Back in 2009 I wrote a blog post on setting up a USB bootable device for installs. The goal of this post was to have a ready guide to build a bootable USB disk to rebuild machines without having to use the DVD. At the time Windows 7 was the current product in market, Netbooks were popular and we were starting to see a lot of laptops coming without DVD drives and hence the need to create a USB disk to use to rebuild machines quickly.
When I wrote this post I didn’t realise how popular it would be and for how long people would continue to refer to it. Turns out it was and is still a popular post. In fact it’s the most popular post on my blog! To date I have 15,137 views on this post and 17 comments which is way higher than any other the post on my blog.
So fast forward to 2014 and given the post is still popular I thought it was high time I updated this post to be current and reflect the current operating system we have in market, Windows 8.1. Plus so much has changed in the way that we deploy operating systems to our PC’s that it was warranted that I create this new post that covers these areas. So to that end I’m going to break this down into two areas. First I’ll talk about the deployment tools you need to deploy Microsoft operating Systems at scale. Second I’m going to go through creating a USB stick because there will be those times where you don’t have access to our deployment tools and you need a quick way to get a machine rebuilt. So with that let’s get to it.
Windows deployment is a broad topic and we have a ton of resources online to help you get the latest OS deployed regardless of what previous operating system you are coming from. I’m not going to go into all of the how to do it as that is already online. What I want to do in the context of this article it to make you aware of the tools we do have and when you would use each one. And for those occasions you don’t have access to the tools I’ll go through creating a bootable USB stick so you rebuild your machines offline.
Application Compatibility Toolkit – simply put you need to know what applications you have out there and be able to asses the application compatibility situation of those applications when deploying a new operating system into your environment. ACT 5.6 is a free tool that helps customers understand their application compatibility situation by identifying which applications are compatible with the new OS.
Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit – MAP is one of those tools that I still find not a lot of people are aware of, but it’s an essential tool in any migration project. The current version, MAP 9.0 is a free solution accelerator that provides detailed readiness and assessment reports along with extensive hardware and software inventory. Essentially it’s an agentless tools that’s help you scan your network to find out what devices you have and the software installed on those devices. In the end it tells me the percentage of devices that are ready to upgrade to a new operating system for example.
Microsoft Deployment Toolkit – MDT 2013 is another essential tool in your deployment tools kit bag. It’s another free solution accelerator that provides operating system deployment and application deployment for Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2008 R2. In a nutshell MDT provides Lite Touch deployment capabilities for Microsoft operating systems. Get it download it and use it!
Windows Deployment Services – WDS as it’s commonly known is built into Windows Server and allows installs to be done over the network using PXE boot. If I need to rebuild my machine and I’m in the office this is the method I’m most likely going to use as our internal MSIT department has made our standard corporate image available there. With Multicast support, ability to create driver stores on the WDS server and several performance improvements in the Windows Server 2012 R2 release it’s an essential part of any deployment project.
Windows ADK – The Windows ADK is a collection of tools and documentation to allow customisation and deployment of operating systems to new computers. And if you want to use any of the other tools the Windows ADK is required and something you will need to download.
I only listed the free tools above. If you are in an Enterprise you most likely use System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager to do Zero Touch Deployment or Lite touch deployment. Configuration Manager deployment is too broad for this post which is why it’s not mentioned in the tools section. If you are not using Configuration Manager then check out this page to get started with Windows 8.1 deployment.
Now if for some reason you don’t have access to the above tools or you just need a modular option one of the best things is the create a bootable USB stick so you can quickly rebuild a machine if needed. I always have one in my bag ready to go.
Creating the bootable USB Stick
So what do you need?
- At least a 4GB USB to fit the Windows installation files. But honestly who buys 4GB drives these days? I think the lowest capacity USB key I have is 32GB. Whatever one you decide on getting make sure it’s good quality drive and is fast. It will make the install go that much quicker.
- You’ll need the Windows Installation files somewhere on your machine so that you can copy them over to the USB key once it’s made bootable with DISKPART.
- If you are running Windows 8 or above all you will need is the ISO file for Windows 8.1 because we added the ability mount ISO files directly in Windows.
- The last bit is DISKPART which comes with Windows. As I did last time I’ll go through the rest with screenshots.
- Either at CMD Prompt or Windows PowerShell prompt type DISKPART. I’m going to be using PowerShell in this example.
- Before you do anything else insert the USB stick you plan on using and make sure it’s visible in Windows Explorer.
- Type LIST DISK to show current available disks.
- At this point I’m going to type SELECT DISK 1 as this is the disk I want to use to create my bootable USB stick. This may be different on your machine.
- Type CLEAN which will completely wipe the disk. Make sure you don’t have anything you need on the disk because you don’t get ask are you sure?!
- Type CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY.
- Type SELECT PARTITION 1.
- Type ACTIVE to make the currently selected partition active.
- Type FORMAT FS=NTFS. Wait until this gets to 100% before continuing.
Now you have a USB stick ready to receive the source OS files. This could be Windows 8.1 or Windows Server 2012 R2, it doesn’t matter. The good thing if you’ve gone through the steps above is you don’t have to reformat the disk each time. Just replace the files on the disk and it will remain bootable.
- Next if you are running Windows 8 or above is to Mount the ISO so we can copy the contents to the USB stick.
- The last step is to copy all the source files to the USB stick and you are good to go.
- What you should end up with at the end of the process is a disk the looks similar to the below when viewed in explorer.
I hope you find this article a useful way to create a bootable USB key that can be used over and over again.
The screenshots in this post were created using TechSmith’s SnagIt screen capture software. I find it a tool I cannot do without and use it all the time.