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I have an old Thinkpad X60 that I'd like to wipe clean and rebuild. Seeing as this machine doesn't have an optical drive, what's the easiest way of installing Windows XP?

I have an external USB hard drive available. Would it be possible to run the install from that instead? Otherwise, what options do I have?

Edit: assuming we're using a USB mass storage device...

Is there a BIOS setting that I would need to change, or will it configure itself automatically? Would the USB drive need to be configured in any special manner, or would simply having a copy of the Windows CD files in a directory there be sufficient?

Since the first couple answers that came in were basically "yes", I guess I didn't phrase my question correctly. I'm asking for detailed instructions on how to do this, not just a sanity check that I'm headed in the right direction. Thanks!

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As long as the BIOS supports booting from USB, you can use an external drive. If you're got a RIS server, you could do a netowrk install, or you could get a similar image, sysprep it, ghost it across (USB boot of clonezilla, ghost from a network share), and then set it up for the new machine.


You might need to enable booting from USB-CD in the BIOS, but you can probably just go to the boot menu (normally F12 or Escape), and select it from there. It should then boot from your Windows disk, and let you install normally.

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The machine is only a few years old, so I would imagine it should be capable. Is there a setting that I would need to change, or will it configure itself automatically? Would the USB drive need to be configured in any special manner, or would simply having a copy of the Windows CD files in a directory there be sufficient? – Jason Kester Jul 12 '09 at 10:07
... and after that, you lost me completely. No idea what a RIS server is, but I'd assume I don't have one. No idea what you're talking about further on. Again, I have a windows CD, a USB drive, and another laptop that I could conceivably access over the network, assuming I could access the network from a machine with no OS. That's my entire toolkit. Thanks for your help. – Jason Kester Jul 12 '09 at 10:13
+1 Its impossible to install Windows XP (MSDN SP3 legitimate version) from external harddisk w/o resorting to 3rd party software. But OP hasn't got CD drive.. – Steve F Oct 24 '13 at 21:54

You could look into creating a bootable USB Stick and load it with BartPE, for instance. Bart PE is a "light" ram-only windows environment that lets you format local disks, install windows and what not. USB-boots are troublesome though, and as far as I know, not all BIOSes support USB boot.

You could give it a go though, just google "BartPE" and "BartPE USB Boot" for some starters on how to create the boot solution.


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Yeah, the USB Stick approach might work too. Here's another alternative for setting up said stick:… – Jason Kester Jul 12 '09 at 15:05
  1. If you have USB CD Drive then just use it to install windows the way one does with normal CD drive.

  2. If you have access to similar laptop then you can install Windows on similar laptop. And clone the harddisk of other laptop to laptop with no cdrom drive.

  3. if you dont have access to USB CDROM or similar laptop with working CD Drive. Then install windows on any drive with same capacity. That is if your laptop is having 80GB harddisk then install Windows on another laptop (preferable)/ PC with exact 80GB harddisk. Do not install drivers for motherboard, soundcard, video, LAN etc. after installation. Clone this fresh image of windows with no drivers installed to laptop. Then you can install drivers specific to your laptop. To copy drivers to laptop use pen drive.

Now if you do not have access to tools which can help you with cloning / You have not done it before. Then download Linux live CD image from System Rescue CD download page. System Rescue CD happens to be my favorite for cloning as it has only command line support so eats really less RAM. You can use any Linux Live CD Knoppix / Ubuntu etc. for the purpose of cloning.

Connect both the computers so that they are on same LAN. You can do this by any 8 port unmanageable switch too. Boot from Live CD on both source and destination machines. Then use command

fdisk -l

to find name of harddisk device on both source and destination. The device name should be like /dev/hda, /dev/hdb, /dev/sda, /dev/sdb, etc. I hope you have only one harddisk in both source and destination to avoid confusion. If you have more than one harddisk I recommend removing one harddisk to avoid confusion if you are not comfortable with Linux drive naming conventions. You can also distinguish based on different hard disk sizes.

Now on source use command

ifconfig eth0 netmask
dd if=/dev/sda bs=4000000 | nc -l 9000

and on destination use command

ifconfig eth0 netmask
nc 9000 | dd of=/dev/sda bs=4000000

You have to replace the device name /dev/sda in both above commands with device name you see when you run fdisk -l.

If you uncomfortable with Linux you can seek help of some friend who is comfortable in Linux to do all this. This is absolutely free method of cloning without requiring purchase of commercial tools or opening PC to shift drives. If you have Norton ghost or something similar then you can use that instead of above process.

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If the machine can boot on an USB cd-drive you can install XP from it, so just do it :)

Note: You should not install XP on an external USB-harddisk as the USB drivers are not loaded early enough for the kernel to be able to boot up properly from an USB-harddisk.

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So you're saying the best solution is to just go buy a cheap $15 external USB CD-ROM drive? I guess that would work. I was just hoping for something a little simpler since I have all the files available. – Jason Kester Jul 12 '09 at 14:19
You have an interesting definition of "simpler" :-) Windows looks for an installation CD, so the simplest is to give it that. Otherwise we start looking at doing a Windows Remote Installation Services setup. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 12 '09 at 15:43
I meant "simpler", as in "something I can do today". Mail-ordering and waiting for delivery of a cheapo cd drive is time consuming, and puts off the install by a week. But you're right, once it's here it will most definitely be the simplest way to go. – Jason Kester Jul 13 '09 at 8:04
If you are in a hurry, then don't you have any hardware stores nearby? In any case, while you wait you can look into the various network installation methods mentioned in the other answers. If you cannot make them work and you have a USB-stick or a card reader consider playing with Ubuntu Netbook edition in the meantime. It is quite nice. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 15 '09 at 0:06

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