Geek’s Guide To Installing Windows XP Using A USB Flash Drive

For lack of finding helpful information elsewhere, Geeks! blogger Chronidus wrote up a pretty handy guide to installing Windows XP using a USB flash drive, so we figured we’d share it with you here. Enjoy!

Removable flash memory sticks are pretty much one of the most handy little pieces of technology to come along in the last couple of years. They come in various shapes and their storage size can range from a measly 128 MB to a whopping 32 GB. And you’re not restricted by what you are able to put onto these devices either. Which got me thinking today. I am regularly installing fresh copies of Windows onto new built PCs, so I look for any way to increase the speed at which my work gets done — without compromising quality, of course.

So I thought, with the speed of flash drives today, it could be possible to install Windows XP onto those PCs in a much faster time than with optical media (CD/DVD). Plus with all the motherboards I use, I always make sure that the motherboards support booting from USB as it’s a very handy feature. So I decided to look into the various guides that can be found on the Internet. Originally meant for the EEEPC, I found a guide that I was able to understand. Because of the way it was written it took me longer than 10 minutes to understand the whole procedure and I’m sure the average geek would be completely confused before they had reached the second line, simply because of the total lack of explanation on the part of the guide’s creator for those who do not usually do this kind of thing.

Anyway, as with all guides, you have to realize that there is a certain amount of risk involved with the procedures I am about to give you details for and that you use this guide at your own risk; I will not be held accountable for any damages done to your hardware if something should go wrong. It will involve the use of the command prompt and it has the possibility of damaging your flash drive. Although I believe that the chances of that happening are quite slim, there is always the possibility, so I thought I would warn you before you decide if you’re going to use my guide. Now with the pleasantries out of the way, let’s get down to business. There is some preparation needed before we can start this procedure. First off you need to make sure you have the following available to you:

  1. An unmodified, legal copy of Windows XP Home or XP Professional
  2. USB memory stick (2 GB recommended – 1 GB minimum)
  3. A motherboard that is capable of booting from a USB drive (check your motherboard manual if not sure)

As long as you have all three points above met, then you are ready to start. Just so you know, in this process your USB flash drive will be formatted, so do not use a USB that contains data vital to you. As for a motherboard that is capable of booting from a USB drive, most modern motherboards offer this as a standard feature. If your motherboard is less than two years old, chances are that the motherboard you have supports this feature.

Okay, now we have made sure that your computer is capable of installing XP from a USB disk. The next thing we need to do is to download and extract three tools that are going to help us in this procedure. You can find download links to these files below:

  1. USB_Prep8
  2. PEtoUSB
  3. Bootsect

I suggest you download these files directly to the root of your hard drive. In other words save them to a folder on the same drive that contains your operating system — for most people this will be the C: drive. Once they are all downloaded, go ahead and extract PEtoUSB and USB_Prep8 to separate folders. Once this is done you should take the contents of the PEtoUSB folder and copy them into the USB_Prep8 folder. Once this is done, you should go back to the root of your drive and extract Bootsect to the root of the drive (program files and Windows folder is stored in this area). We do not need to worry about the Bootsect program for now, however — that is simply preparation for later. And as another matter of preparation I suggest you insert your Windows XP CD, create a folder on the root of your drive, name it XP, and then copy the contents of your Windows XP CD into that folder as you will need these files soon.

Okay, now that all the preparation is out of the way, we’ll start the process. It will take on average about 20-25 minutes to complete this process depending, of course, on the speed of your PC and of the USB stick you are going to be using. I must warn you now that you should NOT close any of the windows generated by the programs I am showing you how to use until you reach the point in this guide when I tell you to do so. This is quite important because, if you happen to close any of the following windows, it is possible that you can screw up the procedure and you will have to start again. With that out of the way, as long as you follow the instructions below, everything will run smoothly.

  1. Go into the folder named USB_Prep8 and double-click the following: (usb_prep8.cmd)
  2. Make sure you select the newly created command prompt window and click any key to continue
  3. A new program is started (PeToUSB). Do not change any of the settings; just click start and let it run
  4. Once PeToUSB is finished, DO NOT CLOSE any of the windows the program created
  5. Go to your start menu and click run if you’re using the classic start menu
  6. Enter the following command into your run window: (CMD)]
  7. Once you have run that command, a new window will appear with the words command prompt
  8. Provided that you have used the file setup I suggested, input the following: ( cd bootsect )
  9. Type in the following: ( bootsect /nt52 :R ) Replace R with the drive letter of your USB drive
  10. You will see the message (Bootcode was successfully updated on targeted volume) if it worked right
  11. You may NOW close all the windows except for the window that was created when you ran USB_Prep8
  12. Providing you closed all the right windows, the USB_Prep8 Window will now contain seven options
  13. Press 1 on your keyboard — this will bring up a window. Locate your XP folder and highlight it. Click OK
  14. Press 2 on your keyboard — the program will ask for a unused drive letter (example: T or Z)
  15. Press 3 on your keyboard — the program will ask for your USB Stick drive letter; enter it now.
  16. Press 4 on your keyboard to start the USB_Prep8 process
  17. The program will ask you if it is OK to format a drive contained in the letter you gave in #14; click yes
  18. The program will start to copy the needed files; be patient
  19. The program will then ask you if you wish to copy these files to the USB stick; click yes.
  20. Finally, once it has finished copying the files, it will ask you if you want to make the stick the preferred boot drive. Click yes, after which it will ask if you wish to un-mount the USB stick. Click yes

