How to Install Windows XP on a Flash Drive

By Andrea Klooster

Having a full Windows XP install on a flash drive can be a handy tool for troubleshooting your computer. If your hard drive fails, or if your computer is locked down with an unknown password, booting a full Windows XP environment from a thumb drive to run tests and fix configurations can be a lifesaver.

Things You'll Need

  • Flash drive (also known as a thumb drive or USB drive) of at least 512 MB (bigger is better)
  • Windows XP installation disk with at least Service Pack 1
  • PE Builder
  • Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1

Step 1

Install the PE Builder application on your computer. See the Resources section for link to the website.

Step 2

Extract Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (see Resources) into a folder on your hard drive and search for the files \"setupldr.bin,\" and \"ramdisk.sys.\"

Step 3

Create a new folder in the PE Builder folder on your computer named \"srsp1\" (For Example C:\\Program Files\\PE Builder\\srsp1) and copy the \"setupldr.bin\" and \"ramdisk.sys\" files into that folder.

Step 4

Run the PE Builder application, setting the output folder to \"BartPE.\" Do not generate an ISO image.

Step 5

Insert your flash drive and note its drive letter (for example E:).

Step 6

Run the pe2usb utility in your PE Builder folder by entering the command \"pe2usb -f E:\", replacing the \"E\" with the actual drive letter of your flash drive.

Step 7

Reboot your computer and enter the BIOS options. This is done by hitting a key specified on the screen when you first start your computer, such as F9 or DEL. Set USB as the primary boot option. Option menus vary from computer to computer, so consult your computer's operating manual if you have trouble finding the boot device option.

Step 8

Save the BIOS options and reboot again. Your computer will boot from the flash drive.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you have access to a CD or DVD burner, you may have better success using the standard PE Builder method of creating a custom CD or DVD and booting your computer from that.
  • Not all computers are compatible with booting from a flash drive. This can be determined by examining the BIOS settings when the computer first boots up.
  • Some flash drives are not compatible with this installation method. Please see the Resources section for a detailed list of known compatible and incompatible drives.