Creating a Bootable Windows 10 USB on Linux using WoeUSB

Published by John on December 22, 2018 Under Computer Repair

If you have been fixing or working with computers for awhile, you probably remember how much of a pain it could be to find the right installation media for reinstalling Windows. Mainly, because if you had a Dell, HP, or other store bought laptop or desktop, you couldn’t just use any Windows CD, but had to find an OEM version of Windows. The end result is that most repair techs had a stack of Windows discs of various versions that they used when installing windows and unfortunately for the end-user, reinstalling Windows was not very straightforward.

Over the years this is an issue that has been getting better as Microsoft has transitioned to a different business model.

By Windows 7, if you had a Windows Home Premium sticker on your Dell laptop, you didn’t need a special Windows 7 disc. However, getting the disc in the first place was still a bit of a pain. For some time, there were some legit sources for downloading a Windows 7 ISO*, namely the Digital River download links, but at some point Microsoft decided to take those down and so finding an official Windows 7 ISO became a bit more difficult again.

By Windows 8, many computer manufacturers were using a BIOS Windows Key in place of the COA Windows Sticker, so when you reinstalled Windows 8, you just put the disc in and it didn’t even ask for a CD Key.

Now with Windows 10, for most people a CD Key is a thing of the past, you can readily download a Windows 10 disc image directly from Microsoft, and there are built-in tools for refreshing Windows 10 that are close to being a clean install and are intuitive enough that you don’t need to be an IT person to use them.

*An ISO is a term used to describe a disk image, which you can use to burn a CD or DVD. Commonly, they end the .iso extension, but sometimes are also seen with a .img file extension. The term itself dates back to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9660 file system for CDs, but is now used interchangeably to describe DVD, CD, and other images.

How to Use WoeUSB to Create a Windows 10 Disc Image

With some of the more recent versions of Windows 10, the disc image is a bit too big to fit on a normal DVD. So, you either need a Double Layer DVD(DVD+R DL) or need to install the image on a USB.

If you are using Windows, Microsoft has released a media creation tool that will automate this process, which you can Download Here.

If you are using Linux, you need to download the Windows 10 ISO and then create a bootable USB manually. There are several ways of doing this, but probably the easiest is to use WoeUSB.

I will describe the steps in a bit more detail below, but basically you just need to:

  1. Download a copy of the most recent Windows 10 ISO from Microsoft
  2. Install WoeUSB on your linux distro
  3. Use the following command to create the USB: woeusb –target-filesystem NTFS –device /tmp/disk_image.iso /dev/sdX

Step one is fairly self explanatory.

Step two may be a little more involved, but can probably be done via your Linux distributions repositories. For instance if you are running Fedora, WoeUSB is currently available in the Updates Repository. I believe it is readily available in other Distros too, but you may need to do a little leg work on that one.

Step three requires the most explanation.

Important Note: This will destroy any data you have on the USB, so make sure you get the drive letter right and there is no data you need on the USB. I do not believe it is necessary to format the USB first, so you should be able to just issue the below command.

The command is:

woeusb --target-filesystem NTFS --device /tmp/disk_image.iso /dev/sdX

There are three parameters added to this command:

–target-filesystem NTFS This tells WoeUSB to use NTFS file system on the USB. This is necessary because newer versions of Windows 10 no longer fit on a single DVD, as they are too large, and so if you use the default, FAT32, the Windows .wim image is too large and incompatible with the limitations of Fat32. Specifically, FAT32 only supports files up to 4GB in size.

–device /tmp/disk_image.iso This is the location of the Windows disk image(ISO) that you downloaded in step #1. It may look something like ‘Win10_1809Oct_English_x64.iso’

/dev/sdX The final command is the device location of the USB. It is essential to get this one right, as otherwise you run the risk of clobbering one of your disks. If you are at all unsure of how to find/verify this, then I would not advise you to use this method and instead use Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool! The device letter won’t actually be ‘X’, but will instead probably be something like ‘sdc’ or ‘sdd’ depending on how many hard-drives or partitions you have on your computer. You can use a progam like gParted if you need a graphical tool to help locate the USB.

After you issue the above command, it may take a few minutes, but once done, you should get a message like this:

You may now safely detach the target device
Done :)
The target device should be bootable now

Plugin the USB to the laptop or desktop that you are trying to install Windows 10 on, select the USB or External Media boot option, and you should be good to go!

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