How to install Windows XP from a USB-stick

I’ve recently tried very hard to install Windows XP on my Media Center/File Server, which little/no success until today. This was mostly due to the following factors;

  • My server has a RAID controller (SI3114) that Windows doesn’t recognize from stock
  • My server has no floppy drive, and I have no intention to install one at this day and age
  • My server is located at the second floor of my home, my main computer is at the bottom floor at the opposite end of the house. ^^
  • I was dead set on not burning any ISOs to any CDs since that would involve me going out of my comfortable home and buying said CDs.

Well, points 1 and 2 were easily solved by slip-streaming the driver into the Windows installation with the help of nLite, which at the same time allowed me to preset some things and install ServicePack 3 automagically as well during the installation.

Then the ISO-stuff remained, so I decided that it can’t be that hard to boot the installer from a 2GB USB-stick instead. Turns out it is, at least finding out how to do it. This is mostly due to the fact that any info on the Internet on the topic is extremely unstructured and there are many different methods to do it with. My method is as a compilation of two methods, and I personally think it’s the simplest.

  1. Download nLite, instert Windows XP CD and point nLite to it.
  2. Build your custom ISO
  3. Mount the ISO with Daemon Tools
  4. Download the other programs needed; USB_PREP8, PEtoUSB and Bootsect
  5. Move the PEtoUSB exe to the USB_PREP8 folder
  6. Run USB_PREP8.cmd
  7. Press Enter to start the process, which will load PEtoUSB
  8. Format your USB-drive with PEtoUSB, with “Enable Format” and “Enable LBA” checked and the right USB drive selected. Leave the “Format Compleate” window open!
  9. Start another command line prompt and navigate to the folder which holds Bootsect.exe
  10. Run “Bootsect.exe /nt52 X:” were X: is the drive letter for your particular USB drive
  11. Now close the extra terminal window, and click “OK” and close PEtoUSB
  12. Now you need to run 1 in the USB_PREP8 terminal, which will let you point the program to the virtual drive containing the mounted nLite image
  13. Now run 2 in the same terminal, and select an drive letter that’s not in use on your computer, usually T: is fine.
  14. Now run 3 in the same terminal, and select the drive letter for your USB drive.
  15. Start the copying process by selecting 4 in the same terminal.
  16. The terminal is going to ask you if it’s okay to format the virtual drive T:. Go ahead as this is just a temporary drive used to hold your installation before it’s transferred to the USB stick
  17. When it’s done formatting press “ENTER” to continue. The program will start to copy the installation files to the temporary drive. When it’s done press “ENTER” again.
  18. A pop-up box will ask you if it’s okay to start copying the files to the USB stick. Answer “YES”. This process takes a little while.
  19. After the copy-process is done the program will ask you if you want to make the USB drive “prefered boot drive U:” Answer “YES” as this is important, otherwise it will mount the drive as C:\ when you boot into the installer, which will make your real hard disc D:\, which is where XP will be installed. 🙂
  20. Now the installer will ask you if it’s okay to unmount the temporary drive T:. Answer “YES” and you’re done!

Some parts of the unattended nLite installer doesn’t really work that well with this method (like automaticly adding the serial key for XP and such), since this method reqiers the “Unattended” part of “TXTSETUP.SIF” to be commented out, but all the important stuff (like automatically loading SCSI and RAID drivers) seems to work fine. It’s also possible that Unattended doesn’t work due to the fact that I’m not running it completely unattended, I’m not an nLite expert.

Thanks to and Mikazo Tech Blog for the info, the background work for this article is all theirs, I just assembled it here and added my own touches and explanations.

Categories: Tech

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