How to Fix: Can't Boot from DVD or USB; Can't Install Windows

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Tom S. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I have an older Windows Vista machine and I'm trying to upgrade it to a clean install of Windows 7. The problem is that this PC is an all-in-one unit, and the DVD drive is broken; replacing it would be extremely difficult. I had a friend of mine convert the Windows 7 installation DVD into a bootable USB thumb drive, but it appears that my system does not support booting from USB. I also tried running the Windows setup.exe file from the thumb drive on my Vista desktop, but I receive a message that 'Windows installation could not be started from the current operating system'. Do you have any idea how I can install Windows 7 on a machine that can't boot from DVD or USB? "

My response:

This is a good question; in fact, I recently had a similar circumstance with another user via remote desktop support. After a bit of research, I came across a freeware program called WinToHDD, which allows you to boot from an operating system disc image (.ISO file) - even if you can't boot from USB or DVD on your system.

WinToHDD: Works Great, but Proceed With Plenty of Caution

I tested WinToHDD on a virtual machine and worked great, but there are some caveats to using this program.

First of all, because of the way this program is set up, it will likely wipe your entire C drive - so please backup with a disk image before proceeding.

In my own testing, I purposely reset the machine while WinToHDD was preparing files (just to see what would happen) and the machine was no longer bootable after that. The same thing would surely happen if the operating system failed to install properly - so please keep that in mind.

Secondly, you will need to place the .ISO file on a second partition on the same drive in order for the program to work. That means you will have to split the C drive to have approximately 9GB of data free (to store the .ISO file), then leave the remaining data to the C drive.

Third, you will need to plan a worst-case scenario in case anything fails. You basically get one shot at having this go smooth, and if it doesn't, your system may not boot. In that case, you may need to take the hard drive out of the system in order to restore your disk image backup (using another system, likely).

With all that said: WinToHDD did work for me, and it may work for you - but please take my advice with the backups.

How to Fix: Can't Boot from DVD or USB; Can't Install Windows

Here's how I used WinToHDD to install Windows on a system without a bootable DVD or USB drive:

  1. First, you will want to backup the system using a disk image before proceeding. Store the backup onto an external hard drive (preferred). If you need help setting up a proper disk image backup, I can assist via remote desktop support. Simply contact me with a brief message and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.
  2. Next, you will need to convert the DVD into an .ISO file. If your computer doesn't have a DVD drive, you will need to use a computer that has a DVD drive and do the conversion. There are plenty of free programs that will convert a DVD into an .ISO file - Daemon Tools Lite is a good one.
  3. The next thing you will need to do is to split your C drive to make a second partition, as this is where the .ISO will be stored. You can use a program such as Minitool Partition Wizard to split the drive, though a safer approach would be to use Windows Disk Management to shrink the C drive and then create a new partition as it does not require a reboot. Also, based on my experience, MiniTool Partition Wizard has failed on me a few times in the past, so please don't partition your drive without backing up first.
  4. Once the drive has been partitioned, you can download and install WinToHDD, then run it. Choose the 'reinstall' option and follow the onscreen instructions. Browse for your .ISO file, then select your boot partition (which is likely to be the C drive). You will get a warning that the drive will be wiped. Proceed with caution for reasons I already explained.
  5. When the system reboots, you will see a WinToHDD window as it prepares the environment. Click the 'close' button to finish when the file copying is finished. The system will reboot, and then it should start your Windows installation.

I hope that helps, and please proceed with caution. This is not an ideal scenario, but may be the only choice for some.

Additional 1-on-1 Support: From Dennis

If all of this is over your head and you need assistance in setting up a WintToHDD deployment, I can help. Simply send me a message briefly describing your situation and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question - or even a computer problem that needs fixing - please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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topgum's picture

I would add a USB based DVD Drive, Cost about $15.00. Would not have to wipoe c-drive

Dennis Faas's picture

Some systems cannot boot from USB, so a USB-based CD ROM may not work, especially if the thumb drive has already been tried.

ecash's picture

1. HDD configuration, there is a NEW Bios setting that Locks the HDD...Forgot its name.
Where the Boot is part of the BIOS..and configs the machine for Windows..
2. Everyone should know, is Boot sequence in Bios..Is sometimes Hard to find..but with the ABOVE(1) setting, it wont change, until you turn it off.