Installing Windows 7 from a bootable USB memory stick

During the beta testing of Windows Vista I used DVD-RW discs to burn daily builds every few days to put onto a 32-bit laptop and a 64-bit desktop machine, as there are some things you just can’t see in a virtual environment – I was impressed then that the clean system to desktop time was ~32 minutes thanks to the new “WIM” installation method.

During Windows 7 beta testing, I decided to try out a bootable USB memory stick as the installation source – I was very impressed to see the clean installation time drop to ~15 minutes.

Quick tip – don’t change your BIOS device boot order to put USB before HDD or you will get stuck in a boot loop at the first reboot until you unplug the USB device and restart again.
Instead, many PCs have the option to hit a key during POST to select a one-time boot device – the first boot sequence prepares the partition you selected and copies over the entire source data to continue installation by booting from the HDD – after this boot you don’t need the installation media any more.

Given the incredibly low cost of USB memory sticks, I have one with the 32-bit version and a separate one with the 64-bit version – I can use the extra storage for holding extra installers such as Windows Virtual PC & XP Mode, Windows Live Essentials, VPN and AV software, etc.
It is much easier to maintain the images and software on a fast, small device than to re-burn an entire DVD image which is comparatively slow and subject to scratches (or in my case being borrowed and never returned, so I have to burn a new one).

How to go about setting up a USB memory stick as a Windows installation source?
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Jeff Alexander’s blog has a perfect step-by-step guide on how to prepare a USB memory bootable device for installs so I will just refer you there.