This article shows you how to install Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 on a computer using a USB flash drive. This lets you install Windows on a netbook or another computer that may not have a disc drive. You’ll still need a computer with an optical disc drive and a Windows XP installation disc in order to prepare the flash drive though.

A few years ago I wrote a long, complicated tutorial explaining how to install Windows XP on a netbook without a CD-ROM drive. It’s still a pretty good resource if you want to understand the process. But it turns out there are now easier ways. Much easier ways.

If you’re trying to install Windows 7 or Windows 8, the simplest method is to use Microsoft’s official Windows 7 USB/DVD tool to transfer the Windows installation files to an 8GB or larger flash drive. You can check out our guide for installing Windows 8 on a netbook for step-by-step instructions.

Installing Windows XP using a USB flash drive is a bit trickier, since Microsoft doesn’t offer an official tool. That’s where a free app called WinToFlash comes in. You can use it to transfer the Windows XP installation files to a USB flash drive and then use that stick to install Windows. The latest versions of WinToFlash also support Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8, but it’s the Windows XP feature that really stands out.

Here’s how to use WinToFlash to install Windows XP on a netbook or any computer without a disc drive. You’ll need a Windows installation disc, a 2GB or larger USB flash drive, and a separate computer that does have a disc drive so that you can copy the installation files to your flash drive. (Alternately, if you have a Windows XP ISO file instead of a disc, you can mount it as a virtual drive using SlySoft CloneDrive or a similar app).

Preparing the USB flash drive

1. Download WinToFlash from the developer website or from SoftPedia.

2. Unzip the file to a folder on your computer.

3. Navigate to that folder and double-click on WinToFlash.exe


4. The first time you run WintoFlash you’ll go through a startup wizard.

  • Click “next” on the Welcome menu to continue
  • Check the box that says you agree to the EULA and then click “next” to continue.

  • If you’ve paid for a license you can enter it now — but you don’t need a license to install Windows XP. Just click “next” if you don’t have one.
  • Keep clicking “next” until you finish the wizard.
  • This should take you to the main menu, where you can either follow the setup wizard or click the “Advanced” tab if you want to customize your options. We’ll be sticking with the wizard for now.
5. Click the big check box to start the Wizard. 


6. Select “next.”

7. Make sure you’ve inserted your Windows installation disc into the disc drive and a USB flash drive into the USB port. 

8. Select the appropriate drive letters for your Windows disc and USB flash drive and then click “next.”


9. Accept the license agreement and click “Continue.

10. WinToFlash will now copy all the files from your Windows disc to your flash drive and prepare it so that you can boot from the flash drive. 

11. When the progress bar reaches the end and the word “Finished” appears, you can click the “next” and then “exit” buttons to end the program. 

Booting from the USB flash drive. 

Now you should be able to use the USB flash drive instead of a CD or DVD to install Windows. But you’ll need to make sure your computer can boot from a flash drive. Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all way to do this.

In general, what you’ll need to do is:

  • Turn off your computer.
  • Plug in the USB flash drive.
  • Turn on the computer by pressing the power button.
  • When you see the splash screen or BIOS menu (and before Windows starts to load), hit a special function key (this is often Esc, F1, F10, or Del).

This will typically either get you into a boot device menu or the BIOS settings where you should be able to select the device you want to boot from or adjust the boot order. In other words, your computer may normally try to boot first from a hard disk, then from a USB flash drive. You want to reverse the order, save the changes, and then boot your computer again — this time without hitting Esc, F1, or what have you.

If all goes according to plan, you should soon see a “Windows loading” message on your screen and you can follow the on-screen instructions to install Windows on your computer.


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54 replies on “Easiest way to install Windows with a USB flash drive”

  1. When I installed WinToFlash, it installed a very malicious browser toolbar called Sweetpacks and changed my start page and new tab pages. I didn’t see any option to not install Sweetpacks when installing WinToFlash. Sweetpacks cannot be removed from Firefox by uninstalling the program; you have to reset Firefox to its default state and lose whatever add-ons you have installed. I would definitely not recommend WinToFlash.

  2. yh i kinda run into a problem in that my main comp is a mac and my netboook is a windoss so I have a problem transferring large files between the two anything over 4gb and i need to do some formatting, which I did and now my mac cant read the usb so annoying, even still stupid question coming…. my netbook is running windows 7 starter can I put a normal xp system on there as in a standard desktop version or will that not be compatible?? i know you can run into problems upgrading but not sure if this applies to when downgrading an OS.

  3. This USB won’t boot. I create it step by step from your tutorial but it wont work. I succesfully installed windows 7 using microsoft official tool. My USB is ok. But your XP won’t load. I have XP CD with integrated SP3. Could it be why it doesn’t work?

