My brother recently had to swap hard drives in his ThinkPad. Seeing as his fancy IBM doesn’t have a disc drive, he needed to figure out a different way of installing Vista on the machine after the swap. Now like most of us he had seen the many articles stating you can install Vista from a USB drive so he decided to give it a go. To start off with he found the instructions on Kurt Shintaku’s blog but it turned out they were not entirely applicable.
What the many people who cite this method don’t say is that you have to have a computer with Vista already installed to follow the procedure. Why? Because diskpart works differently in Vista and XP. For one thing you can’t use diskpart to format disks in XP.
He formated the disk to FAT32 as per the instructions but for what he describes as “an eternity” all he got was error messages: This is not a system disk, there is an error on the disk etc. So he tried to format it in NTFS. But that just resulted in new error messages such as “Can’t find NTLDR” (NTLDR being the start file for NTFS file systems).
Then, after what must have been years of experimenting (if we are to believe that it took a full eternity to figure out something was wrong) with different partitioning software, he found a working algorithm:
Before you begin,
- the USB drive main partition needs to be active
- you have to copy the contents of your vista install disk onto the USB drive
- you need to make sure the USB drive’s boot sector is the correct one this is how I did it:
OK. Here we go:
- Go into hardware properties of the usbdrive: My Computer -> right click the USB drive -> select Properties -> select Hardware -> select the correct drive -> select Properties again -> select Policies -> select Optimize for Performance.(This is to make it formatable with NTFS, so strictly speaking it’s not necessary, it’s just how I got it working. If you do this, you have to remember to always use Safe Eject on this drive. If you don’t you might corrupt some files.)
- Open Command Prompt and write the following (commands in bold italics):
- list disk
- find the drive you want and then type: select drive # (so if it’s disk 1, you type disk 1)
- create partition primary
- select partition 1
This should delete everything on the USB drive and then make a new partition without a file system on it.
- Find out what drive letter your USB drive has (you find out by looking for it in My Compuber). Still in Command Prompt, type: format f: /fs:ntfs
It will ask you for confirmation and then a name.
- Now that you have a clean USB drive it’s time to fill it. Find your Vista Install Disk and find out what drive letter it has. in my example it’s d:so, still in Command Prompt type: xcopy d:\*.* /s/e/f/r/h/x f: (where f: is your drive letter for the USB drive). There are probably 3 slashes more than stricty necesary, but it’s nice to stay on the safe side. /s/e/f should copy all files and subfolders while /r/h/x should keep the ownerships and copy any hidden files.
- Here comes the fun part; Make the USB drive bootable into Vista Install.
On the Vista Disk there is a folder called boot. Copy this folder to your hard drive (and remember where you put it). Using Command Prompt, find this folder and
type: bootsect /nt60 f: It’s very important that you are carefull with this command since it can change the bootsector on all drives on the computer if you manage to screw it up. To be safe you can write just: bootsect or: bootsect /help the first time and get some understanding of what you are doing. If you are too lazy, here is the short explanation: Bootsect is a small program that changes the bootsector on a drive (or all drives or just the system drive) to either want to boot with ‘NTLDR’ or the new system that uses the file ‘bootmgr’. If you try to do this from the usbdrive it won’t work as it should since you are trying to edit the disk you are using the program on. I think it’s supposed to make it able to boot from FAT32 systems too, but i didn’t get that to work, so I say stick to NTFS.
- Now you should have an USB drive that you can use to install Vista from boot (provided your PC will let you boot from USB that is).
[Disclaimer: I do not take responsibility for any destroyed computers / lost data / marital break-ups resulting from trying this procedure. Although my brother usually knows what he’s doing he has also destroyed an impressive number of computers. Consider yourself warned!]