I wasn’t in any hurry to switch to Windows 7, but when several places put the Windows 7 family pack on sale for $125 or thereabouts, I figured I’d better get it. The normal price on three upgrades is $100-$110 a pop. And you know how it goes. Once you get something, you really don’t want it to just sit on the shelf. Why let the software collect dust while I wait for 64-bit Firefox to arrive?

So I want to install it off USB. It’s easy, right? Well, it’s easy if you’re running Vista. But the instructions floating around for making bootable Windows 7 installation USB media don’t work if you’re running XP. At least they didn’t work from any of my XP machines.The problem is that Windows XP’s diskpart.exe doesn’t recognize USB drives.

The best workaround I could come up with if you don’t have a Vista or 7 PC to work with is to boot off the Windows 7 DVD, pick your language, click next, click Repair your computer, click the ?Use recovery tools radio button, click next, then click command prompt.

Now you can run diskpart. Put your USB drive in, type diskpart at the command prompt, and type list disks to find your USB drive. Mine was disk 1, so I typed select disk 1. Type clean to erase the partition table. Type create partition primary to make a new partition. Type active to make it bootable. Now do a format fs=fat32 quick or format fs=ntfs quick depending on the filesystem you want. FAT32 will install a little faster but NTFS doesn’t have the 4 GB file limit if you’re going to use the drive for other things. Now you can reboot into XP, immediately copy all the files off the 7 DVD over into the USB drive using Windows Explorer, and you’ve got bootable USB installation media.

Intuitive? No. But easy enough once you know the steps. And if you have a 7 or Vista PC to work with, you can do all the prep, starting from the diskpart step, from a command prompt, without booting off the CD at all. All that’s left then is figuring out what BIOS hocus-pocus it takes to get your PC to boot off USB. Every last one of mine is different, so you’re on your own for that.

It’s worth it though. Installation off a USB flash drive is really fast. The days of building a PC taking all weekend are just about done. And good riddance.