Creating a bootable USB from an ISO file is easy if you have the right tools. How to create a bootable flash drive from an ISO file.
Why you need a bootable USB flash drive
Installing from a USB flash drive is one of the easiest ways to update your computer with a new operating system. A USB installation is fast, extremely portable, and has the advantage of being rolled back to a storage device after installation. Check out our introduction to Using Flash Drives in Windows 10 for background information.
There are a few ISO to USB tools that provide a range of tools for both beginners and advanced users. Let's take a look at the burn times and the resources available for each software. For science!
Note: To keep this test fair, I burn a copy of the Windows 10 Insider Preview Build to a built-in 8GB USB flash drive and format the drive between burns.
Before we get into the testing phase, there are a handful of ISO-to-USB acronyms you should know about, as well as a few other bits of ISO-to-USB jargon that we'll clear up.
- Boot loader options: The boot loader loads the operating system. With some ISO burners, you can select the boot loader that you need for the desired operating system installation.
- Grub4dos: A boot loader package that allows users to choose between multiple operating systems installed on a single system. This is sometimes referred to as dual boot.
- Syslinux: A lightweight bootloader package that allows users to choose between multiple Linux or Unix installations. You can also create a multiboot ISO to USB installer that includes several installation options.
- QEMU: The abbreviation for Quick Emulator is a hardware virtualization tool. In this regard, users can test their USB stick before proceeding with the burning process.
- Cluster size: Defines the smallest available space for storing data. Rather than assigning individual disk sectors, the file system assigns contiguous groups of sectors called clusters.
- File system: Controls how data is accessed and stored. Without it, your data would collapse with no beginning or end. A file system defines easy access. Various file systems are available, although your burning tool should recognize your needs about the ISO you are using.
- Bad sector: Some ISO to USB tools can perform bad sector scan. The software will scan your USB stick before the burning process begins and fix any irregularities to ensure your installation goes smoothly. It's a bit like defragmenting your desktop, but on a much smaller scale.
In no particular order you will find the ISO to USB burning tools with their respective times.
Do you want the TL; DR? Check out the best ISO to USB comparison video below!
Properties: Partition schemes, file systems, automatic ISO detection, target system type, bootable mode, bad sector checks, ISO write mode
First Rufus. Rufus is a very small executable that has continuously improved its offering over the years. In addition to the standard options for ISO to USB such as cluster size and file system, Rufus automatically recognizes the settings for the ISO you have selected and enters the optimal settings. In addition, Rufus has a hidden advanced mode with a number of additional options.
Rufus pulled in at 9:12 pm, which is definitely not the fastest. Regardless, Rufus is an excellent ISO to USB tool.
Download: Rufus for Windows 10 (free)
Windows USB / DVD has been discontinued, but you can still download and use it from the link at the bottom of this section.
It's a basic tool. You choose your ISO. You choose your media type. USB or DVD. You click Start copyingand let's go. At its most basic user interface and with only two options, the Windows USB / DVD download tool is nearly simple and only comparable to ISO to USB. This makes it a good tool to use when installing Windows 10 from a USB drive.
The Windows USB / DVD download tool was brought home in 17 minutes 51 minutes, making it right at the top of the ISO to USB timing card.
Download: Windows USB / DVD Download Tool for Windows 10 (free)
properties: Bootloader options, file systems and overrides, grub4dos, syslinux, QEMU
RMPrepUSB is one of the most complete ISO to USB packages on this list. Apart from the functions mentioned above, it contains a large number of other bootloaders, DiskDoctor, speed tests and individual user configurations for frequently prepared drives.
RMPrepUSB clocks in with a 21m38 and brings it firmly towards the top of the timing board, but like Rufus, the features more than make up for the slightly slower time.
Download: RMPrepUSB for Windows 10 (free)
Properties: Multiboot, automatic ISO download
YUMI (Your Universal Multiboot Installer) is another multiboot ISO to USB installer with settings for a variety of Linux, Windows, and system utility ISOs. YUMI is easy to use. You scroll down the distribution list, search for the ISO you want and then select the appropriate ISO on your system from the field below. Don't have an ISO? YUMI will do that for you.
YUMI arrived at 5:46 pm – slower than the first time I ran these tests five years ago (it was 2:50 pm back then!), But still ahead of the others.
Download: YUMI for Windows 10 (free)
5. Novicorp WinToFlash Lite
Properties: Multiboot, grub4dos, bootloader options, burn assistant, file systems, burn profiles, automatic ISO download
Novicorp WinToFlash is a popular ISO to USB utility with a handy burning assistant. The wizard will guide you through the burn process, although this is not just true of the utility (for example, Rufus will fill in all the required information).
With WinToFlash you can also create multiboot USBs as well as an auto-downloader for missing ISO files.
WinToFlash clocks in at 22m01, a decent speed for a tool that walks you through the ISO to USB process.
Download: WinToFlash for Windows 10 (free)
Properties: grub4dos, automatic ISO download (Linux only), syslinux
Primarily a Linux LiveUSB burning tool, UNetbootin works so well on Windows that it should be added to this list. The UNetbootin utility is not flashy, but it has some useful features. For example, it has an auto-download feature for Linux distributions that allows you to choose from a number of popular distributions and system utilities.
UNetbootin came home in 22m01, as did WinToFlash and again a decent time for a useful tool.
Download: UNetbootin for Windows 10 (free)
The ISO to USB winner is …
The winner in terms of speed is YUMI. The winner in terms of features and ease of use is Rufus who was only 3 minutes slower than YUMI. In addition, both burning tools serve slightly different markets. Rufus is designed for one-time ISO to USB creation, while YUMI is great for multiboot tools.
Let's not discount the other USB to ISO tools. The range of burn times hasn't been very different so it really boils down to the features you need and find in a given utility.
I've tested many more ISO-to-USB tools to keep up with the competition – and to give you the best overall picture possible. There were a couple of tools that didn't get the grade for one reason or another. Here are the few who have fallen:
XBoot is another multiboot tool with a built-in download, but other options were faster and a little easier to use. However, XBOOT's QEMU feature is excellent.
WinToBootic fits comfortably into the basic functions category and has clocked a decent time as well.
Passcape ISO Burner is a multifunction burning tool, but it wouldn't work for me. I've read other positive reviews so it might be worth looking for other people.
ISO to USB is another very simple tool. However, it didn't make the cut due to a slow time and lack of features.
FlashBoot has a decent user interface and a burn wizard to walk you through the program, but I gave up the test because it wasn't even 50% after almost 40 minutes.
UltraISO burned the ISO to USB at a reasonable speed and has the advantage of providing ISOs for reviewing your files before burning.
Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of the best ISO to USB tools available to you. In addition, you can choose your tool based on its speed, functionality, or a combination of both. If you need instructions on how to create a bootable USB device to install Windows from an ISO file, look no further. For macOS users, we also looked at how to boot your Mac from USB.
How to install multiple bootable operating systems on a USB stick
Do you want to install and / or run multiple operating systems from a single bootable USB stick? You can with these tools.
About the author
(813 articles published)
Gavin is the Junior Editor for Windows and Technology Explained, contributing regularly to the Really Useful Podcast, and was the Editor for MakeUseOf's crypto-focused sister site Blocks Decoded. He has a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Writing with Digital Art Practices Looted from the Devon Hills, as well as over a decade of writing experience. He enjoys plenty of tea, board games, and soccer.
By Gavin Phillips
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