6 Free Tools to Create Bootable USB from ISO Image – TechWiser


How often do your parents and coworkers complain about their slow computers? “Reinstall Windows!” Usually the answer is yes, but the lack of a CD/DVD drive in their computer often puts everyone off. So, for the past few years, I always keep a bootable USB drive with Windows and Linux operating systems to help those in need. Now is the time that every PC owner needs a bootable USB to keep their machine and data safe. But the abundance of free and paid software for creating a bootable USB drive can be confusing. So, I'm presenting the best free tools I've used over the last decade and more.

Why should you create a bootable USB from an ISO image?

Typically, you will need a CD or DVD to install, reinstall, or repair the operating system on a computer. Now that CD/DVD drives are rare, old CD/DVDs with Windows, Linux or other OS barely work when needed. But instead of having to create (or burn) another CD/DVD after downloading an ISO file of an operating system, a bootable USB sounds like a blessing. Mainly for these reasons:

  • Bootable USBs are small, so they are easy to carry, and physical scratches do not affect the files.
  • It works easily with USB ports on computers and does not require any special hardware.
  • Provide faster read and write speeds than CD/DVD.
  • Reusable (and rewritable) with the latest ISO files.

Besides losing the bootable USB, one of the hardest challenges of using it is having to tamper with the computer's BIOS to adjust the boot order. This means, you have to instruct the computer to use the bootable USB with the operating system before you can load the OS from your computer. This allows the recovery and rescue process to begin quickly. Downloading OS files while installing or reinstalling it can be nerve-wracking as a temporary connection may hinder the process. This is why a bootable USB with offline OS installation files is more reliable than an old, scratched CD/DVD.

Also read: How to back up Windows 11 to the cloud before reinstalling it

To successfully create a bootable USB on Windows or Linux, I generally follow these three rules:

  1. The USB drive has at least 8GB of free storage.
  2. The USB drive is in FAT32 format.
  3. Verify whether the ISO file of the OS is completely downloaded or not.

Over the years, I found these to be the best software to create a bootable USB from ISO image on Windows 11. In brackets are operation systems on which you can run specialized software.

1. Rufus (Windows)

Working only on Windows, Rufus has always been my favorite tool for creating bootable USBs of Windows and Linux operating systems. Although it has a complicated looking interface, I like the dedicated format options section for formatting a USB drive. Advanced formatting options also help detect bad blocks on a USB drive, which is helpful if you're using a real drive. It also allows choosing a MBR (for older Windows PCs) or GPT (for newer Windows PCs) Appropriate partition scheme for the target computer. You can also use it to flash BIOS, DOS-based firmware, or other system-level utilities to a USB drive.

download rufus

2. Balena Etcher (Windows, Linux, macOS)

When I want to quickly create a bootable USB, Etcher is my choice. Mostly, since it also works on macOS. Its beautiful user interface is easy to understand and use. Just a few clicks are needed to instantly flash the ISO file on the USB drive. You can also add a URL to download an ISO or clone an existing drive. However, it will not warn or prompt you if the USB drive is not in FAT32 format. Also, there is no option to format or modify partitions on USB storage. Still, the best thing about Etcher is that it has a 32-bit installer for older Windows and portable versions. But I don't like the fact that I need to install it to use it.

Download Balena Etcher

3. UNetbootin (Windows, Linux, macOS)

UNetbootin is designed to create bootable live Linux USBs, but it also works wonderfully with Windows ISOs. What has stuck with me is the same interface that has remained constant over the years. Like Etcher, it doesn't prompt if your USB drive is not in FAT32 format. I have spent hours flashing ISOs to USB drives with NTFS or AFPS formats. While the support for flashing ISOs to a hard drive is nice, I believe it is harder to format an entire drive to FAT32. The nice thing is that UNetbootin also lets me flash specific system utilities on the USB drive, like Partition Magic, SystemRescueCD, Ofcrack, etc. on the USB drive.

download unetbootin

4. Windows Media Creation Tool (Windows)

As the name suggests, the media creation tool only supports Windows operating systems. By default, an Internet connection is required to download Windows OS files to create a bootable USB or ISO file. Of course, I have to flash it to a compatible USB to make it bootable. Sadly, even this tool won't let me format or change the file partitions of the USB drive. A word of advice – when creating a Windows 11 bootable USB, use a drive with at least 8GB of storage space to install it on a computer with a 64-bit processor.

Download Windows Media Creation Tool

Also read: 4 Ways to Create Bootable Windows 11 USB

5. Yumi (Windows)

After Rufus, YUMI is my favorite tool, and I use it sometimes. YUMI lets me create multiboot USB drives to pack more than one operating system and other tools. Using a YUMI with a 128GB portable SSD, I use it like a Swiss Army knife for troubleshooting friends' computers and hard drives. So, you can create a powerful bootable USB drive with multiple operating systems, antivirus tools, system tools, and even anonymous browsers. The only strange thing is that YUMI's interface is outdated and every time it feels like you are installing some software.

download yumi

6. Ventoy (Windows, Linux)

Apart from these five, ventoy It is quite popular because it works with various image files (ISO/WIM/IMG/VHD(x)/EFI) of the operating system. This is by far the most mentioned and advanced tool when it comes to creating a bootable live Linux USB. The best part is that you can use this software to install a bootable OS directly on your hard drive or SSD (even NVMe). Furthermore, you get a fancy boot menu to choose various options and it also supports the entire installation process through its interface. One part of it that I really like is the support for different file system formats – FAT32, exFAT, NTFS, UDF, XFS, EXT2, EXT3 and EXT4.

download ventoy

A bootable USB saves the day

I'm no longer afraid to reinstall Windows 11 on my PC because I have a bootable USB. And, it saves a lot of time when I need to reinstall or repair Windows 11 on my relatives, family or friends' computers. Of course, I have to do a remake after any major Windows update – the last update was 23H2, With a bootable USB, you can speed up the repair or reinstall process to save your or someone else's computer.

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By Ranjan