Published: February 26, 2023
If you’re manually downloading Windows 10 or 11 to your own USB flash drive, in order to install Windows on a fresh new custom PC build, this guide will explain how to do it step by step. This is the cheapest way to get Windows 10 or 11 up and running on a new computer, as you don't have to buy a Windows license (product key) straight away and you can just do it at a later time.
Until you activate Windows by buying a product key, your PC will still be 100% functional without any limitations, and the only downside is you'll see a watermark image in the bottom right of your screen reminding you to upgrade until you do (but the watermark disappears when gaming).
To create a bootable USB drive for installing Windows 10/11 on a new PC build, you'll need a blank USB flash drive that's 8GB or bigger, and you need access to a desktop or laptop. You can do this on a Windows PC or Mac, but in this guide I'll explain how to do it on a Windows PC only. Let's get into the steps.
Insert the USB drive into your computer, and clear all data on it by formatting it. You want the drive to be blank. Do this even if it's a brand new drive. To format a USB drive, simply right click on the drive in your main computer or devices folder and click format.
Now you need to download Windows from the official Microsoft website, so that you can then transfer it to the USB drive.
On either page, click on the "Download Now" button under the "Create Installation Media" section. The download may take a few hours depending on your internet connection speed.
Once the download is complete, if the tool doesn't automatically run then go to your downloads folder and run the tool. Accept the terms and conditions, and then select that you want to create installation media. Then select the language, edition, and architecture of Windows that you want to use. Most people will be fine using Windows 10/11 Home edition, and for the architecture make sure you select 64-bit (unless you know that you need to use 32-bit).
Now on the next screen choose USB flash drive as the type of media you're using, and then make sure the correct flash drive is selected on-screen. Then let the process finish and you're done - it could take a while for it to finish up. After it's finished, you can remove your USB drive and move onto installing Windows on your new system.
Once you've created your bootable USB drive with Windows on it, insert the drive into a USB 3 or USB 2 port on your new computer (depending on whether you have a USB 2 or USB 3 flash drive). USB 3 ports should be physically color-coded in blue.
Then reset/turn-on the computer. If the Windows installation steps come up on-screen, proceed to install Windows as explained in the guide on what to do after building a PC. If it doesn't come up on screen, you need to change the boot drive of the PC so that it boots up from the USB drive. How to do that is also explained in that guide I just linked.
During the installation of Windows it will ask you for a product key, but you can still proceed if you select the option to enter your product key later on. In your own time, buy a product key from the Microsoft site or elsewhere (just do your research to make sure it's a legitimate key).
VPN software is quite important in this day and age and will improve the security and privacy of your PC when online. There are also benefits to using VPNs for gaming.
There's lots of VPNs out there but the ones I recommend most to gamers is ExpressVPN (special link that gets you 3 months off. they also offer a free trial here) and NordVPN which are both highly rated gaming VPNs because they're the fastest and most secure.
Indie game dev currently working on my first public release after years of hobby projects, a story-driven VR FPS built with Unreal Engine (to be announced soon here for anyone into VR FPS's). Also likes writing about tech, which also helps fund development of the game.
My favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1, MGS2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, HL1, and HL2, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Alyx. If you want help with a new build feel free to ask on the main PC builds guide. If you found the site extra helpful and wish to support the work I do here, sharing an article with a friend helps a lot and is much appreciated. - Julz