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Tips on Using a Flash Drive as the Boot Drive

written by: Senadheera Jayakody•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 5/27/2011

Using a flash drive as a boot drive is a great way to install a Windows operating system. It requires less time and no more worries about bad optical drives. So why don’t you try this? Let’s install Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 using a USB drive as a boot device.

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    Installing an operating system is a time consuming task. Therefore, if there is a possibility to boot an operating system quickly, then it is a real advantage. One way to do this is to use a flash drive as a boot drive. We can buy a flash drive at a very low cost compared to hard drives. Almost all the modern computers support using pen drives as boot drives. So, let’s see how to use a flash drive to boot Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7.

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    How to Use Flash Drive as the Boot Drive to Install Windows XP

    Before installing Windows XP with the pen drive as the boot drive, first you need several tools. Download this software and prepare your USB drive before beginning the job.


    • Windows XP Professional CD
    • Windows Server 2003 SP1 - 32bit version - Download page of Windows Server 2003 SP1 (329 MB)
    • HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool - Latest Version (1.8 MB)
    • BartPE (Bart's Preinstalled Environment Bootable Live Windows CD / DVD) – Latest Version (3.2 MB)
    • 1.5 GB of free hard disk space (Min.)
    • Supports booting from a USB device


    Don't run Windows Server 2003 SP1 executable file. It'll completely corrupt your Windows XP operating system.

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    A. Preparing Your PC to Use Flash Drive as Boot Drive

    Follow these steps to enable a pen drive as the boot drive in your computer. When you turned on your computer, press either [F1], [F2], or [Delete] to enter BIOS setup. (The key is different for different computers.) Then go to boot options (or advanced boot options) and select the first boot device and boot device priority as USB HDD (or removable device). Also make sure to enable all USB options (that need to boot) such as support for legacy USB devices or support for USB 2.0. If you correctly followed these steps your computer is ready to accept a flash drive as boot drive.

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    B. Preparing BartPE software

    1. Install BartPE software. Default installation path is C:\pebuilder3110a

    2. Now go into the "pebuilder3110a" folder and create a folder called “SRSP1" inside the "pebuilder3110a" folder.

    3. Extract the downloaded Windows Server 2003 SP1 to a folder. Then find the "i386" sub directory in the extracted folder. Copy "setupldr.bin" file in "i386" sub directory into the previously created "SRSP1" folder.

    4. Also copy "ramdisk.sys" file in the "i386" sub directory into the "SRSP1" folder.

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    C. Using BartPE Builder

    5. Insert Windows XP bootable CD into your CD drive.

    6. Run BartPE Builder software.

    7. Type the drive letter that you inserted the Windows XP CD, in the "Source" field. For an example if the CD drive is D then type "D:" without quotes. Make sure "None" option is selected in the "Media Output panel".

    8. Click "Build" button.

    9. It will take up to about 10 minutes. After it is completed click the "Close" button.

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    D. Preparing Flash Drive as Boot Drive

    10. Open Command Prompt window. (In Windows XP Start > Run > type "CMD" or navigate to Start > All Programs > Accessories > Command Prompt)

    11. Type "CD\" and press enter key to go to the root folder.

    12. Insert your flash drive that you want to use as the boot drive.

    13. Type "CD pebuilder3110a" and press enter to change into the "pebuilder3110a" directory in Command Prompt.

    14. Go to My Computer and see the drive letter of the USB drive. For an example let's say it is "N" as in the following image.

    15. Type the following command in the Command Prompt. Use the drive letter of the flash drive in your computer instead of "N" in the following command.

    pe2usb -f N:

    16. You'll be prompted to confirm this part of the operation.

    17. When the BartPE finished its task you have to press a key to exit the program. Now you can use the flash drive as boot drive and run Windows XP.

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    Boot from Pen Drive to Install Windows Vista and Windows 7

    This is a quick method to install Windows 7 in about 15 minutes using a flash drive as the boot drive. If you can boot from a pen drive it's very advantageous. Because it doesn't require a DVD drive for installation.

    Before starting the process read the section “A" of this guide to prepare your computer to use a flash drive as a boot drive. Then follow these steps.


    • USB flash drive (Minimum 4GB)
    • Windows 7 or Vista installation DVD
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    Stepwise Guide:

    1. Open Command Prompt with admin rights.

    Type CMD in Start menu. Then press Ctrl + Shift + Enter keys.

    (Otherwise go to Start menu > All programs > Accessories, right click on Command Prompt. Then select Run as administrator)

    2. Type DISKPART and press enter.

    3. Type LIST DISK and check Disk number of your pen drive. (Ex. Disk 1)

    4. Type each of these commands respectively and press enter each time to execute them.









    Don't close Command Prompt yet.

    5. Insert Windows 7 or Vista DVD into the DVD drive and check the drive letter of the DVD drive. (Ex. Drive "J" in the following image)

    Preparing Flash Drive - Step 1 

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    6. Type the following command in the Command Prompt and press enter. Use the drive letter of your DVD drive instead of "J".

    J: CD BOOT


    Now press enter key.

    7. Type following command. Use the drive letter of your USB flash drive instead of "M" in the following command.


    Preparing Flash Drive - Step 2 

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    8. Now copy your Windows Vista or Windows 7 DVD directly into the USB pen drive. (Don’t create a folder in pen drive and copy the DVD into the folder. Just copy as it is.)

    9. Now and you'll be able to boot Windows Vista or Windows 7 using your USB flash drive.

    Carefully follow the above guidelines to install Windows Vista or Windows 7 using a flash drive as the boot drive and enjoy your great achievement.