This article is part of a series on how to burn the disc image of Windows 10 on a USB key using your Mac computer. As there is no one-size-fits-all way of doing this procedure, I divided this series into four articles. This one shows how to burn the Windows ISO to USB by copying its content to a pen drive.
This article provides an introduction to this topic, as well as the limitations of each method presented.
This article provides a way of burning the Windows image that relies on the use of a macOS computer as the host.
This article provides another way of burning the Windows image that relies on the use of a smaller ISO file.
Method Three: Use the live version of a Linux distribution to create a bootable Windows 10 USB drive, which is the present article.
As you can see, there are several ways of burning a Windows ISO to USB from your Mac computer. The choice between one method or another will depend on several factors. The size of your Windows ISO file, whether you intend on booting Windows on a mac or pc, and whether or not you wish to use Linux are all aspects to consider.
Create a bootable Windows 10 USB drive with a live Linux distro
This method might seem counterintuitive and lengthy as it requires to burn the disc image of two operating systems. However, it provides a guaranteed way of getting bootable Windows 10 pen drive compatible across all operating systems when using macOS Mojave.
The second method used to burn a disc image presented at the beginning of this article is faster but less convenient. The process shown in this article saves you the headache of having to find a disk image of less than 4GB, and you will get to try out a Linux distro to boot!
The only drawback (if you can even call it one), is that this method requires two pen drives. However, you are not limited to pen drives of 16GB or more as is the case with Method one. Instead, as long as each USB key is big enough to accommodate its specific ISO file, you’re all set. It is also worth mentioning that most live Linux distributions are smaller than the almost 5 GB required for Windows 10.
Even if you are new to Linux, I recommend trying this method. It is effective, and will also save you the trouble of having to find a way to burn a pc-compatible bootable pen drive using the regular Windows 10 ISO image.
Choosing a Linux distribution
Before proceeding, you will first need to choose a Linux distribution. Take a look at this article for a summary of some of the lightweight Linux distributions available right now.
I’d suggest sticking to a lightweight distribution and desktop environment, as there’s no point in installing a heavier Linux OS. That is unless you plan on trying out the distribution as a potential replacement or addition to your current operating system. After all, you’re only using this distribution to burn a disc image on a USB key, so the lighter the OS, the better.
If you’re new to the process of trying out the live version of a Linux OS in general, I suggest using either Bodhi Linux or Linux Mint. I’ve written specific guidelines on how to create a bootable live version of these distributions on a USB stick. You can find the instructions to do so here. The linked tutorial can be especially useful if you’ve never tried a live Linux distribution before.
Because we will download the UNetbootin software, I STRONGLY recommend using a Ubuntu-based distribution. Installing the app is effortless while Ubuntu, whereas Debian or Arch requires additional steps. For ideas of where to look for a Ubuntu-based distro image, take a look at some of these distro download links:
- Linux Mint with the lightweight Xfce desktop environment
- Bodhi Linux
- Lubuntu, which is a flavor of Ubuntu running the lightweight LXQt desktop
- Linux Lite, which is a distro suitable for those new to Linux (scroll to the “current release” section and click on “Download 64bit”)
You will need:
- A Linux distribution
- Two pen drives (each one must be able to accommodate a dedicated operating system; plan for a USB key with a capacity of 5GB minimum for Windows 10, and another one with a capacity of 2GB to 3GB minimum for Linux)
- Access to the Terminal and Finder
Part One – Burn the disc image of a Linux distribution
If you already have a pen drive with a bootable live Linux distro on it, then great! You can skip right away to Part Two. Otherwise, follow these steps.
Download your Linux disk image of choice, making sure to download the appropriate ISO file. Almost all Linux distributions use the same disk image for the regular installation as for the live version of their OS. There are some outliers, however, such as Debian (which requires a different ISO file specific to its live version).
Insert your first flash drive (the one you will use for the live version of your Linux distro).
Format your pen drive (on Windows, macOS). Make sure to select a format that is compatible with Linux. By default, Mac uses the HFS+ format, which is proprietary to Apple products and cannot be read by Windows nor Linux. My recommendation is to use the FAT32 file type, as not all distributions are compatible with exFAT.
Access the terminal by doing a spotlight search for “Terminal.”
Identify your computer’s drives to find which one is linked to your USB key (make sure that you inserted the pen drive before continuing). To do so, enter the following command:
You will find a list of disks; in the example above, you can see that my USB stick is the external drive located on disk 2. You can identify your pen drive by the following:
When it says “(external, physical),” it means that it is an external drive such as a pen drive or external hard drive. If you see the words “internal,” “synthesized,” or “disk image,” it is not a pen drive.
It is best to have a single USB key inserted. Otherwise, look for the particularities of the USB you wish to use to burn your ISO file. Its size is the biggest giveaway.
Now that you know the name of the disk linked to your USB key, you will need to take note of its identifier. You will notice that your pen drive has two of them (unless you partitioned it, but it shouldn’t be the case if you are using a formatted pen drive). The identifier we want to remember is the one below the one with the disk number. In this example, the identifier is disk2s2.
Make sure that your USB key is unmounted. To unmount using the command line, type:
diskutil unmount /Volumes/<NameOfDisk>
<NameOfDisk> is the name of your disk. Be careful not to confuse it with its identifier. Rather, the disk name is the one appearing in your Finder and under your desktop USB icon.
In this example, I will write:
diskutil unmount /Volumes/USB
Once you have properly unmounted your external drive, you should then be able to proceed as planned with the dd burning command.
