How to Install Windows XP From USB Memory

By J.S. Copper

Many computers--including low-cost, compact “netbook” laptops--are starting to ship without optical drives. But that ultra-portability comes at a cost; namely, when the (unfortunate) time comes to reformat and reinstall your operating system, you may be scratching your head at how to accomplish this. Not to worry, though--you can easily reformat and reinstall Windows with a USB flash drive. The hardest part is simply properly formatting the drive. You need the Windows XP Install CD to format the drive on another computer containing an optical drive.

Things You'll Need

  • Windows XP Install CD
  • USB flash drive
  • BootSect utility

Step 1

Download the BootSect.exe utility (see Resources) and place the file within your C: folder. This utility allows Windows to properly format the USB flash drive, so that it can boot the computer for reinstallation. These first few steps must be performed on the computer containing the optical drive.

Step 2

Insert the flash drive into a USB slot.

Step 3

Log in to the computer as the administrator, if you are not already. You can accomplish by logging out, and back in, via the Windows Start menu.

Step 4

Open the Windows Command Prompt by selecting “Run” from the Start menu, typing “cmd” and clicking “OK.”

Step 5

Type “diskpart” into the Command Prompt window and press \"Enter.\" Type “list volume” and select \"Enter.\" Write down the drive letter and volume number of the USB flash drive (volume number 3 and drive letter G are used in this example).

Step 6

Type “select volume 3” and hit \"Enter.\" Type “active” and select \"Enter.\" Type “exit” and press \"Enter.\"

Step 7

Navigate to the C: drive, containing the BootSect utility by typing “cd C:\\” and hitting Enter. Type “bootsect /nt60 G:” and press \"Enter.\" The USB flash drive is now bootable, and you can quit Command Prompt.

Step 8

Insert the Windows XP CD into the computer’s optical drive. Open the contents of the disc via Windows Explorer and copy all the files (”Edit” > “Select All,” “Edit” > “Copy”).

Step 9

Open the contents of the USB flash drive and paste all the Windows XP CD files onto the USB drive (”Edit” > “Paste”). It may take a few minutes for all the files to copy over. Once complete, you can remove the USB flash drive and you no longer need the computer with the optical drive.

Step 10

Press Enter at the “Welcome to Setup” screen and press “F8” at the license agreement screen.

Step 11

Press Enter at the “Welcome to Setup” screen and press “F8” at the license agreement screen.

Step 12

Select a “Custom” installation. Select the computer’s internal hard drive and press “D” to delete the drive. This will completely erase the hard drive, allowing you to reformat it. Press “C” to create a new partition from the newly freed space and select “NTFS” as the file format.

Step 13

Select the newly created partition as the installation destination and follow the remaining on screen instructions to complete the Windows XP installation. Once complete, the computer will reboot. At this point, remove the flash drive and the computer will launch into your reformatted, reinstalled Windows XP operating system.

Tips & Warnings

  • To ensure your computer will boot from the USB flash drive, move it to the top of the boot order. To do so, hold \"F2\" as the computer starts up load into the BIOS settings. Navigate to the \"Boot\" tab and move \"USB Storage\" to the top of the list. Press \"F10\" to save the changes and restart the computer.