If you want to perform a clean installation of the system on your computer or laptop, you will need a bootable Windows 11 USB installation disk or bootable USB flash drive. It can also be used for system recovery tasks.
This manual details how to create a bootable Windows 11 flash drive. First, the official method offered by Microsoft, followed by additional methods that may also be convenient for the purpose in question.
5 Ways to make a bootable Windows 11 flash drive
To prepare a bootable Windows 11 installation flash drive, you can use a set of different methods: the official one offered by Microsoft using the Media Creation Tool utility, or third-party tools, which will be faster and more convenient, in case you already have a downloaded ISO image with the system.
1. Creating a Windows 11 bootable flash drive with the Media Creation Tool
The first method is to use the Media Creation Tool, Microsoft’s official utility for writing a bootable USB installation stick. To make a bootable USB flash drive using it, follow these steps:
- Prepare a USB flash drive of at least 8 GB, connect it to your computer. Keep in mind that all data from it will be deleted. If you are using an external hard drive, all partitions will be deleted from it.
- Go to the official Microsoft website https://www.microsoft.com/software-download/windows11 and, under “Create Windows 11 installation media”, click “Download” to download the Media Creation Tool for Windows 11.
- Launch the utility and accept the terms of the license agreement.
- In the Select Language and Release screen, the default settings are set to match the current system. If you wish, you can uncheck “Use recommended settings” and select a different language. You cannot change the release – it will be Windows 11 64-bit, containing the Pro and Home editions of the system. Click “Next.”
- In the “Select Media” step, select “USB flash drive” and click “Next”.
- Select the desired flash drive in the list of removable drives to be written to. If the window says “Can’t find USB drive” even though the flash drive is connected, the reason may be that the connected drive is detected by the system as a local drive rather than a removable drive. Recall that once you click “Next”, all data from the selected flash drive will be deleted.
- Wait for the process of downloading the Windows 11 files and creating the installation media to complete. Explorer windows may open on their own during the process, just close them.
- When the process is complete, you will get the message “USB flash drive is ready”. Just click the “Done” button and use the created flash drive to install Windows 11 or other tasks.
The installation media created in the Media Creation Tool has a FAT32 file system, works with UEFI booting, and the installation data is stored in a compressed install.esd file in the sources folder of less than 4 GB, which allows it to fit within that file system.
In order to boot from the created drive, it is sufficient to put the booting from a flash drive in the BIOS/UEFI of your computer or notebook, or use Boot Menu.
The free Rufus program is one of the most popular tools for creating a bootable Windows flash drive. To use it for the task at hand, you will need an ISO image of Windows 11, which, if necessary, can be downloaded from the program itself. If you have the image, connect a flash drive with at least 8 GB capacity and perform the following steps:
- Download Rufus from the official website https://rufus.ie/en and run the program.
- In the “Device” field, select the flash drive you want to write to.
- Click “Select” and specify the path to the ISO image stored on your computer.
- The other settings for the task of installing Windows 11 from a USB flash drive on a UEFI computer don’t need to be changed.
- Click the “Start” button, confirm that you want to clear the data on the USB flash drive and wait for the creation process to complete. If windows or explorer messages about formatting open during the process, ignore them or just close them.
Note: The new version of Rufus allows you to disable TPM 2.0 validation and Secure Boot for the bootable USB stick from the original Windows 11 ISO image.
The installation drive created in Rufus for UEFI booting has two partitions: one small – FAT32 with the appropriate boot loader, the second – NTFS, on which the Windows 11 installation files are located. This approach allows you to write images that contain files that are larger than the 4GB limit of the FAT32 file system. Read more about Rufus options and usage.
3. Creating Windows 11 bootable flash drive without any software
If you have a Windows 11 ISO image which contains in sources folder a compressed install.esd file less than 4 GB in size (Media Creation Tool creates such images) instead of an uncompressed install.wim, you can make an installation drive for UEFI boot without using any software:
- Format the flash drive to FAT32 using standard system tools: right-click on the drive in Explorer – Format, select the FAT32 file system, leave the “Quick Format” option enabled.
- After formatting is complete, mount the ISO image on the system. To do that, in recent versions of Windows it is enough to right-click on the image file and select “Mount” in the context menu.
- Copy the entire contents of the mounted image to a flash drive with the FAT32 file system.
Such media will boot successfully on systems with UEFI booting enabled, including those with Secure Boot.
UltraISO is designed for working with ISO images in various ways and is not completely free of charge. However, even the trial version allows you to burn a bootable Windows 11 USB installation disk:
- Download the trial version of UltraISO from the official website https://www.ultraiso.com/ and install it. After launching it, click on the button to start the trial period.
- In the main menu of the program, click “File” – “Open image file” and specify the path to the Windows 11 ISO image.
- Open the “Self-Loading” item in the main program window and select “Burn disc image”.
- In the next window in the “Disk” field specify your flash drive. It is not necessary to change the other parameters.
- Click the “Write” button and wait for the image to be written to the drive, before starting you will be warned that all data on the drive will be erased.
When writing an installer using UltraISO for UEFI systems to a FAT32 flash drive, install.wim files larger than 4GB are automatically split to fit within the constraints of this file system.
5. Windows 11 multi-boot flash drive
If your tasks require a bootable drive that has the ability to boot from more than one image, placing not only Windows 11 but also other operating systems on the USB, you can use special utilities that make such a task relatively easy. I recommend using:
These are the easiest tools to use and provide good support for loading various images on systems with different characteristics and boot types.
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