Now it is time to burn the disc image on your pen drive. Enter the following:
sudo dd if=</path/image.iso> of=/dev/r<identifier> bs=1m
Where </path/to/image.iso> is the location of your ISO file, as well as the name of the file itself (including the .iso), and <identifier> is your pen drive identifier found in step 6.
In this example, I use the disk image of Bodhi Linux, which I had moved to a dedicated ISO files folder. I am also using the USB drive identified earlier.
sudo dd if=/users/LariNeko/Documents/ISO-files/bodhi-5.0.0-64.iso of=/dev/rdisk3s1 bs=1m
If prompted, enter your password (this is a “sudo” command after all and requires admin privileges).
Now, wait. Unlike with regular software tools used to burn a disc image, the command line doesn’t give any indication that it is doing anything while completing the process. You will find no status bar, no percentage, nothing. Instead, after executing the command and pressing Enter, you will be left with a blank line. Do not do anything. After a short time (about two minutes), the process will be completed, and you will see a written recap of what just happened.
In this example, it looks like this:
706+0 records in
706+0 records out
740294656 bytes transferred in 64.063971 secs (11555554 bytes/sec)
This information provides general transfer data, as well as the time it took to burn the disc image on your pen drive. Make sure that the number next to “records in” is the same as the number next to “records out.”
Now all you have to do is exit the command line by pressing the upper left corner x. Voilà!
Part Two – Burn the Windows 10 disc image
Either set up a virtual machine for your Linux distribution (LINK ARTICLE) or restart your Mac. Make sure that you have inserted the live Linux USB drive beforehand.
Quickly access the Startup Manager window by pressing and holding the Option (or Alt) ⌥ key on your keyboard during startup. Release it only when you see the Startup Manager window appear. Choose the appropriate disk; in this case, “External Drive.” Boot Camp is for an OS installation made within your hard drive, and External Drive is for a bootable USB stick.
Depending on the Linux version you chose, you will most probably face one of the following options:
- You will see a menu appear, which will indicate the different actions you can do; one of them will be to boot the live version of the OS. Select this option, then press Enter. If you don’t select anything, some Linux distros automatically boot into the live OS after a couple of seconds.
- You will directly boot into the live version. The operating systems that do this provide the possibility of doing a full install via an icon available on the live version desktop.
NOTE: The live version of a Linux distribution “resets” every time you shut down the computer. Make sure that you do all the following steps during a single login session! Otherwise, your Windows ISO file and the UNetbootin software will disappear next time you log in, and you will have to start all over again.
Now that you are using Linux, you can burn the Windows 10 disk image on a USB key.
You will need:
- A pen drive for your Windows 10 disk image (plan at least 5GB)
- Access to the terminal and your Linux distribution’s software manager
To burn the Windows ISO file from Linux, follow these steps:
Download the latest Windows 10 disk image from the official software download page (https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10ISO).
If your current Linux OS doesn’t come with Gparted, you will have to install it from the software manager (aka App Center, Software Center). Each Linux distribution has its particular software management application, which you can find either by clicking an icon in the taskbar or by looking for it within the main menu. If you cannot find it, use the search tool to find “software manager.”
Now that you have installed Gparted, we will download UNetbootin. This application is free and makes burning a Windows 10 ISO file on USB a straightforward task. UNetbootin also has the advantage of being compatible with all Linux distributions. As a side note, those who would prefer to burn a Windows disk image on Linux using the command line and GParted can find a tutorial HERE.
If you use a Ubuntu-based distribution (such as Linux Mint, Lubuntu, or Linux Lite), execute the commands below. Otherwise, you can find instructions for other Linux distributions HERE.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gezakovacs/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unetbootin
If you get an error message saying that the app “extlinux” is missing, fetch it from the terminal before continuing. The UNetbootin software will still open nonetheless even if the app is missing, but make sure to install “extlinux” before proceeding.
As UNetbootin doesn’t come with pre-made configurations for the booting sequence specific to Windows, we will have to do a little workaround.
Because you have two flash drives connected, you might wonder which disk is the one linked to the pen drive you want to use for Windows. Open the terminal and type the following:
This command will show a list of all the disks found on your machine, including the pen drives. You can then easily associate each name with its disk by looking at the size and partitioning of each one. As a general rule, USB drives use the “sdb” name, as “sda” is for the internal drive. Depending on the number of hard drives you have and their particular type, your flash drives might fall down the list to “sdc” or even lower.
To unmount your disk, enter the following in the terminal:
$ umount /dev/sd<?>
Where <?> is the letter linked to your USB drive (it is usually “b”)
Open GParted. We will format the pen drive using FAT32.
Gparted will ask you if you are “sure you want to apply the pending operations.” Click “Apply.”
Once the formatting completed, WITHOUT EXITING GPARTED, open UNetbootin. I repeat, do NOT close the GParted app.
Click on “Diskimage” to select it, then choose your ISO file by clicking on the “…” icon. Make sure that you selected the drive of the USB you just formatted.
DO NOT PRESS OK, instead, while still having UNetbootin opened, switch to GParted. Make sure to KEEP UNETBOOTIN OPENED. Do NOT exit the program.
In GParted, format the same pen drive using NTFS.
Once the formatting completed, while still in GParted click on “Partition,” then on “Manage Flags” and make sure that “Boot” is selected.
Close the Flag window, then exit GParted.
Enter the terminal, then mount your pen drive by typing the following:
sudo mount /dev/<YOURUSB> /mnt
Where <YOURUSB> is your USB key identifier as indicated in GParted when you formatted the pen drive.
Go back to UNetbootin (which was left opened), and now click “OK” without touching anything else.
Voilà! When the process is completed you can exit UNetbootin.
Congratulations! You now have a bootable Windows 10 USB drive compatible with all Windows, macOS and Linux computers.