How to Install Win XP on a USB Flash Drive

by Ruri Ranbe

Installing Windows XP to a USB flash drive can be useful in case your hard drive ever crashes or your computer becomes infected with a virus.

To install Windows XP to a USB flash drive, however, you must prepare the drive for installation. You cannot simply insert the drive into your computer and begin installing to it Windows XP. Instead, you must make a copy of Windows XP and use special software to install that copy your USB drive.


Restart your computer and access your BIOS setup screen. Check your boot settings to make sure \"USB-HDD\" is listed as an option. If a USB boot option is not available, you may need to update your BIOS firmware, or you may not be able to boot to USB on your computer at all.


Check the USB drive manual, or contact the drive's manufacturer, to make sure the drive is bootable. Your drive should also be large enough to hold Windows XP. A USB drive at least 2GB in size is ideal.


Download the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool. Run the software, then select your USB drive from the list of devices. Select to format to the FAT file system, then click \"Start\" to format the drive.


Click \"Start,\" \"All Programs,\" \"Accessories\" and \"Run.\" Type \"%systemroot%\" into the dialogue box. Press \"Enter.\" The system root folder will open.


Click \"Tools,\" then \"Folder Options.\" Click the \"View\" tab, and then select the \"Show Hidden Files and Folders\" option. Click \"OK.\"


Copy \"boot.ini,\" \"ntldr\" and \"ntdetect\" from your system root folder. Paste these files into your USB drive.


Download, install and run PEBuilder to your computer. PEBuilder will allow you to make a bootable copy of Windows XP. Write down the set of numbers following \"PEBuilder v,\" located on the top of the window. This is PEBuilder's version number.


Insert your Windows XP Install CD into your CD or DVD drive. Click the \"...\" next to the \"Source\" field, then select your Windows XP install files from your CD.


Leave the \"Custom\" field blank and the \"Output\" field as \"BartPE.\" Click \"Build\" to create the Windows XP installation copy.


Click \"Start,\" \"All Programs,\" \"Accessories\" and \"Run.\" Type \"cmd.exe\" in the box, then press \"Enter.\"


Insert your flash drive into your computer. Type \"cd\\\" to go to your PC's root directory, then type \"cd pebuilder#\\plugin\\peinst\", replacing \"#\" with your PEBuilder version.


Type \"peinst\", then press \"Enter.\" A menu will appear. Type \"1\" to access the \"Change source path\" option. Type \"c:\\pebuilder#\\BartPE\", again replacing \"#\" with your PEBuilder version.


Type \"2\", then press \"Enter.\" Type your USB drive letter, followed by \":\", then press \"Enter.\" Type \"5\" and press \"Enter\" again. Windows XP will be installed to your flash drive.


  • To install applications to Windows XP, you must use the \"Plugins\" option on PEBuilder. This must be done before you install Windows XP to your USB drive.
  • To create a bootable USB copy of XP, your Windows XP CD must include SP2, or you must slipstream SP2 into the CD.
  • If you are not sure how to access or configure your BIOS settings, contact your motherboard's manufacturer or consult your computer's manual. BIOS settings vary based on make and model.


  • Do not install Windows XP to your USB drive unless you are the legal owner of that copy.
  • Formatting your USB drive will remove any files stored on it.

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About the Author

Ruri Ranbe has been working as a writer since 2008. She received an A.A. in English literature from Valencia College and is completing a B.S. in computer science at the University of Central Florida. Ranbe also has more than six years of professional information-technology experience, specializing in computer architecture, operating systems, networking, server administration, virtualization and Web design.

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