How to Install Windows 7 on a Netbook with No Optical Drive

en-US111_Win7_Landing_PageMost netbooks don’t include an integrated optical drive for CDs or DVDs. That’s done to keep the price down and simply because there isn’t much space for the drive. That makes for a challenging install problem with a new operating system. Microsoft recognizes this and created a solution — through its online store, netbook owners can purchase a downloadable copy of Windows 7 in .iso format.

But that’s only half the battle because you still have to get the bits installed. That’s where the WUDT comes in.

You know, the WUDT — Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool! Using WUDT, you can make either a DVD of the installation or create a bootable USB install for Windows 7. Don’t forget that you might have to go into your BIOS to modify your booting order, otherwise your netbook could start up from the hard drive.

WUDT_thumb_27E9E0D0

A few other points to think about:

  • There’s no clean upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7. That’s likely to affect most netbooks since the majority of them come pre-installed with Windows XP. Remember to backup your data from XP before wiping it with a Windows 7 install.
  • You can use software to create a virtual CD if you’d rather not use the WUDT. For the past four years I’ve been using a Virtual CD-ROM Powertoy for XP (download link). With it, you can mount an .iso file as if it were on physical media like a CD.
  • Got a another PC with an optical drive? If it’s on the same network at home, you can try to share it and try the installation over your network. Although I’ve never tried this method, it should theoretically work, but might take longer depending on your network speeds.
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