If you are a lifelong PC user, you might be curious about some of the alternative operating systems available (Ubuntu, Debian, Linux Mint, or any of the many lightweight Linux distributions). The great news is that you do not need to dedicate a new computer to try these operating systems; all you need is a pen drive, the disc image of your OS of choice, and this guide! Indeed, knowing how to burn an ISO file to USB on your Windows 10 computer will allow you to try out as many operating systems as you want. 

This article provides a how-to guide on how to burn ISO files to USB on Windows 10 using Rufus, an application available for free. 

Note that as each operating system has its own set of tools and compatible software, this guide is made especially for windows 10 users. If you are a macOS user, click HERE for an ITgirl.tech step-by-step guide on how to burn an ISO file on your pen drive from macOS. As for Linux users, click on the following to find how to burn an ISO file on your pen drive.

Note also that if you are a Windows 10 user but would rather use the command line to burn an ISO to USB on Windows 10, you can find a step-by-step guide here.

Before we look at the process, let’s review some basic concepts:

  1. What is an ISO file
  2. Why do I need to burn the image on a pen drive
  • What is an ISO file

In simple terms, an ISO file represents a copy of a full image from a disc that someone has transferred over to the internet. An ISO file thus replaces the need for a physical CD, as it provides us with a virtual copy of your software or operating system of choice. Most programs that previously required the purchase of a CD or DVD, such as Windows, video games, or OS tools (e.g., Microsoft Office), are now readily available online via the download (paid or free) of their equivalent ISO image. Whether you want to test an OS out through a USB live version first (LINK) or do a full install on your hard drive, you will need to get yourself a copy of this specific filetype to do so.

  • Why do I need to burn the image on a pen drive

Back in the day, operating systems were more often than not installed using either a CD, DVD, or floppy disks (remote network installations were also a thing, but mostly reserved for businesses).

Nowadays, doing an OS install is way faster; developers provide an image of the operating system directly on their website through a downloadable ISO file. In particular, the content of the disk image of Linux operating systems will vary depending on whether you want to do the installation using the internet (net install) or a USB key. Then all you need to do is format your pen drive and “burn” the ISO file on it.

If you try to bypass this step and drag and drop your ISO file on your pen drive instead of burning the ISO to USB on your Windows 10 computer, nothing will happen. That is because to work correctly, you need to create a bootable USB from an ISO image.

As for the burning of the ISO file, just like their physical CD or DVD counterparts, this filetype needs to be burned on a blank and formattable drive to get the same properties, data, and folders as the original disc image.

How to burn an ISO to USB on Windows 10 using third-party software

When it comes to dedicated disc burning software for Windows 10, Rufus is a great choice. It is a program that converts the USB into a bootable drive, using a file already on your computer as the boot source (in this case, the .ISO file you downloaded).

1. Insert a formatted USB key (link on how to do so HERE).

2. Download the ISO file that you want to burn on your pen drive; remember its location (usually the downloads folder as it is the default file directory).

A screenshot of the Linux Mint website (download page)
Here I chose to download the Linux Mint ISO file

3. Go to https://rufus.ie/, then scroll down to the download section.

A screenshot of the Rufus webpage (download section)
A screenshot of the Rufus.ie main page

4. Click on “Rufus 3.9”; Rufus will start downloading immediately.

5. Double-click on your newly downloaded Rufus app, then click “yes” when Windows asks you if you want to allow this app to make changes to your device.

6. Rufus will ask you if you’d like it to automatically check for online updates. The choice is up to you (I clicked yes).

A screenshot of the Rufus update policy window

7. Rufus will open, displaying its main (and only) menu. 

Rufus, the third-party software tool used to burn an ISO to USB on Windows 10
The main Rufus menu

8. Under Drive Properties: Device, select your device (your USB key). It will usually be located on the (D:) drive. Make sure that you are selecting the correct device. Otherwise, you will permanently erase another disc!

Rufus, the third-party software tool used to burn an ISO to USB on Windows 10

9. Under Drive Properties: Boot selection, click on SELECT and choose your ISO file. The left part under “Boot selection” will automatically adjust and display the name of your ISO file. 

Rufus, the third-party software tool used to burn an ISO to USB on Windows 10

10. Leave the Persistent partition size, Partition scheme, and Target system as-is. Note that if you plan on burning the live version of an OS, leaving some persistence – up to 4GB – can be a good idea if you intend on saving files or adjusting settings during your live session. Note also that if you want to use your burned pen drive on a PC that uses UEFI exclusively (so without legacy mode compatibility enabled), then use the GPT partition scheme.   

11. Under Format Options: Volume label, choose the name you want to give to your pen drive (note that Rufus will automatically try to infer the name of your software image, and you can leave that name as-is). 

12. Under Format Options: File system, leave FAT32 (Default). The other format available, NTFS, is a proprietary Microsoft format that is unreadable on Mac and Linux operating systems. 

13. The other options (Cluster size, Show advanced format options) should be left as-is; there is no need to tinker with them unless you are an advanced user. 

Rufus, the third-party software tool used to burn an ISO to USB on Windows 10

14. Click start, then wait. Click close when it’s done. Voilà!


NOTA – Windows 10 ISO file:

Rufus is by far the best option for those looking to burn an ISO to USB on Windows 10. The reason being that unlike other ISO files, Windows 10 requires special formatting in terms of its bootloader and install image partitions. As such, you cannot merely burn the disk image of this operating system as you would with other disk images. If you are a Linux or macOS user and would like to burn the Windows 10 disc image on your pen drive, follow this guide (Linux) or that guide (macOS).

Extra: Burning an ISO file on CD from Windows 10 (or earlier)

Even though this solution is more straightforward as it uses Windows’ integrated disc burning option rather than third-party software, I decided to add it as an addendum. Unless you own an older PC, you most probably do not have a physical disc burner, and many modern computers lack the optical disc drive necessary to read CDs. As such, unless you absolutely need to use a physical CD, I highly recommend that you burn your ISO to USB, especially on Windows 10.

  1. Download the ISO file that you want to burn on your pen drive.
  2. Insert a blank CD
  3. Once the download of your ISO file is complete, locate the disc image file, right-click on it and select “Burn disc image.”
  4. Select the disc you want to use as the host of your ISO file (this will be your optical disc drive). 
  5. It is always a good idea to review the integrity of your ISO file to make sure that it didn’t end up corrupted during the burning process. To do so, click on “Verify disc after burning”. Windows will automatically check the burned CD at the end of the process.
  6. Click on “Burn”.
  7. Once the software is done with the burning process, the window will indicate, “The disc image has been successfully burned to disc.” Click “close”.
  8. Voila! 
Owner and content creator behind ITgirl.tech. Geeky girl and blogger based in Montreal, Canada. Chocolate and nature lover (in that order). View all posts by Larryssa →

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