12 March 2015

Repairing Windows when you don't have the Windows DVD

Win8.1: A setup-disc or flash drive creation tool

Microsoft's Installation Media Creation Tool can download a complete set of Windows 8.1 installation files to your hard drive; it can then automatically set up the files on a bootable DVD or flash drive. Note: Although you're creating Win8.1 setup files, you don't have to run the easy-to-use tool on a Win8.1 machine; you can use a Win7 or Win8.0 system to build the bootable disc or drive.

To start, go to the aptly named Microsoft page, "Create installation media for Windows 8.1." Read the introductory material and then find and click the Create media button. (It's about halfway down the page.) A small file (mediacreationtool.exe) will download and run. (If it doesn't run automatically, locate the file in your browser's download folder and click it.)

The tool will present you with several options for the setup files, including choices for language, Windows 8.1 edition, and architecture (i.e., 64- or 32-bit). Your choices should match the version of Windows you're currently running. For example, if you have an English-language version of Win8.1 Pro, 64-bit installed, then you should choose "English," "Windows 8.1 Pro," and "64-bit (x64)" (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Win8.1 Installation Media Creation Tool starts with your selection of language, edition, and architecture.

You'll then be given a choice of installation medium. If you want your setup files on a bootable flash drive — and you have a USB flash drive with at least 4GB of free space — select USB flash drive. If you wish to create a bootable installation DVD, select ISO file (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. The Win8.1 installation tool can automatically create a bootable DVD or flash drive.

Once you've made your selection, the proper installation files will then download to your hard drive, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The Win8.1 setup files are approximately a 3.25GB download — for either the DVD-based ISO or the flash-drive version.

When the download completes, the Media Creation Tool then burns the ISO to a blank DVD disc or sets it up on a flash drive — depending on which option you selected. (Keep in mind that any data left on the flash drive will be deleted.) Just read and respond to the onscreen prompts. No other tools are needed; the Media Creation Tool handles it all!

When you're done, you'll have a bootable installation DVD or flash drive. You'll also have a copy of the ISO or flash-drive setup files on your hard drive — usually in the C:\Users\{username}\Downloads folder. You may wish to make additional, archival copies of these files for safekeeping.

Booting from Windows-setup DVDs or flash drives

As mentioned at the top of this article, these Windows setup discs and drives are free of OEM-added software. On the plus side, that means no crapware. But the potentially bad news is that there also are no OEM drivers.

That's not necessarily a show-stopper: Your PC might boot and run fine with the generic drivers built into Windows. But the safe and smart thing to do is to download copies of your PC's specific drivers from your vendor's support site. Save the driver files on a disk or drive, and store them with your setup disk or drive.

A final note: Newer PCs sometimes make it hard to boot from anything other than their main drive, making it difficult to actually use a bootable setup/installation DVD or drive to repair, refresh, or reinstall Windows.

The April 17, 2014, Top Story, "Emergency repair disks for Windows: Part 2," covers how to use any bootable medium — even on PCs that are locked down with Win8's Secure Boot and related features.
This excellent information comes from the Windows Secrets people.