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MS Offers Create Installation Media Tool for Win8.1 Online

For those who don’t want to run a tool like the great Rufus, MS offers another option via the Windows 8 Web pages. Prosaically named mediacreationtool.exe, this utility is available as a free download to all interested parties. Because it black-boxes access to the OS binaries used to create the UFD, and running the OS requires a valid key, this tool lumps the ISO download together with media creation and hides all the behind-the-scenes details from those who take advantage of its capabilities. Just for grins, I downloaded and ran the tool to see what it looked like, how it behaved, and how long it took to do its thing. I’ll recount my experiences in a series of screen captures numbered 1 through 7.

Before using the tool, one must first download it. Those who wish to skip the aforeliniked free download page, can go straight to the download link to grab it immediately. Move the file to a target directory from whence you’ll run it, and plug a USB flash drive into the host system (the contents of that drive will be obliterated as a part of the image creation process, so back anything up you want to keep around).

1. What kind of installation file do you want to create?
This is where you’ll enter a language choice (mine was “English – en-us”), the Windows edition you wish to install (mine was “Windows 8.1 Pro”), and the target architecture (32 or 64 bit; I chose “64bit (x64)”).

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2. Choose where to save the installation file
You can either create an ISO file (for later transfer to optical media, like a DVD) or set up a USB flash drive (I chose the latter).

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3. Choose a USB Flash drive
Pick an option from the local file system as the target for UFD creation (I chose the Mushkin 8 GB Atom drive named “Transfer” I’d mounted on my production PC for this test; you can use any UFD of 4 GB or larger for this task).

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4. Downloading installation file
This is the phase of the process where the program finds and downloads the appropriate ISO file from MS servers to your local machine. It doesn’t access the UFD at this point, so presumably that means it’s writing to a temp file on the target PC’s %SystemDrive% somewhere. That file is around 3 GB in size, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve got sufficient disk space to accommodate it while the program is running. This was the longest part of the exercise: it took about 15.5 minutes on my production PC to grab the image necessary to create a 3.18 GB image on the UFD. If the size of the download is equal to the size of the resulting files on the UFD, actual throughput for this operation was 2.2 MBps/17.5 Mbps across my nominal 110 Mbps RoadRunner Internet link. The file was probably smaller, but I observed data rates in the 16-20 Mbps range during most of the transfer period through the Network Meter gadget, so that strikes me as a reasonably fair assumption.

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5. Checking the download
The program performs an integrity check on the download once the file transfer has completed; this took about 1 minute to complete.

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6. Creating the USB flash drive
If the download checks out OK, the process of formatting and building the bootable install image on the USB flash drive gets underway. I plugged the Mushkin unit into a USB 2 port on my production PC to get a worst case idea of how long that might take. With slower IO (data rates seldom exceeded 30 MBps during the process, and sometimes dipped below 10 MBps) this took just over 15 minutes to complete. Based on prior comparisons, this tells me that using USB 3 would cut that time to 5 minutes or just under.

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7. Your USB flash drive is ready
If all goes well, you’ll get a final screen that tells you the process has completed. You must then click the “Finish” button to exit the program.

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Once I had the final UFD to inspect, I observed that the file layout and contents are identical to what Rufus builds from the Windows 8.1 Pro ISO and its own capabilities. Thus, it appears that this tool should work for both UEFI and conventional BIOS PCs for installing Windows 8.1. Because I have easy access to all the current, supported Windows ISOs through MSDN, this tool doesn’t appeal to me as much as it will to other readers who lack such access. But this tool is worth knowing about and using, especially if one must build a bootable Windows 8.1 install device on the road or when otherwise separated from one’s usual admin toolkit. Overall time required to run it appears to involve something between 30 and 40 minutes over a medium-speed Internet link, so budget your time accordingly.

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