The post i never wrote

3 minute read

Today, I decided to reinstall an old laptop so that my kids would have something to play Minecraft on. During this process, I had to do something that reminded me of the time I almost created a blog a long time ago, because I couldn’t find anything that described the entire process I needed to do back then. The interesting thing is that the method I found back then is still valid.

More than a decade ago, back when I was a young informatics student in Oslo, Windows Vista came out, and I decided I would use it on all my computers. As a student, I had access to student licenses for most of the Microsoft products, so getting a valid installation wasn’t a problem. The problem was a much more technical one. I had already moved to a laptop with no optical drive, so I needed to get Windows installed via USB. Now, this was actually before this was a common practice, and there weren’t a lot of descriptions about how to get this working, so I had to figure it out for myself.

Getting the data from the ISO onto the USB stick wasn’t a problem. That was a straightforward copy job. The problem came when the computer found the USB to start from but wouldn’t find anything on it to boot from. That was a strange problem at the time for me. So, I Googled everything about it that I could find, and I remember I found a blog post that explained about half the process. The USB didn’t have the right type of partition on it. I had to repartition the USB key to give it a primary partition and to make it active. This was all rather simple:

list disk
select disk 1
list partition
select partition 1
delete partition
create partition primary
select partition 1

This all assumes that you only have one partition on your USB key.

But it still wouldn’t boot into the Windows installer.

So, I did what I do when I get stuck; I start looking deeper into things. On the Windows ISO, there was a folder called boot, so I started there. In that folder, there was an EXE file called bootsect.exe, which turned out to be the tool I needed to get things working. The problem was that the USB drive had the wrong boot sector type. And between Windows XP and Windows Vista, as far as I remember, they changed the type of boot sector Windows uses.

bootsect /nt60 x:

This was the command that changed everything and made me able to install Windows Vista on all my computers.

At the time, this saved me a whole lot of work, because I had somehow managed to crash the old XP installation on my main computer, so getting it back up and running was really important, since I needed it for classes. So my nerves calmed down, and I was able to sleep that night.

As mentioned, I considered making a blog just to post this solution because at the time I didn’t find anyone else who had written about it, but I never did. But I’m trying to learn from my past mistakes, so I’m writing about it today.

These days, there are tools that make it a lot easier to fix USB installation media. For Windows 11, you can download the official tool from Microsoft, or you can use Rufus for almost any operating system you can find.

But you can still use the manual method I found back in the days when Vista was something new and shiny.