How to create a bootable USB drive that can install any edition of Windows 7

Update 2013.1.3: I’ve received a DMCA takedown notice about this page, and so I’ve removed the links to the torrents, which were out-of-date anyway.
Update 2011.5.31: ISOs of updated versions of Windows 7 with SP1 have been made available to Microsoft TechNet and MSDN subscribers. I’ve posted a link to the torrent in my post about the Windows 7 with SP1 (media refresh).

This article explains how to obtain leaked, legitimate ISOs of Windows 7 (both x86 and x64 versions), and create a bootable USB drive that can install any edition (though only Home Premium through Ultimate are recommended). It wraps up with a neat trick to extend the 30-day pre-activation ‘evaluation period’ to 120 days. This article assumes that you intend to purchase your software eventually. It does not tell you how to obtain a product activation key or circumvent activation.

Step 1: Get the RTM Windows 7 release

Windows 7 RTM is build version 6.1.7600.16385. This version was released to Microsoft TechNet and MSDN subscribers in the summer of 2009 and quickly made its way onto BitTorrent.

64-bit (x64) Windows 7 Ultimate RTM English Retail DVD ISO Image

File Name: 7600.16385.090713-1255_x64fre_client_en-us_Retail_Ultimate-GRMCULXFRER_EN_DVD.iso
Size: 3224686592 bytes
CRC: 1F1257CA
MD5: F43D22E4FB07BF617D573ACD8785C028
SHA-1: 326327CC2FF9F05379F5058C41BE6BC5E004BAA7

32-bit (x86) Windows 7 Ultimate RTM English Retail DVD ISO Image

File Name: 7600.16385.090713-1255_x86fre_client_en-us_Retail_Ultimate-GRMCULFRER_EN_DVD.iso
Size: 2501894144 bytes
CRC: C1C20F76
MD5: D0B8B407E8A3D4B75EE9C10147266B89
SHA-1: 5395DC4B38F7BDB1E005FF414DEEDFDB16DBF610

Below are the official SHA1 hashes of these releases copied and pasted from technet.microsoft.com. I’ve checked them against the actual files from the torrents and they match.

64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate
File Name: en_windows_7_ultimate_x64_dvd_x15-65922.iso
Date Published (UTC): 8/6/2009 9:59:56 AM Last Updated (UTC): 8/24/2009 8:59:33 AM
SHA1: 326327CC2FF9F05379F5058C41BE6BC5E004BAA7 ISO/CRC: 1F1257CA

32-bit Windows 7 Ultimate
File Name: en_windows_7_ultimate_x86_dvd_x15-65921.iso
Date Published (UTC): 8/6/2009 9:59:56 AM Last Updated (UTC): 8/24/2009 8:59:33 AM
SHA1: 5395DC4B38F7BDB1E005FF414DEEDFDB16DBF610 ISO/CRC: C1C20F76

As a general rule, don’t download just any torrent that you come across, and do use a hash calculator (like HashCalc) to verify that the hash of the file you’ve downloaded matches that posted by a trusted source. Download the file, calculate the hash, copy it, find a trustworthy web site (like microsoft.com) that displays the hash, and then do a Find in your browser on that page for the hash you’ve copied. If the hash you calculated matches the hash displayed on the web site, you can trust the file is legit.

Step 2: Prepare the USB drive

You’ll need a 4 GB flash drive to hold the installation files. Microsoft offers a neat little program that will extract the ISO to a USB drive and make it bootable. It can also burn the ISO to a DVD. Download the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool.

If you’re currently using a 32-bit version of Windows XP or Vista and want to create a bootable USB drive containing the 64-bit (x64) version of Windows 7, you’ll need to obtain the bootsect.exe file from the 32-bit (x86) version of Windows 7.

If you want to get this file yourself, first download the 32-bit ISO. You can use any number of applications to open the ISO, but I recommend 7-Zip because it’s a great free alternative to WinZip. Open the ISO and then copy the /boot/bootsect.exe file into the same folder as the Windows7-USB-DVD-Download-Tool.exe (e.g. %USERNAME%\AppData\Local\Apps\Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool).

If that’s too much work, you can Google 32-Bit Windows 7 Bootsect.exe and take your chances.

Run the tool (%USERNAME%\AppData\Local\Apps\Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool\Windows7-USB-DVD-Download-Tool.exe) and follow the prompts. After Windows 7 has been loaded on the USB drive, you will be able to boot from it and install Windows 7 Ultimate. (You may have to change the boot order in the BIOS to boot from USB Storage Device.)

Step 3: Configure the installer

What if you want to install an edition other than Ultimate?

Both the 32-bit and 64-bit ISOs contain all the different editions of Windows. The edition you actually install is determined by a tiny text file named ei.cfg in the /sources/ directory of the install media. If you want to install a different edition of Windows, you just need to browse the USB drive and open the /sources/ directory. Open the ei.cfg file in Notepad and change the EditionID to whatever edition you wish to install. The contents of the file will look like this:

[EditionID]
Ultimate
[Channel]
Retail
[VL]
0

The options for the EditionID are:

  • Starter
  • HomeBasic
  • HomePremium
  • Professional
  • Ultimate

In the alternative, if you delete ei.cfg, you’ll be asked to choose which edition of Windows to install during the installation process, which is probably much more useful.

For more information and links to some software that will modify the ISO for you, see How to Select Any Edition or Version (SKU) of Windows 7 to Install From Single Edition DVD Disc Media or ISO.

I would strongly recommend installing the edition that you intend to purchase, as you cannot enter a Home Premium product activation key on a system running Ultimate. You’d have to do a clean install of the edition that matches the key you bought.

Step 4: Extend your pre-activation trial for 120 days

Microsoft allows anyone to install and use any version of Windows 7 for 30 days without having to enter a product activation key. This 30-day trial period can be extended three times for a total of 120 days before the installation must be activated to continue functioning. This extension is done using a Microsoft utility called the Software License Manager (slmgr) that ships with Windows.

If you haven’t entered a product activation key, you can click Start, then right-click Computer and choose Properties to see how many days are left before activation is required. When that number approaches 0, click Start | All Programs | Accessories. Right-click Command Prompt and choose Run As Administrator. Enter your administrator password, if asked.

Type the following command and press Enter:

slmgr -rearm

Be sure to include the space after slmgr and the hyphen in front of rearm.

Restart Windows 7.

In Summary

The last days of Windows 7 RC are approaching, and I’m probably going to end up buying Home Premium. Professional would be my first choice, but it’s probably not really necessary. However, after using Ultimate for so long, I want to know that I’ll be able to get by with a reduced feature set, so I definitely want to test-drive Professional and then Home Premium before I buy.

6 thoughts on “How to create a bootable USB drive that can install any edition of Windows 7

  1. Bubba

    “If you’re currently using a 32-bit version of Windows and want to create a bootable USB drive containing the 64-bit (x64) version of Windows 7, you’ll need to obtain the bootsect.exe file from the 32-bit (x86) version of Windows 7. ”

    That doesn’t seem to make sense? If I’m already running 32-Bit version, wouldn’t I already have the 32-Bit version? It seems I would need to copy the x64 version into the tool directory?

  2. ardamis Post author

    Ah, yes. I see how that could be unclear.

    I’ve edited the post to read “If you’re currently using a 32-bit version of Windows XP or Vista…”

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