How to Install Windows 7 From USB (Flash Drive, Ext HD)

A tutorial on using a USB flash drive to install Windows 7

Chances are you'll need to install Windows 7 from a USB device if you have a tablet, a small laptop, or a netbook device, few of which include optical drives as standard hardware.

As of January 2020, Microsoft no longer supports Windows 7. We recommend you upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 to continue receiving security updates and technical support.

Prepare for the Installation

You must migrate the Windows 7 setup files onto a flash drive (or any USB-based storage) and then boot from that flash drive to get the Windows 7 installation process started. However, simply copying the files from your Windows 7 DVD to a flash drive won't work. You have to specially prepare the USB device and then properly copy the Windows 7 install files to it before it'll work as you expect.

You're in a similar, but slightly easier to solve, situation if you've purchased a Windows 7 ISO file directly from Microsoft and need that on a flash drive.

No matter what situation you're in, just follow the instructions below to install Windows 7 from a USB device.

The following tutorial applies equally to whatever edition of Windows 7 you have a disc or ISO image of: Windows 7 Ultimate, Professional, Home Premium, etc.

What You'll Need

  • A Windows 7 ISO or DVD
  • Access to a computer with Windows 7, 8, 10, Vista, or XP installed and working properly, as well as with a DVD drive if you have a Windows 7 DVD
  • A 4 GB (or larger) flash drive

How to Install Windows 7 From USB

Correctly preparing a USB drive for use as an installation source for Windows 7 will take around 15 to 30 minutes depending on your computer speed and what edition of Windows 7 you have on DVD or in ISO format

Start with Step 1 below if you have a Windows 7 DVD or Step 2 if you have a Windows 7 ISO image.

  1. Create an ISO image file from the Windows 7 DVD. If you already know how to create ISO images, fantastic: do it, and then come back here for further instructions on what to do with it.

    Burning an ISO Image File (*.iso)

    If you've never created an ISO file from a disc before, check out the tutorial linked above. It'll walk you through installing some free software and then show how to use it to make the ISO. An ISO image is a single file that perfectly represents a disc—in this case, your Windows 7 installation DVD.

    Next, we're going to work on properly getting that Windows 7 ISO you just created onto the flash drive.

  2. Download Microsoft's Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. Once downloaded, execute the file and follow the installation wizard.

    Install button for Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool Setup

    This free program from Microsoft, which works in Windows 10 through Windows XP, will correctly format the USB drive and then copy the contents of your Windows 7 ISO file to the drive.

    Pick the en-US.exe download for the English edition of this tool.

  3. Start the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool program, which is probably located in your Start menu or on your Start screen, as well as on your Desktop.

  4. On the Step 1 of 4: Choose ISO file screen, select Browse.

  5. Locate and select your Windows 7 ISO file, and then click Open.

    Open button

    If you downloaded Windows 7 directly from Microsoft, check for the ISO image wherever you tend to store downloaded files. If you manually created an ISO file from your Windows 7 DVD in Step 1 above then it will be wherever you saved it to.

  6. Select Next once you're back on the Step 1 of 4 screen.

  7. On the Step 2 of 4: Choose media type screen, click USB device.

    USB device button in Choose media type
  8. On the Step 3 of 4: Insert USB device screen, choose the flash drive or external hard drive you want to put the Windows 7 installation files on.

    New Volume F drive in Windows 7 USB Download Tool

    If you haven't yet plugged in the flash drive or other device you're using, you can do that now. Just click Refresh to make it show up in the list.

  9. Sele4ct Begin copying.

  10. Select Erase USB Device if you're prompted to do so on a Not Enough Free Space window. Then select Yes to the confirmation in the next window.

    Erase USB Device button in Windows 7 Download Tool

    If you don't see this it just means that the flash drive or external hard disk you've selected is already empty.

    Any data you have on this USB drive will be erased as part of this process.

  11. On Step 4 of 4: Creating bootable USB device, wait for the program to format the USB drive and then copy the Windows 7 installation files to it from the ISO image you provided.

    Copying files status screen in the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool

    You'll see a Status of Formatting for several seconds, followed by Copying files. This part might take as long as 30 minutes, maybe even longer, depending on which edition of Windows 7 the ISO file you have is from, as well as on how fast your computer, USB drive, and USB connection is.

    The percentage complete indicator may sit on one or more percentages for a long time. This apparent pause doesn't mean anything is wrong.

  12. The next screen you see should say Bootable USB device created successfully, with a Status of Backup completed.

    Bootable USB device created successfully

    You can now close the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool program. The USB drive can now be used to install Windows 7.

  13. Boot from the USB device to start the Windows 7 setup process.

    BIOS setup utility boot options

    You might need to make changes to the boot sequence in BIOS if the Windows 7 setup process doesn't start when you try to boot from the USB drive.

    If you still can't get the flash drive to boot, and you also have a UEFI based computer, see the information at the bottom of this page.

    If you arrived here from How to Clean Install Windows 7, you can now return to that tutorial and continue installing Windows 7.

  14. You should have now installed Windows 7 by USB.

Tips & More Information

When the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool formats the flash drive during the process above, it does so using NTFS, a file system that some UEFI systems won't boot from if present on a USB stick.

To get the USB drive to boot on these computers, you should copy the data from the flash drive onto a folder on your computer, then reformat the flash drive using the older FAT32 file system, and then copy that same data back onto the drive.

An alternative method for loading a Windows 7 ISO image onto a USB drive is to burn the ISO file to a USB drive.

  • How do you know if a USB is bootable?

    Open the Windows Disk Management tool, right-click the USB drive, and select Properties. Then, go to the Hardware tab, choose a partition, and select Properties. Then, select Populate and look next to Partition style. If the drive is bootable, it will say Master Boot Record or GUID Partition Table.

  • How many computers can you install Windows 7 on with one key?

    You can only have one active Windows 7 installation at a time per installation key. So, if you want to install Windows 7 on a new computer, you must uninstall it from the old computer.

  • How do you install fonts on Windows 7?

    To install fonts on Windows 7, download and unzip the font file. Then, double-click the file and select Install.

  • How do you install Windows drivers from a USB?

    When installing Window drivers, instead of automatically searching for drivers, choose to manually search for the drivers and select them from your USB drive.

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