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The Best Free Tools for Creating a Bootable Windows or Linux USB Drive

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If you need to install Windows or Linux and you don’t have access to a CD/DVD drive, a bootable USB drive is the solution. You can boot to the USB drive, using it to run the OS setup program, just like a CD or DVD.

We have collected some links to free programs that allow you to easily setup a USB drive to install Windows or Linux on a computer.

NOTE: If you have problems getting the BIOS on your computer to let you boot from a USB drive, see our article about booting from a USB drive even if your BIOS won’t let you.

Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool

The Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool is an official, freeware tool from Microsoft that allows you to install Windows 7 and Windows 8 without having to first run an existing operating system on your computer. You can change the boot order of the drives in your computer’s BIOS so the Windows 7 installation on your USB drive runs automatically when you turn on your computer. Please see the documentation for your computer for information about how to access BIOS and change the boot order of drives.

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WiNToBootic

WiNToBootic is another free tool that allows you to create a bootable USB flash drive for installing Windows 7 or Windows 8. It supports an ISO file, a DVD, or a folder as the boot disk source. It’s a standalone tool that doesn’t require installation and it operates very fast.

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Windows Bootable Image (WBI) Creator

WBI Creator is a free program that allows you to create a bootable ISO image from Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 setup files. It’s a portable tool that’s easy to use. Simply tell the tool where the Windows setup files are and select a target folder for the new ISO file that will get created. Then, you can use one of the other tools mentioned in this article to setup a bootable USB flash drive or CD/DVD for use in setting up a Windows system.

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WinToFlash

WinToFlash is a free, portable tool that allows you to create a bootable USB flash drive from a Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7,  Server 2003, or Server 2008 installation CD or DVD. It will also transfer a Windows pre-install environments (WinPE), which are handy for troubleshooting and repairs, to a USB flash drive. You can even use WinToFlash to create a MSDOS bootable USB drive.

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XBoot

XBoot is a free utility for creating multiboot USB flash drives or ISO image files. This allows you to combine multiple ISO files (Linux, utilities, and antivirus rescue CDs) onto one USB drive or ISO file, allowing you to create a handy utility drive. Simply drag and drop the ISO files onto the XBoot window and click Create ISO or Create USB.

NOTE: XBoot requires .NET Framework 4.0 (Standalone installer or Web installer) to be installed on your system to run.

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UNetbootin

UNetbootin is a free program for both Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X that allows you to create bootable Live USB drives for Ubuntu, Fedora, and other Linux distributions instead of burning a CD. It runs on both Windows and Linux. Either use UNetbootin to download one of the many Linux distributions it supports or provide the location of your own Linux ISO file.

NOTE: The resulting USB drive is only bootable on PCs, not Macs.

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Ubuntu Startup Disk Creator

The Ubuntu Startup Disk Creator allows you to convert a USB flash drive or SD card into a drive from which you can run your Ubuntu system. You don’t have to dedicate the whole drive to the Ubuntu system. You can store other files in the remaining space.

The program also allows you to create a drive for Debian, or any other Debian-based OS for which you have a CD or .iso image.

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Universal USB Installer

Universal USB Installer is a program that allows you to choose from several Linux distributions to install on a USB flash drive. Select the Linux distribution, provide a location for the appropriate ISO file, select your USB flash drive, and click Create.

NOTE: The USB flash drive must be formatted as a Fat16, Fat32, or NTFS drive.

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Rufus

Rufus is a small, portable program that allows you to create bootable USB drives for Windows and Linux. It also allows you to check the USB device for bad blocks, using up to four passes. Rufus runs in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. You can create bootable USB drives for the listed versions of Windows, as well as almost all popular Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSUSE.

Rufus is very easy to use and the program looks like the default format window shown in Windows when you format a hard disk partition, USB drive, or other external drive.

In addition to Windows and Linux systems, you can also use Rufus to put utilities on USB drives, such as Parted Magic, Ultimate Boot CD, and BartPE.

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If there are any other free tools you’ve found useful for creating bootable USB flash drives, let us know.

Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 10/27/12

Comments (29)

  1. atm

    ;-)

  2. JeffreyK

    I think people interested in this would also be very interested in the isostick. It was a successful kickstarter project which has already started shipping the finished retail version. They are out of stock at the moment but according to the forums they should be getting more in soon. See here: http://isostick.com/

  3. Michael

    Ultra Iso is best for this.. It’s not freeware, but even trial version is able to create bootable usb.

  4. Anomaly

    Great article. Here are a few more I use,

    Live USB Install- for putting Linux on a USB stick with a persistent install, this means you keep all your settings between boots. http://live.learnfree.eu/download

    LinuxLive USB Creator- another one for putting Linux on a USB stick. http://www.linuxliveusb.com/

    YUMI – Multiboot USB Creator- for putting multiple ISO’s on a thumb drive. http://www.pendrivelinux.com/yumi-multiboot-usb-creator/

    SARDU – for making a multi boot drive like YUMI above does. http://www.sarducd.it/

  5. netopalis45

    Multisystem works pretty well too

  6. Chemical

    No mention of Sardu?
    http://www.sarducd.it/

    Sardu allows you to install multiple linux distros, Windows installations, anti-virus boot disks, hard drive clone tools, etc to 1 usb drive.

