In this how-to guide we’ll run through how to create a bootable flash drive with Windows 10 installation files on it. This will allow you to perform a Windows installation on any computer using the created USB stick.
Why Is This Useful and When Would You Use It?
If your computer doesn’t have an optical drive, then installing programs from a flash drive USB stick is your main alternative.
When would you need to use this method? Whenever you want to install Windows 10 to a computer via a USB flash drive, particularly if you already have a licence key.
New Windows 10 licences can be purchased with the option of getting a USB stick shipped to you – which is essentially the same as the USB we’ll be creating in this tutorial.
When building a new PC the hard drive you install will not include an installation of Windows. You’ll need to install Windows from a bootable DVD or USB flash drive before you can start using your newly built PC.
Since many new PCs don’t include an optical drive (DVD/Blu-ray) we’ll focus on the USB flash drive method here.
What You’ll Need
1. The “Windows 10 Media Creation Tool” from Microsoft (free)
This Windows 10 Installation Media Tool has been created by Microsoft to streamline the bootable USB flash drive creation process, which will allow you to install Windows 10 to any computer via a USB stick.
The tool has a simple wizard interface and will download the Windows installation files and copy them onto a USB Flash device of your choice. As part of the process the tool will also make the USB flash drive “bootable” – this means that a computer with no operating system installed can use the USB flash drive as it’s boot disk to load the installation files.
In previous versions of Windows, this process was something that had to be done with a 3rd party program.
2. A USB Flash drive
You’ll need an empty USB flash drive to put the Windows 10 boot installation onto. This needs to be at least 3GB or larger in size to fit the Windows installation files on it.
Make sure you’re willing to part with any files on the flash drive before you run the Media Creation Tool, as this will wipe any files on the drive so that it can be used as a dedicated drive purely for the Windows 10 boot installation.
You can always delete the Windows 10 installation files off the flash drive later though.
3. Access to a separate PC that already has Windows installed
To run the above “Media Creation Tool” and create your bootable Windows 10 flash drive, you’ll need access to a Windows PC.
If you’re just upgrading or reinstalling Windows you could follow this process on your own PC before upgrading to Windows 10. Otherwise, use a laptop or friend’s PC for this process.
4. A suitable internet connection
Part of the process involves downloading the Windows 10 installation files from Microsoft which is then installed on your selected USB flash drive. This is a fairly large download size of several Gigabytes so make sure your internet plan has enough download quota.
How to Steps
Download the “Media Creation Tool” from Microsoft.
Go to https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/software-download/windows10 and click the “Download tool now” button.
Alternatively, try this direct link to the tool:
Choose the option to “Create installation media for another PC”.
Select your language.
This is the language of the installation media. I’ve had reports of the English (United Kingdom) option throwing errors during the media creation process with a generic “Something Happened” error. Try the English (United States) option if you see such errors.
Select the Edition of Windows for which you have a licence.
If you’re unsure choose “Windows 10 Home”. You’ll get a 60 day trial and can upgrade to Pro later if required.
Possible options here include:
- Window 10 Home
- Window 10 Home N
- Window 10 Home Single Lang
- Windows 10 Pro
- Windows 10 Pro N
Select the architecture which you plan on using for your system.
The selection you make here will dictate which options you have when running the Windows installation later.
Possible options here include:
- 32-bit (x86)
- 64-bit (x64)
You’ll almost always want x64. You could chose “Both” but your download size will be larger.
Choose “USB flash drive”.
As stated by the tool, you could download an ISO file and burn it to a DVD if you like but that’s outside the scope of this guide.
Select your flash drive.
Warning: Be 100% sure to select the correct drive here. Make sure you check the drive letter from of your flash drive before making this chose. The chosen flash drive will have all of it’s existing data completely destroyed and overwritten. I recommend to have no other removal drives connected to the computer before selecting to be safe. Can’t see your drive? Check out our possible errors section below.
The Media Creation Tool will now download the required installation files from Microsoft. The total size will be several Gigabytes and will depend on the options selected. Once the download completes the tool will prepare the USB flash drive as a bootable installation media for Windows 10. Make sure you don’t unplug the USB flash drive until the tool completes.
Boot to the USB flash drive.
This actions in this step depend on the BIOS / UEFI on your motherboard. Some motherboards will try to boot from just about any device plugged in if it can’t find anything on the hard disks. Other motherboards will need their boot order changed to enable booting from a USB flash drive.
7A. Plug your newly created bootable USB flash drive into your new PC and turn it on. If it boots to a Windows 10 installation screen you’re ready to proceed with your Windows 10 installation! If not, next step.
7B. You may need to change the boot order of your motherboard. The exact steps here depend on your motherboard model. Generally speaking, you can temporarily change the boot order for a single boot cycle by pressing the F12 (sometimes Esc) key right after turning the computer on. Repeatedly press the F12 key until you get a boot order screen. Choose the USB drive from the list and continue – you should boot into the Windows 10 installation. This F12 method is temporary and will need to be repeated each time you’d like to boot from USB. If you’re having trouble finding how to change the boot order of your motherboard, refer to your motherboards manual or post a comment below – we’ll help where we can!
Once you’ve managed to boot into the Windows 10 Installation wizard you can follow the on-screen steps to install Windows 10 on your PC!
This is an annoyingly generic error with no helpful information. As mentioned above this is sometimes caused by the language chosen. Try selecting the English (United States) option if you haven’t already.
“We can’t find a USB flash drive”
If you’re sure you have your flash drive connected and that it actually works, then this error is usually caused by an USB flash drive which is not compatible with the Media Creation Tool.
The tool only searches for a particular type of flash drive – if the drive doesn’t appear in Windows in a particular way, the Media Creation Tool won’t find it. You’ll have to try a different brand / model of flash drive.
In particular, users have reported issues with Sandisk Cruzer branded USB sticks, so if you are using one of these try a different branded USB stick if possible.
If you’ve tried multiple USB drives and you keep getting the “We can’t find a USB flash drive.” error, you might have to try a 3rd party tool using the following method.
In the Windows Media Creation Tool, choose the “ISO file” option (Step 4 above). This will download the Windows 10 disk image as an ISO file type. Once you have this file, you can use a 3rd party tools such as Rufus (http://rufus.akeo.ie/) to create a bootable USB flash drive from the ISO. The Rufus tool has much better compatibility than the Windows 10 Media Creation tool.