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Building the Perfect ISO UFD for Windows

In my most recent prior blog, I observed that if you’re installing Windows 10 on a Windows 8.* machine, you can simply mount the ISO as a “virtual CD drive” and install from there. That said, it’s still possible, if not downright inevitable, that you’ll need to build a bootable UFD from which to install Windows 10, be that on bare metal machines or those running older OSes that can’t mount ISOs.  Of course, you could use the same approach by turning to something like Microsoft’s own free Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel or the equally good — and free — SlySoft Virtual CloneDrive utility, both of which work on Windows XP, Vista, and 7 as well. But in many cases, it makes sense to build a bootable and portable install tool, and that’s where careful crafting of a UFD is helpful.


The Win10 desktop, post-installation, courtesy of the Windows Insider Program home page.

This led me to conduct some research on suitable tools for this purpose. To begin with, assuming source and/or target machines have USB3 ports, you’re best off choosing a 16 GB or larger USB3 flash drive. I’ve got speedy models from AData (S102 32GB) and Mushkin (Ventura Pro 64GB) that have served me very well for such use. USB3 really makes a difference and can cut image construction and installation times by just over half as compared to USB2 data transfer speeds.

Here’s a gotcha that explains some interesting problems I’ve had with earlier Windows 8 installations, but didn’t know why they happened. It turns out that Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool is perfectly capable of digesting Windows ISOs (even Win8 versions) and of building bootable install UFDs from their contents. What it can’t do, however, is to create a tool that works to construct a UEFI boot environment for the OS, instead forcing its boot images back into a conventional BIOS-based boot approach. This is fine for older PCs, but when you want a UEFI boot environment, be it to take advantage of enhanced boot security, or simply to exploit the improved and enhanced functionality that UEFI brings to the boot environment, this simply won’t do.

Fortunately, there’s another excellent — and free — ISO to bootable UFD tool available, and it does an equally good job with UEFI boot environments as it does with BIOS boot environments. It’s called Rufus, and I blogged about it earlier this year (6/9/2014) in a post entitled “Rufus Makes Short Work of ISO-based Updates.” Thus, it’s the other half of my prescription for building a perfect ISO UFD for installing Windows 7, 9, or 10 — namely:

1. Start with a fast and reasonably capacious UFD (16 GB or better)
2. Use Rufus to transform your Windows ISO into a bootable runtime environment

The best thing about the outcome of this exercise is that the same resulting UFD works as well as a bootable repair tool as it does to install the OS around which the installation environment is built. A great and necessary element in most system admin’s toolkits, in fact. So: use and enjoy!

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