Installations from a USB flash drive have become one of the easiest ways to update your computer with a new operating system. A USB installation is quick, extremely portable, and has the added bonus of reverting back to a storage device following the install. I cannot tell you how many discs I ruined over the years by messing up the write process, but I have a lot of very shiny drink-coasters in my living room.
You’ll find a fair few ISO to USB tools out there, and they feature a range of tools for beginners and advanced users. To keep this test fair, I’m going to use each tool to burn a copy of Windows 10 Insider Preview 10130 x64 to an 8GB Integral drive, formatted each time. Let’s take a look at the burn time, and the resources available to each software. For science!
By the way, we’ve previously covered how to legally download Windows ISO files.
Before we plough into the testing phase there are a handful of acronyms I’d like to spell out, and a few other bits of ISO to USB jargon we’ll clear up.
- Bootloader Options: the bootloader loads the operating system. Some ISO burners allow you to choose the Bootloader you’ll need for your desired operating system installation.
- grub4dos: a bootloader package designed to allow users to select between multiple operating systems installed on a single system.
- syslinux: a lightweight bootloader package designed to allow users to select between multiple Linux or Unix installations.
- QEMU Emulator: short for Quick Emulator, is a hardware virtualization tool. In this context, it allows users to test their USB before proceeding with the burn process.
- Cluster Size: defines the smallest available space for storing data. Instead of assigning individual disk sectors, the file system assigns contiguous groups of sectors, called clusters.
- File System: controls how data is accessed and stored. Without it, your data would lump together with no beginning or end. A file system offers definition for easy access. There are different file systems available, though your burning tool should be discern your requirements via the ISO you use.
- Bad Sector: Some ISO to USB tools allow you to perform a bad sector check. Before the burn commences, your USB will be scanned, fixing any irregularities to ensure your installation is smooth. Somewhat similar to defragmenting your desktop, but on a much smaller scale.
Features: Partition schemes, file systems, mode of bootable, bad sector check
First up, Rufus. Rufus comes as a very small executable with minimal options for tinkering, aside from partition scheme, file systems, cluster size, and the type of bootable you’ll be creating. Once you’ve selected the bootable disk type and theISO image you’ll be burning, you can happily hit Start and wait for the process to finish.
Rufus clocked in with a 16m55s according to my phone, but also has its own timer, which showed 17.02, though the built in timer did fluctuate throughout the process. At one point, it was over 10s behind my phone, but closed the gap to a mere 7s at the finishing line. Obviously, I am right, but it is still a good time.
2: Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool
Such an eloquent name. You select your ISO. You select your media type; USB or DVD. You click Begin Copying, and off it goes. In what is the most basic of basic GUIs, and with only two options, the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool is almost sublimely simple, comparable only to ISO to USB.
Timing-wise, it clocked in with 16m53s, leaving it sitting pretty. A definite winner for those wanting a serious no-frills burning tool.
Features: Bootloader options, file systems and overrides, grub4dos, syslinux, QEMU Emulator
RMPrepUSB is one of the most complete ISO to USB packages on this list. Aside from the above mentioned features, it comes packed with a host of other BootLoaders, DiskDoctor, Speed Tests, and individual user configurations for those drives you constantly prepare.
With a time of 22m36s RMPrepUSB isn’t the fastest of the bunch, but certainly makes up for it in customization. Bonus points for the centralized tooltip, constantly updating as you scroll over menu items.
Features: Bootloader options, three formatting tools including RMPrepUSB, QEMU Emulator
WinSetupFromUSB offers a mid-range of features. It isn’t quite RMPrePUSB, but it has so much more to offer than the other basic burners we have already covered, particularly the inclusion of FBinst Tool, Bootice, and RMPrepUSB. Each of these additional tools come with popup instructions detailing their use alongside WinSetupFromUSB, but can all be used with their original functions i.e. RMPrepUSB opens in its own dialogue with the customizable ISO/USB interface mentioned above.
As for speed, 23m29s represents one of the slower tools on the list, but is included due to the wealth of customization available to users.
Features: Write method, Hide boot partition
You can use the UltraISO trial version an ISO to USB tool. Whilst the trial version restricts the size of ISOs created, it does nothing of the sort if you’re burning something created elsewhere. On opening UltraISO, browse to your ISO location in the bottom half of the file explorer. Once located, double click. This loads the ISO image for burning. Then head to Bootable > Write Disk Image. Be sure to use the USB-HDD+ option for best results, unless advised otherwise. Hit Write and off you go!
UltraISO clocked in with a 20m24s, sitting nicely in the middle of the pack, and made the cut against the very similarly timed WiNToBootic through its additional features such as image mounting and ISO creation.
Features: Multiboot, inbuilt download selector
YUMI, or Your Universal Multiboot Installer, is another multiboot installer with settings for a massive range of ISOs. Unlike Xboot, YUMI asks if you’d like to add another ISO or Distro to your USB following a successful burn, so don’t worry if you cannot find the multiboot builder.
It clocked in with a stupendously fast 14m50s and takes the crown by just over two minutes, plus it has the best name on the list, so obviously another massive point for that.
The ISO to USB Winner Is…
YUMI! If we are talking time, plus the bonus of being able to create a multiboot USB packed with everything you might ever need.
However, let’s not discount those more advanced ISO to USB tools, RMPrepUSB and WinSetupFromUSB. While their speed performance couldn’t match YUMI, the massive range of tools and customizable settings more than make up for it.
Finally, I’ve been using the ISO to USB tool for its ridiculously simple interface and fairly reasonable burn time, but even that has been bested by Rufus, so now I don’t know what to do, other than switch to something faster.
Other Tools We Tested…
I tested a full 10 different ISO tools, as you can see from the above table, noting their speed. But speed isn’t only variable we look for in a burner. Here are the fallen few:
- XBoot is another multiboot tool featuring an inbuilt downloader, but timed in over 24 minutes. YUMI blew it away!
- WiNToBootic fits into the basic features category, alongside the Windows 7 USB/DVD Tool and Rufus, but clocked a slower 20m14s.
- Passcape ISO Burner is a multifunction burning tool, but it wouldn’t work for me. I have read other positive reviews, so it could be worth a look for other individuals.
- ISO to USB is another very basic burner, and one I’ve used extensively. However, it didn’t make the cut through a slow time and lack of features.
Hopefully you’ll have a clearer picture of the USB to ISO offerings available to you as more and more of us switch to a world without optical disk drives.