    On my usb flash drive I have:
    Ubuntu
    Linux Mint Mate
    Windows XP Home Install
    Windows XP Pro Install
    Windows 7 AIO x86 Install
    Windows 7 AIO x64 Install
    AVG Rescue
    Kaspersky Rescue
    CloneZilla
    NT Password
    All Windows Rescue Disks

    Xboot tries to do the same thing but has been out of development for over a year and a half.

  7. Mohammad

    flashboot is the best.
    :)

  8. Jon

    LinuxLive USB Creator is my preference for creating bootable Linux OS’s on USB drives. This free program automates the entire process of creating a bootable USB Linux OS in five easy steps. It even downloads the ISO image for the Linux distro of your choice from an extensive pull-down list if you don’t already have an ISO image or a CD. You also have the choice of having the program integrate portable Virtual Box into the USB installation, allowing you to run your USB Linux OS from inside Windows, as well as booting directly from the USB drive. To get the download, just do a search on Linux Live USB Creator. (BTW, I’m not a shill for the program developer…I’m just a satisfied user who wants to spread the word).

  9. Josh Gunderson
  10. Alex

    I like using SARDU you can get it at SarduCD.it and it will download most of the free distros for you.

  11. Chemical

    comment eaten by the spam filter

    I use Sardu (google it).

    With Sardu I have a usb flash drive with:
    Windows XP Install
    Windows 7 All Versions Install
    Kaspersky Boot Rescue
    Ubuntu
    Linux Mint Mate
    Hiren’s Boot CD

  12. William

    @Jon +1 for LinuxLive USB Creator. Works great.

  13. gyffes

    Another vote for SARDU.

    I have several USB drives configured with this application to boot into a variety of choices:

    AV (AVG, BitDefender, Kaspersky)
    OS (Fedora, Ubuntu, Puppy, DSL are my main choices)
    Tools (GParted, PartedMagic, OphCrack, Trinity Rescue Disk, etc)

    The variety SARDU allows me to carry on one 8-16gb disk — while still having room to store installers — is amazing and provides a key tool in my role as tech support.

  14. BMJ

    What about YUMI :)

  15. rikkai

    I found myself in a bad way recently on a client’s system, used Rufus and got it fixed stupid fast!

  16. Shark

    +1 for UltraISO. Should be on the list.

  17. JahPickney

    I have also got a lot of use out of LinuxLive USB Creator. It was my best friend for a few months while trying find the right Linux distro (I settled on Bodhi). I’ts very easy to use and usually even works well with distros that aren’t officially supported.

  18. fghgfh

    I really like YUMI. I think it’s the best personally.

  19. Dazed_75

    I particularly like MultiSystem. http://liveusb.info/dotclear/

    I carry a 16 GB Flash Drive with 16 Live boot OS’s and Utilities. My favorite aspect is the ease with which you add and remove OS’s. Highlight and click a delete button to remove. Drag an iso or cd to a drop area to add. It uses GRUB as its boot loader and updates it for each item you add or delete. The site is in French but is not too hard to navigate. The software can use English.

  20. Steve S.

    I have used Yumi for this purpose for about 2 years. It continues to get better and better. It also allows you to add just about any .iso file to the already huge list of compatible programs.
    http://www.pendrivelinux.com/yumi-multiboot-usb-creator/

  21. Mordalo

    YUMI replaced Universal USB Installer for me. It’s the best.

  22. Denis

    WinSetupFromUSB is a nice tool!

  23. UpstateScott

    another vote for YUMI – been on my 8GB USB for around 2 years and it is indispensable; I run images for Parted Magic, Hiren’s, LPS, BART PE, and my personal, licensed image of Spinrite from it.

    YUMI should have it’s own article.

  24. jimspoon
  25. Nikko

    I can’t make of the multiboot work. All fail in some iso.
    I need to create one that works with backtrack, win 7 install, gparted, ubuntu, ophcrack and hirens, are any available?
    I tried sardu, it didn’t boot gparted. Tried xboot, failed to create whatever it was creating ._.
    All of the other are just to make one iso to one usb drive, I need to create one with a menu so I can choose from.

  26. fksysko

    +1 for all those using YUMI & SARDU.

  27. Andrey

    For Windows 7 and Windows 8 install just format the flash drive in NTFS and copy DVD content to it.

  28. Katie

    +1 for YUMI as I use it most often for multibootable usb drives ( Linux distributions and some portable utilities), and +1 for UNETBOOTIN – it also worked fine for me for Linux distros.

  29. Katie

    Thank you for the great article! Hope everyone will find it useful.

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