Posted by: kurtsh | February 26, 2007

HOWTO: Install Windows Vista from a high speed USB 2.0 Flash Drive

I’m updating this because someone asked me to add this to help anyone that reads this post:

“The “list disk” command in DISKPART will help people find their flash drive without accidentally formatting the wrong drive.”

It sounds like some people out there nuked another drive on their system while using DISKPART.  Yikes.  Anyway, consider that a helpful hint from the community.

UPDATE:  MARCH 19, 2007
Wow.  I’ve discovered that this post has been viewed by a lot of people other than my customers which frankly was quite a surprise.  How do you guys find this stuff? <grin>  I thought because there seems to be a lot more people than originally intended reading this entry, I’d clarify a few points for prospective “installers”, particularly around the “time-to-install” that I’d blurted out at the end of this original post (which has since been edited out):

It seems that performance for USB peripherals within PCs vary tremendously between machines.  I’m not referring to the bandwidth of USB 2.0 mind you, but rather the performance of USB peripherals when working on different brands of PCs.  USB ports on PCs seem to be connected to I/O buses that have widely varying performance depending on the manufacturer.   For example, I have two different laptops and both of them boot off of USB Flash Drives, but one of them, when I tried the USB flash drive boot, installed Windows Vista relatively slowly whereas the other one was nice & fast.  Hence – YMMV.

A “10 minute install” is not a real benchmark.  It’s a number I just guesstimated because I noticed that the install ran noticably much faster than when I did the install from DVD.  This was suppposed to be just a fun geeky thing for IT guys to try out and use for their test lab PCs.  After all, many of us have dreamed of doing this at one time or another for convenience purposes. 

I never intended on this being a really scientific analysis/time-test for installing Windows Vista so please don’t take any numbers I wrote as gospel thinking that your company’s Windows Vista deployment should use USB drives because you think you can lower your install time by x%, minimizing your cost of deployment by y%, and reducing your Windows Vista TCO by z%.  I haven’t run any real benchmarks.  This was supposed to be just something nice for my customer’s IT guys to try, okay?


I’ve been thinking about writing a post about “How to install Windows Vista from a USB Flash Drive” for a while but just never got around to doing it.  What got me thinking about it was a post on Josh’s board ( about running WinPE from a bootable USB Flash drive and it seems to me like there’s be a lot of folks that would want to install Windows Vista entirely from a USB Flash drive as well.

Why would someone want to install a client OS from a thumb drive instead of a DVDROM or over the network?  One reason:  Performance.  Installing Windows Vista from a high speed USB flash drive is in my experience the easiest & fastest way to complete a Windows Vista install.  This is much faster than using a DVD, gigabit ethernet, or possibly even some external USB 2.0 hard drives, due to differences in access speed & transfer rate.  To put this into perspective, y’know how installing Windows on a Virtual PC virtual machine from an .ISO CD image is really, really, really fast?  Imagine something roughly just as fast, except for doing installations of the OS on to actual workstations.

Here’s some step-by-step instructions on how we do this, some of which was adapted from Josh’s instructions, again, kudos to Josh.

  1. Acquire an ultra-fast USB 2.0 flash drive
    The drive I and my coworkers recommend is the Apacer 4GB Handy Steno USB Flash Drive HT203, 200X Hi-Speed USB 2.0.  It’s the fastest USB 2.0 Flash Drive that we’ve found – it has a read speed of 25MBytes/sec. & a write speed-14MBytes/sec and also works great as a ReadyBoost cache.  You can get them from $56.99 each:  
     , once you’ve got Windows Vista up and running, you may want to consider getting an ultra-fast SDFlash card, installing it into your laptop or desktop, and leaving it there as a ReadyBoost cache.  Why?  It can’t hurt and they’re so cheap that it’s worth getting.   I personally got a SDFlash card for every one of my machines – the A-DATA 2GB Secure Digital Memory Card, 150X Turbo SD Card has a read speed of more than 22.5MB/s and a write speed of more than 15MB/s.  You can get them for $19.99 each:  
  2. Format the Apacer Flash Drive
    Run CMD.EXE and type the following.  Note: This set of commands assumes that the USB flash drive is addressed as “disk 1”.  you should double check that by doing a list of the disks (type “list disk”) before cleaning it.  If you have multiple hard drives, like an SDFlash drive or a Multibay drive, you could end up wiping your second drive using this command. 
    (This was a warning that Josh added to his post along with the following commands that I copied from him, so kudos to Josh)

    1. diskpart
    2. select disk 1
    3. clean
    4. create partition primary
    5. select partition 1
    6. active
    7. format fs=fat32
    8. assign
    9. exit
  • Copy Windows Vista’s DVD ROM content to the Flash Drive
    Simply issue the following command to start copying all the content from the Windows Vista DVD to your newly formatted high speed flash drive.

    • xcopy d:*.* /s/e/f e:
  • And that’s it.  Boot up the machine, have it boot off the USB drive, and watch how fast the installation completes.  If you thought Windows Vista installed quickly before then let’s see how you like it now.  The slowest part of the install will probably be the computer waiting for you to type in information in the setup fields, and even that can be automated using the Windows Automated Installation Kit.


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