bit ISO.
Note that there’s currently no installer available for computers with ARM-based processors.
Once you’re done, you should have a very large file called something like Windows8-ConsumerPreview-32bit-English.iso on your computer. Make sure you remember what folder it’s in.
2. Download the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool from Microsoft.
Starting with Windows 7, Microsoft made it possible to install Windows without using an optical disc drive by loading the installer onto a flash drive. While there’s no Windows 8-specific tool yet, you can download the Windows 7 tool from the Microsoft Store and use it with Windows 8.
Once you’re done, you should have a file called Windows7-USB-DVD-tool.exe.
3. Install the USB tool.
Double click on Windows7-USB-DVD-tool.exe and click “run” when prompted.
Follow the on-screen instructions by clicking Next, and then Install.
When the installer is finished, click the Finish button.
4. Run the USB installer tool
Open the Windows Start Menu and find the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. If you’re using Windows 7 it will likely show up right away, but if you need to go looking for it, drill down until you find the Windows 7 USB Download Tool directory.
When you select the app, you may get a Windows UAC warning message. Click “allow” to continue.
5. Choose the location of your Windows 8 ISO file.
The tool will ask where your ISO file is located. Hit the browse option and navigate to the folder where you stored the Windows 8 ISO.
6. Choose the media type.
You can use this tool to burn the ISO file to a DVD. But since we want to make a bootable USB flash drive, choose the USB device option instead.
7. Select your USB device.
At this point you’ll need to make sure your USB flash drive is inserted and then choose the appropriate device from the drop-down menu.
Don’t worry if you haven’t formatted the disk yet, because that’s coming up next. If the device is formatted, a good way to make sure you have the right device is to choose the option that says 8GB free if you have an 8GB flash drive, for instance. You can also go to Windows Explorer and look at the Computer option to see a list of drives.
8. Format/erase the USB flash drive .
If you haven’t already formatted the USB flash drive, the Microsoft tool will offer to do it for you now. Click the Erase button to proceed.
Just to make sure you’re really cool with losing all the data on your device, Microsoft will ask you again.
If you’re really sure, hit Yes, and go for it.
9. Wait for the USB tool to do its thing.
At this point the utility will format your USB device, grab all the data from the ISO file, and copy it onto your flash drive. It’ll also make the drive bootable while it’s at it.
All you have to do is wait for the progress meter to get to 100 percent. Once that happens, it’s safe to remove the USB drive from your PC.
10. Boot from the USB drive
Step 10 is sort of a trick step, because the process for doing this is going to vary from computer to computer. Basically what you want to do is plug the USB flash drive into the computer you want to install Windows 8 on, and choose the option to boot from USB.
Note that not all computers can boot from a USB flash drive, although almost any PC released in the last 5 years ago should be able to.
The process will vary depending on your PC manufacturer, BIOS, and other details. It’s extraordinarily easy to do this part with most Asus Eee PC netbooks:
- Make sure the computer is powered down.
- Plug in the USB flash drive
- Hit the power button.
- When you see the Asus splash screen, hit Esc on the keyboard to bring up a list of boot devices.
- Scroll down until you find your flash drive.
- Follow the on-screen instructions just as if you were installing Windows from a DVD drive.
Most other computers don’t have a dedicated boot device menu, and instead require you to go into the BIOS and change the boot priority options so that your computer will boot from a USB drive before it tries using the hard drive. Typically hitting F1, F10, Del, Esc, or some other special function key while booting your computer will get you into the BIOS.
11. Install any missing drivers
Once Windows 8 is up and running, check to make sure everything is working properly. Try plugging in USB peripherals, see if you can connect to WiFi networks and check to see what your screen resolution is set at.
On my netbook, Windows 8 Consumer Preview decided my screen resolution should be 800 x 600 even though the screen has a native resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. I had to manually install a graphics driver for Intel GMA 950 from the Intel Download Center. If you have a new netbook with GMA 3150 graphics, search for GMA 3150 instead.