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It's tempting to think that simply copying a bootable install CD to a USB device would work. Sadly, it's not that simple.

I'm thinking of buying a netbook with no built-in way to read an installation CD if I want to add other software. I expect that I can simply copy the contents of any such CD to a USB memory key, using another computer, and install from the key. Can I safely count on that working, or are there still any installation routines that expect a physical CD drive to be present? Can you see any other problems I might encounter?

No, you can't count on that working.

It'll get you 99% of the way there, but that last 1% is a deal breaker.

What you're describing will work for many applications that don't require you to reboot from their installation media.

The problem is that many, specifically operating system installation media, require that you reboot from the media.

Simply copying a bootable CD's contents to a USB drive does not make the USB drive bootable. It copies everything except the part that makes it bootable.

"Simply copying a bootable CD's contents to a USB drive does not make the USB drive bootable."

That means that if you're ever faced with a "bare iron" reinstall - one where the hard disk in your netbook is empty, you have no way to boot from any installation media.

Now, there are various and sundry tools out there that you can use to create a bootable USB device, and even use an arbitrary ISO image of a CD to boot from. Most of those that I've run across are rather geeky, and not really for the average user. (Search for things like "bootable iso to USB", for example, and you'll get plenty of discussions if you're interested.)

My recommendation is actually much simpler, and something anyone can do.

Get a USB CD/DVD drive.

There are plenty of choices.

Making sure that your netbook will check for a bootable USB device first, when you need to boot from an installation media such as an operating system boot disk, just connect up the USB CD/DVD drive and you should be good to go.

No geekery required.

Article C3660 - February 26, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Ken B
February 27, 2009 9:45 AM

Actually, I think the deal-breaker would be copy protection. Many commercial programs use copy-protected media, and won't run (and probably won't install) without the original media in the drive. Even some of the games we have for our kids are copy protected.

February 28, 2009 7:16 PM

You could also connect to a network and use the drive from another machine through the network. That's how I got office on my netbook!!! Worked like a charm, although you may want to be hard wired to the network depending on the speed of the wi-fi!


March 3, 2009 9:02 AM

I've only done this a handful of times, but it's possible to copy the image from the CD and virtually mount it. Basically, a fake media drive is created and it will treat the image just as if a cd was in that drive. Like I said, it may not work for all applications (the OS for example), and it may be what Leo was referring to as "geeky", but I was able to accomplish it without much difficulty. Good luck!

AG Wright
March 3, 2009 9:16 AM

Another alternative is to use an IDE to USB adapter. The nice thing about these is that it is possible to plug in any IDE device to your USB plug. I often use one to check out hard drives that I'm not sure about.


March 3, 2009 4:03 PM

It is actually quite simple to make an USB stick bootable. Here is how I did it. After plugging the USB drive in, do the following:
1. Open a command prompt (as administrator )
2. Find the drive number of your USB Drive by typing the following into the Command Prompt window:
list disk
The number of your USB drive will be listed.
3. Type the next instructions into the same window. Replace the number 1 with the number of your disk as found above:
select disk 1
create partition primary
select partition 1
format fs=NTFS
Now you have to unpack your ISO (e.g. with WinRar). Then move all the files from the unpacked ISO over to the USB. Now you should be able to boot from the USB - worked for me with Windows7.

March 3, 2009 6:58 PM


i use Fedora core 9. here is an excellent usb (bootable) creator:

March 4, 2009 8:32 AM

I am not a computer expert. But I want to install WINDOWS-XP on 4 or 8 GB Hard Disk. Take mirror image (Acronic's TI) and copy on USB Drive. Will it work?

What you've described should work, I'm just not sure what you're attempting to accomplish.
- Leo

neil l
April 20, 2009 11:31 AM

leo needs to go back to school...

its very easy to need to be a geek...those that would fret at the complications involved would most likely struggle with a clean install anyway...

really simple..
input a USB stick, format it, copy all the contents from your windows cd, safely remove usb..
go to your netbook, enter the bios and ensure its got the boot from USB turned on and up in the list (if nothing already installed on HD then last step not necessary), restart netbook with USB inserted and hey presto...

i;ve personally done it 7-8 times, using windows and Ubuntu. Using both original disks (dont even need anydvd), and backups, and downloaded .iso versions...

there are people commenting here who dont even have the relevant experience..

July 18, 2009 12:22 AM

Not sure how many computers can even boot from USB, Neil. Or, you can follow Leo's advice and buy an USB CD drive, stick your CD in there, and boot from USB. Simpler.

Only my two old computers could boot from USB anyway.

This new BIOS is kind of odd, it looks to be fiercely against any kind of editting.

July 19, 2010 1:32 PM

The 1st post is working for Windows XP? It seems only work for Windows 7.

Muhammad Rauf
October 10, 2010 9:43 PM

i need to windows 7 copy cd to usb software or tips pleas ans me first

Michel Chamberland
April 16, 2013 10:18 AM

When I got my small Acer notebook without cd/dvd drive, I simply configured it on my home network. Than I installed my softwares using the CD drive from my desktop. Simple as it can be. Both PC were driven by XP.

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