And that’s all there is to it. The USB flash drive is now ready to install XP to any hardware that is supported by the Windows XP CD. However there are some minor differences to installing Windows XP this way than if you would with an optical drive, which I am going to go into. Of course, as I have said before, the speed at which Windows XP installs is MUCH faster when installing using a USB stick than if you were using an optical drive (CD/DVD). But the speed comes at the price of you needing to pay a little more attention to the install itself. Now from this point on, I am going to assume that your motherboard does in fact support booting from USB and that you have gone into your BIOS and have set the USB flash drive as the first drive to be booted from (make sure the flash drive is connected before you turn power on — it helps). I cannot give a generic answer to where that option is in your BIOS; I suggest you look up in your motherboard’s documentation.

Providing it boots from the USB flash drive, you will now be shown two options. One with the words GUI and one with the words Text Mode. Choose the Text Mode option first. Now you will see what you normally would see during a CD install of XP. Just follow the on-screen instructions as always. One note is that, if you need to create a new partition for your new Windows XP installation, once the partition is fully formatted, instantly turn off the PC as the install will need to be restarted so the flash drive can recognize the layout of your partitions correctly. Follow the instructions below:

  1. Create a new partition and format it as normal
  2. Once the partition is formatted, restart your PC and when the options come up again choose Text Mode
  3. Highlight the newly formatted partition, press enter, move down to make no changes, and press enter

Okay, now after that all goes through and the PC restarts, simply chose the GUI option on the menu and let the Windows XP install go along as it would normally do. I must advise that you DO NOT REMOVE the USB stick until you’re actually past the setup stage. Once you have just booted into Windows XP for the first time, you can go ahead and remove the USB stick. Congratulations! You have just installed Windows XP without the need for a CD/DVD drive.

The benefits of installing from USB are plentiful and, providing you take the time to follow the instructions above, you need never worry about scratching your Windows XP CD again. I hope that the time I spent writing this guide will help you all to decrease the amount of time you spend having to install Windows XP when you have to. Peace!

Article Written by

Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.

  • ashish

    i tried opening link for http://www.2shared.com/file/2581432/a65c092a/usb_prep8.html but could not the the link to download.
    kindly help

  • james

    this method not worked on my 4GB Kingston Data Traveler 2.0

  • mck567

    2nd Comment:

    There are some errors in this post I am finding as I am doing this. Here are corrections:

    6. Enter the following command into your run window: (CMD)]
    should be:
    6 Enter the following command into your run window: CMD

    &

    9. Type in the following: ( bootsect /nt52 :R ) Replace R with the drive letter of your USB drive
    should be:
    9. Type in the following: (bootsect /nt52 R: ) Replace R with the drive letter of your USB drive

    These errors will not allow most to complete this task, I’ll post again if I find more =]

  • http://soundclick.com/joymany Major Blyss

    What about running xp on a USB flash drive? Recently tried to install XP on a Sansa 2GB and ended up having a major crash, losing a motherload of data. Seems like it should be doable. Just to be clear, i’m talking about running the operating system on the flash drive, not installing from it.

  • Elcaro

    @Major Blyss,

    See this link to installing windows XP on your thumb drive:
    http://www.ngine.de/index.jsp?pageid=4176

  • http://www.delektech.com mokazeem

    Thanks,
    It worked for me, am using it right now. Ur tutorial was great. Thanks.

  • http://vartechsystems.com David Whitman

    Works great and it’s so much faster than the CD/DVD method. It makes doing installs on embedded boards so much easier.

    Thanks

  • Jake

    it didnt work for windows xp media center 2005 + sp3. =(
    i got BSOD (blue screen). i got the code:

    STOP: 0X0000007B
    0XF78P2524
    0X00000034
    0X00000000
    0X00000000.

  • http://www.jammersclub.tk clcsite

    Actually this method is the best method for installing Windows XP through flash drive. I try this one and its really work and it was perfect to me.. but there is a little errors in the command line with the guide #9….
    the correct command in bootsect is this “bootsect.exe /nt52 R:” where in R is the drive letter of your flash drive.

    example the bootsect file is located in root drive or drive c: mostly.. open a command prompt. Click start>run type cmd

    command prompt window appear.. you must go to the root directory by using “cd” command type “cd..” or “cd” or go to a folder using “cd foldername”.

    now execute the bootsect..
    Example:
    C:>bootsect.exe /nt52 R:

    where R is the letter of your usb stick or flash drive.

