To install a brand new Linux distribution (like Ubuntu or Debian) on your computer’s hard drive, you need to burn its ISO to USB. An ISO file (also referred to as an “ISO image” or “disk image”) is an exact virtual copy of the whole OS and is used instead of installation CDs to try out an operating system.

As fewer people own optical drives, the prevalence of disk images rose. Even though practical, they still require you to burn them on an external peripheral (or opened from a virtual machine) for their installation wizard to boot. Luckily, these disk images are bootable from USB (seeing as we are way beyond the era of the CD or DVD burners).

You can find an article on how to burn an OS ISO to USB on Windows 10 using third-party software. However, if you are reading the present article, chances are you’re looking for a different way of doing things, namely by using the command line.

More often than not, we use dedicated software applications on our computers and burning an OS ISO to USB is no exception to this rule. It is natural to think that the easiest way of doing this process is through the use of graphical software. After all, we’re accustomed to our laptop or desktop computer displaying an interactive visual interface. However, sometimes there’s no way around using the command line to get the results we want. Some operating systems (such as macOS Mojave and most Linux distributions) even make using the command-line the most efficient way of burning an operating system ISO to USB.

The advantages of using the Terminal

I’d like to dispel some of the negative aura surrounding this old school way of doing things. Unlike dedicated applications, the Terminal is a tool that doesn’t require to install additional components. It is also a great alternative to fall back on when you eventually end up with a program that seems to have a mind of its own. Also, being able to execute simple commands in a matter of seconds using the Terminal can be a real breath of fresh air (especially when you’ve spent the last hour browsing forums trying to troubleshoot your new software). As a bonus, by using the Terminal, you get to understand the technology behind your OS better.

Also, as always, remember to format your pen drive before burning your operating system ISO to USB! As you are using Windows 10, be careful of not using the proprietary NTFS file type. It is the default USB format for Windows-based machines and is only compatible with Windows releases. If you use this format to burn a Linux distribution ISO to USB, you will end up not being able to boot the new OS at all. 

If you are looking for the procedure to create a bootable USB from macOS, you can find it by clicking HERE; as for those using Linux (all distributions), click HERE.  

So without any further due, here’s how to use the command line to burn an ISO file on your pen drive from Windows 10.

Burn an operating system ISO to USB from Windows 10

Generally speaking, most Windows users do not find it necessary to learn how to use the operating system command prompt. Burning an operating system ISO to USB is usually no exception: Windows native tools provide an efficient way of doing this task. However, knowing how to execute commands shouldn’t be just for Linux or Mac users. You never know when your knowledge of the command line might come in handy.

Learning how to burn ISO files on an external drive is a useful procedure to learn, especially if you plan on trying out another operating system like Linux Mint or Ubuntu. You can use the same process whether you want to do a full installation or want to try the OS through its temporary live version. However, if you’d rather not go through the process of burning the disk image on a pen drive, you still have an alternative. Indeed, it is possible to get to know these Linux distributions better by using a virtual machine instead.


1. Download your ISO file and remember its location on your hard drive (ideally, move it to a place that is easy to remember, such as the Downloads or Documents folder, or the Desktop).

Screenshot of the Windows 10 Downloads Folder

2. Format your pen drive.

3. Right-click “Start”, then “run”.

Screenshot of the menu found when doing right-click on the Start button. Part of the iso to usb burning procedure.

4. Type “cmd” then press Enter.

Running the cmd line as part of the iso to usb burning procedure

5. Type the following command to burn your disk image and make your ISO bootable from USB, remembering to substitute appropriately:

ISOBURN /Q <drive letter>: <disk image path and name>

Here, replace <drive letter> with your USB key drive letter (usually E) and <disk image file name> with your .ISO file name, including its full directory location and its extension (.iso).


ISOBURN /Q D: C:\Users\Lari\Downloads\dsl-4.11.rc2

Screenshot of the command-line used to burn an operating system iso to usb

6. After a short time, the Windows Disc Image Burner will pop up, indicating that the task is complete. No need to do anything else, you can now quit the command prompt by clicking on the x on the upper left corner.


If you’re unsure of your pen drive disk letter, open the File Explorer and look at the letter displayed under the pen drive name. By default, a disk image downloaded online will be in the Downloads directory. To copy its exact location do the following: open your File Explorer, access the folder where its location (Downloads folder, Desktop, etc.), right-click on your ISO file and select “Properties.” You will find the full directory. Double click on it to select it, then ctrl+c to copy.

Screenshot showing how to access a file's properties on Windows 10

A note regarding MacOS products

This applies to you only if you are currently running Windows 10 as part of a dual-boot setup from an Apple computer.

Unlike Windows, which uses .exe as the extension for its software applications, macOS uses .dmg files. However, there is one software using the ISO extension that is compatible with this operating system: the OS itself! If you’d like to download the ISO file of a macOS version, you can do so through the website ( Those that use an old Mac laptop might find it useful to try out an older version of macOS. Indeed, the hardware requirements of such releases are more in line with the firmware present on old machines, and your computer might perform better. However, be aware that most Apple applications require the latest macOS to work properly. Apple no longer supports old versions such as the Mac OS X series, so download at your own risk! Those wishing to give a second life to a sluggish Mac computer can also use this link to burn a new macOS ISO to USB and do a fresh install

IMPORTANT NOTE: You can only use a Mac operating system disk image on Apple hardware. It is illegal to run macOS or Mac OS X from a Windows pc or from any other computer that didn’t come with an official version of the Apple OS pre-installed by default. This condition applies even if you intend on booting the ISO file from a virtual machine. 

Owner and content creator behind Geeky girl and blogger based in Montreal, Canada. Chocolate and nature lover (in that order). View all posts by Larryssa →

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