  4. Fabulous!

    As a veteran computer whizziwoo i found this to be a doddle.. Woohoo!!

    what is a chat room? oh i know, its where all the Aggravated & Frustrated people are…….. good for them :))))))))

  5. A bit of a warning:

    If you happen to google for Wintoflash instead of using the links provided here you should be aware of the fact that there’s a smaller “infested” version of this application out there… I downloaded that one, upped it to Virustotal and got 8 hits.

    The one that’s linked from this site (downloaded from Softpedia) won’t give any hits when scanned.

  6. Would be nice if you, and they, could put up a big warning that it’s going to format your USB. Just blew away a lot of work of mine.

  7. this method is very easy, but i face a problem, that my computer boot from USB well ,boot from USB, and run setup, when start copying file  of Windows to c Drive , then “can not read files from CD/Dvd” apear , the “try again” and Quit option available.
    how possible solution for this problem.pls tel me
    email “[email protected]”  

  8. Thanks for your tutorial, I installed windows XP successfully, but i
    can’t boot the Dell n series net-book without the Usb inserted. It seems
    to need boot configuration from the Usb instead of the hard drive. Pls

  9. I get a “Disk boot failure, insert system disk and press enter” error upon booting from the flash drive.

  10. I have copied the Windows XP disc to my flash drive and now I don’t know what to do.  The items your instructions talk about don’t seem to be there.  My level of frustration has reached a very high level and I’m about to throw that notebook out the window.  I bought an HP notebook without an operating system and I’m not having much luck getting one installed.

    1. What item specifically are you looking for that you’re not finding?

      What you need to do next is convince your computer to boot from the USB flash drive the same way it would boot from a CD or DVD. This means turning off your computer, plugging in the USB flash drive, and then hitting the appropriate key on your keyboard to bring up the boot options menu or BIOS settings.

      The steps for doing this will vary from computer to computer.

    2.  If your flash drive is bootable, insert it and turn the machine on.  It will most likely ask you how to boot.  Choose one, and I suggest the one that says “GUI” somewhere in the choice.  If you just copies the disc to the hard drive, you had to have some operating system to get it there.  Use the disc (floppy, CD, DVD, Flash Drive, etc.) that you used to copy the Win disc.  Then go to where you have copied the Windows stuff and double click on “Setup.exe”.

      Now for some warnings.  Hopefully, you put the Windows information into its own folder.  If not, you may find yourself with a major problem after it sets up.  Hopefully #2, you formatted your hard drive before you copied everything. 

  11. I just want my computer to down load this crap for me! why can’t my computer just do it for me why do i need to be some type of computer whiz & go through all this bull crap I don’t even own adobe flash player and my stupid computer is telling me just in order to join a chat room I normally go into with no problem, that I must install a flash policy daemon, then you look at how to install it and totally get lost!!!!  what the____!    Come on all ready isn’t there a way my computer can just download this for me without having to do it myself?  Any other thing I ever downloaded my computer does for me! So why must I do this crap on my own!

    1. yeah why cant everything just be done for me so i dont have to do any work or figure anything out ever! i want to be spoon fed too! i hate lifting my arms all the way up to my mouth every time i want to eat something!

    2. You’ve arguably broken the record as dumbest dipshit ever… and I’ve seen plenty of them in life..

  12. I got a question! Now, I got a 500 GB external HDD, I lost my USB and I need to install new Windows on my Netbook… Will this software format my entire HDD or will it leave the files as they are? Thank you.

  13. trying this as i type .. its installing atm .. i have tried other methods .. like usb muliboot but didnt get any where … hopefully this one works .. trying to reinstall xp on my asus eee pc 1005HA ..

  14. I wanna know if it the same steps to instal windows xp sweet in netbook??

    1. That means your system has a dvd drive, so you can install Windows from dvd

  15. I will definitely try this. I was told there was no way to do it, and they called me stupid for asking if there was. =/ Glad I kept looking!

  16. awsum i think im gonna gonna try the usb flash to install windows on my mini hp…

  17. I used this to install XP on my Satellite T115D-S1125. It was shipped with Windows 7, but XP runs better on this machine for what I use it for. Great joob!

    1. fake…….!!!! :p
      not not accepting iso file….messege apperd not a valid iso

  18. Excellent! Note for us nLite users or those who have backed up the disk to an iso on the hard drive you could probably utilize this tool in conjunction with a virtual cd solution such as Daemon Tools rather than fiddling with CDs. I’ve yet to try this but fingers crossed.

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