  • Russell Services

    I got same blue screen as Jake

  • Russell Services

    Note: My XP source had SP3 slipstreamed along with some other updates from http://www.ryanvm.net/msfn/

  • Zoheb

    My installation went perfectly, i followed every step of the process. But one thing is a problem. After setup had completed, i logged into windows and it gave me username userXP, did all my preferred setting then restarted my laptop without the flash drive. It did not restart. the only thing i could see was a cursor blinking. So i inserted the flash drive again and restarted the laptop. and chose GUI. then windows could boot. Now each time i startup windows i need this flash drive. Is this suppose to happen?

    Please help

  • Vinod

    For me it says Tempdrive T: Not Formatted – Program will be ended. How do I correct this?

  • Chad

    I have been trying this out for a bit and have run into a problem. On Step 3, the PeToUSB program refuses to recognize the USB stick that I have in. In that case the programs start button is greyed out.

    I can see from the dates that I am getting to the party late from the dates on the posts but I would love some help.

    Thanks!

  • Chad

    Whoops never mind. After some more reading online I found that I cannot do it this way from 64 bit vista. Driver issues.

    Have found another way if anyone else has this same problem. Seems to be working thus far. Found here…

    http://myeeeguides.wordpress.com/2008/11/15/winsetupfromusb-install-windows-xp-from-usb-flash-drive/

    Thanks!

  • Kev

    I’m also getting the same exact BSOD, either of you found a solution to the error?

  • Recreate

    @Kev Did that happen after you installed windows on your Computer(The hardrive) OR did you try to Copy your Windows install to the flash drive?
    Or did that happen when you tried to install Xp?

  • http://www.howiseelife.com Kari

    I get a BSOD too:

    “File $WIN_NT$. ~BTc_437.nls could not be loaded. The error code is 32768. Setup cannot continue. Press any key to exit.”

    I tried reformatting/etc the flash drive, and got the result. Anyone have any ideas how to make this work?

  • Ruppy

    I can’t download Bootsect for a day already… The other 2 were a success.

  • Ruppy

    Never mind!
    The second I complained it worked.

  • nonay

    I’ve got everything working perfectly so far, up until the point at which I need to repartition my hdd from the text setup. Problem is, I have a 160GB SATA drive, so the XP install doesn’t recognize the drive at all. As I’m attempting to install this on a netbook (Toshiba NB205-N310), I don’t have a floppy drive to provide OEM drivers. Can anyone help me?

  • http://www.e-dirts.blogspot.com/ kobial

    Fortunately I didn’t see any blue screen for last 2 years.. I should say I was lucky! ;-)

  • TBi3040

    It works beautifully for me …
    until I get to “1. TXT Mode Setup Windows XP” on the instructions. When I press 1 it gives me another black screen that says –
    “Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt::
    system32hal.dll.
    Please re-install a copy of the above file.”

    I went to my working computer and copied the “C:WINDOWSsystem32HAL.DLL” file into the USB’s main folder, which is G; the G:$WIN_NT$.~BTsystem32 folder, the G:$WIN_NT$.~LSI386 folder, and the G:$WIN_NT$.~LSI386SYSTEM32 folder. So far, no go…so I must be doing something wrong.

    Anybody have any ideas what I can try next?

  • JakeMake123456

    This works AWSOME , Thanks A Tonn , you saved my ASS !!!
    I used a 4 GB Kingston Data Traveller USB2.0 and it works like a charm, just follow the steps word to work in the guide and it will work gr8 , Made my first very own XP SP2 Bootable USB Drive , I did have some problem running the command bootsect /nt52 :R , just typed bootsect / help to get an example command at the end of the help list , it turns out that there are spaces in the bootsect command , other than that 1000 x to the author of this guide , I wasn’t able to find one bloody guide out there that’s as simple and straightforward as this one. Just to let you know, I used this on a 4 yr old Machine with an ASUS – A8V-VM . If I have the authors permission I would like to make a guide with screen shots for the not so Geeky People like MEEEEEEEEEEEE !!!! , just need your permission to do so .

  • http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/Boot-Manager-Disk/FlashBoot.shtml baddad

    Just download flashboot push the button to copy boot files goto the next screen and copy the xp disk and your done

  • baddad

    whoops made a mistake this one works try winsetupfromUSB_0-2-3

  • mck567

    ashish – when u click the link, and go to 2shared scroll all the way down towards the bottom you should see:

    Times downloaded: 124556
    File URL:
    Last downloaded: 2008-10-17
    Save file to your PC: click here

    Just hit the click here and save it.