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Clean Microsoft Windows Installations with ISO Files

How to perform a clean Microsoft Windows installation for your nonprofit or library with downloaded ISO files

Clean Microsoft Windows Installations with ISO Files 
Debbi Landshoff - June 26, 2012
If your nonprofit or library needs to perform a clean installation of a Microsoft Windows operating system due to lacking a DVD drive on a computer, reformatting your drives before an upgrade, or requesting Get Genuine Windows, this article can help ensure you can do it using downloadable ISO files.

(This article was updated in November 2012 to include information on Windows 8.)

If your nonprofit or library needs to perform a clean installation of a Microsoft Windows operating system, reformatting your drives before an upgrade, or requesting Get Genuine Windows, this article can help ensure you can do it using downloadable ISO files. TechSoup Microsoft donations are now download-only. If you are in one of these situations, this article should help you succeed in installing Microsoft Windows operating systems for your nonprofit or library:

  • You have never installed Get Genuine Windows, from a downloaded version of the installation software.
  • You are installing a Windows operating system upgrade and want to reformat the drive first and perform a clean installation.
  • You are installing Get Genuine Windows or performing a clean install on a netbook or other computer that does not have a DVD drive.

Clean vs Custom Installation

For the purposes of this article, the term "clean installation" refers to installing Windows on a formatted hard drive that isn't running any version of Windows. You should format the hard drive in these situations:

  • Before installing Get Genuine Windows
  • Before installing a 64-bit version of Windows 8 on a computer running a 32-bit version of Windows XP
  • Before installing a 64-bit version of Windows 7 on a computer running a 32-bit version of Windows XP
  • You need to change the partition structure in a way that can't be done after a normal upgrade

Some people use the term clean installation interchangeably with custom installation. However, Custom (advanced) is one of two options you are offered when you install Windows 8 or Windows 7 with either the upgrade software or the full operating system software. You should select the Custom (advanced) option when you perform a clean install, but it is also needed if you are upgrading in place from a properly licensed version of Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT, or Windows 98.

Download Complete Installation Software

To create bootable installation media, you need to download the ISO file for a complete installation (not an upgrade or service pack) from the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC).

Instructions for downloading the software are available at Volume Licensing Service Center — Downloading and Installing Software. When you see the list of Windows products, choose one with the latest available service pack, but not an upgrade or a service pack by itself. For example you can tell that Windows 7 Professional with SP1 is a complete installation because its name does not include the word "upgrade." You do not want to download Windows 7 Professional SP1, because that file contains only the service pack.

Note: The VLSC help says "If your download rights are associated with the Open License program only, you may download only those products that you have purchased." However, TechSoup has confirmed with Microsoft that you can use a full operating system in place of an upgrade if your computer met the upgrade requirements before you formatted its hard drive.

Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool

Microsoft provides a free tool for creating bootable flash drives or DVD from ISO files. Even though this program has "Windows 7" in its name, it will work with Windows 8 ISO files and can be installed in Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP. Instructions and a link to the installation file for this tool are available from the Microsoft Store.

You cannot use this tool with a DVD that already has data. If you have a DVD-RW disc that already has data, you can format it with DVD writing software to remove the data. In that case, it is probably simplest to perform the entire operation with your DVD writing software.

You can use this tool with a flash drive that has data, but the tool will prompt you to erase all contents from the device before it begins.

DVD Writing Software

If you have a computer with a DVD writer, you probably already have the software to burn the DVD and make it bootable. Look for the term "bootable" in the application help for instructions.

Starting the Installation Software

In many cases, your existing settings allow the computer to start with the installation software on the bootable flash device or DVD.

If that does not work, you need to set the BIOS boot order settings for your computer. The documentation for your computer might have instructions. If not, see Change the Boot Order in BIOS for help.

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