Microsoft Operating System Software Windows

How to Install Windows

Installing an operating system is a complex endeavor, and requires a fair amount of computer expertise in order to accomplish. This guide is written with the goal of making this process as easy as possible, but it is important to understand that it is still a generalized guide. Installing an operating system can have drastically different results depending on the exact hardware installed in your computer. This guide should work for the majority of computer setups, but may require some troubleshooting and tweaking in certain circumstances.

NOTE: This guide explains how to perform a clean install of your chosen version of Windows. This means that during the installation process your will lose all of your installed programs and files. Make sure to backup any important data before following this guide.

There are three basic steps involved in installing a new operating system:

  1. Obtaining the operating system’s disk image file and activation key
  2. Using the image file to create a bootable disk or USB
  3. Installing and activating your new operating system

How to obtain a Windows image file and activation key:

As a member of UMass Amherst community, you have access to free Windows operating systems for use on a personally owned computer. Each eligible member, staff/faculty/student, is entitled to one free copy of each version of Windows available on the UMass Amherst’s Microsoft Dreamspark online store.

In order download your copy of Windows, click on the above link and then log in with your NetID and password. Successfully logging in should take you to the Dreamspark store. From here, click on “Operating Systems” on the categories menu on the right side of the store, and click your desired operating system.

This will take you to a screen that shows the various versions of your selected operating system. If you are installing:

  • Windows 7: Click on the “Microsoft Windows 7 Professional with Service Pack 1 32/64-bit (English) – DreamSpark” link and then press the “Add To Cart” button.
  • Windows 8.1: Click on the “Microsoft Windows 8.1 Professional 32/64-bit (English) – DreamSpark” link and then press the “Add To Cart” button.

Next, click on the “Shopping Cart” link in the top right of the store and then click the “Check Out” button. Next, read the Dreamspark EULA and click “I Accept”. Press the “Continue” button on the next screen. Then verify that your name is correct and that you have entered your UMass email address (your receipt will be emailed here) and click the “Proceed With Order” button.

This will take you to your order receipt. Locate your product key (written in red) on this page, and write it down somewhere safe (if you ever lose this you can find it again by visiting the “Your Account” link in Dreamspark). Once your product key is copied, click the “Start Download” button.

This should bring up a new window containing download instructions.

In order to download your operating system’s image file, you will need to first download and install the Secure Download Manager (SDM) application (steps 1 and 2) and then download a small .SDX file (step 3). Next, locate the .SDX file you downloaded in step 3 and open it. This will open the SDM application:

Secure Download Manager

The next step is to determine whether you need the 32-bit or 64-bit version of your chosen operating system. The general guideline is to install 64-bit if your computer contains 4 GB of RAM or more. To determine how much RAM is in your computer, press the start button, right click computer and then select properties.

Next, press the “Start Download” button next to the version you choose. Your operating system will now download as a .ISO disk image file to the file path that is listed next to “Download Location:”.

Using an image file to create a bootable disk

In order to install an operating system it is necessary to put the installation files onto a drive and then format it as a bootable disk, that is a volume that your computer can boot from instead of loading whatever operating system is currently installed. This is commonly done with either a DVD or a 4 GB or larger USB drive.

Create a bootable DVD

If you have some blank DVD’s and a DVD burner then it is possible to burn the .ISO file directly onto the disc. If you are on Windows 7 or higher or using Mac OSX this process is even easier as they both come with a built in disc burner.

On Windows 7+

First, place your blank, writable DVD in your disc burner and then. Next, open the folder that was downloaded using Secure Downloads Manager, open it, right click the .ISO file inside and select Burn disc image as seen below:


This should open a small Windows Disc Image Burner application. Simply select your computer’s DVD Burner drive as the Disc burner (can be checked in Start > My Computer) and then check the Verify disc after burning option.


When you are ready, click Burn.

On Mac OSX

In order to burn your disc on a Mac:

Place a blank DVD in your DVD drive, and then open Disk Utility. Next, navigate to the .ISO file (located inside the folder that Secure Download Manager downloaded) in the sidebar, right click it and then select “Burn”

If you are using an OS without a DVD burner:

Create a bootable USB

If you have a USB drive that is 4GB or larger, you can format it as a bootable disk and then install windows on it. The easiest way to do this is to download a small, open source application called UNetbootin which will format your drive and then extract and install your .ISO operating system file and install it on your drive.

In order to use UNetbootin, first download it, by clicking this link, and then clicking the download button at the top of the page that corresponds to your current operating system.

Next, open or run the .exe file that you just downloaded which will open the UNetbootin application.


In order to install the Windows .ISO on your drive, select Diskimage on the bottom right, and then press the “…” button in order to select the Windows file you just downloaded (Secure Download Manager downloads a folder corresponding to the version of Windows you selected, and the .ISO file should be inside this folder). Next, select USB Drive from the type drop down menu, and select the correct drive letter of your USB Drive (Your USB Drive letter can be found in Start > My Computer). When you are finished configuring UNetbootin, it should look similar to the above picture (File name and drive letter may be different). When you are ready, click OK, and UNetbootin will install Windows onto your drive for you!

Using your bootable device to install windows

As was stated at the beginning this guide is meant to explain how to perform a clean operating system installation. This means that all your personal files, applications and settings will be deleted when you proceed with the next step.

If you have any particular files that you would like to save, now would be your last chance to back them up to an external device.

Note: Of all the steps in this guide, this is the step that is most dependent on the precise computer that you are installing to. If you start to see results that differ from what is described here, then that does not necessarily mean that you did anything wrong. If you get confused, try Googling your computer model (Dell Inspiron, Lenovo Thinkpad, Apple Macbook Pro…) and ‘boot to an external device’.

The first step of installing windows is to either plug in your bootable USB or to put your bootable DVD into your disc drive. You can do this while the computer is on, but do not open or run any files on the bootable device.

Next, make sure you have backed up every file that you don’t want to be deleted, and turn off your computer (with the bootable disc inside or your drive plugged in).

The next step is to boot your computer into your bootable device. This can only be done during the splash screen you see when you first turn your computer on:


For every computer there is some key on your keyboard that will take you to the boot menu, where you can select to boot from your installation device instead of your hard drive. In the above picture (and for most Windows machines) this key is F12. Typically manufacturers will print (as seen above) which key you need to press in order to enter the boot menu, but this is not always the case, even if it is not printed, there is some key that will work.

On Windows, F12 is most common, if this doesn’t work, try Esc or F8.

On Macintosh, the Option key should always take you to the boot menu.

If you end up booting into your original operating system it means that either you did not press the key fast enough, or you pressed the wrong key.

If you cannot identify which key launches your machines boot menu, then try Googling ‘boot menu’ and your specific computer model.

Some machines have the boot menu disabled by default, in this case, you will have to visit the Bios and either enable the boot menu or set your USB/DVD drive to boot before your Internal HDD.

Boot Menu

Your boot menu should look similar to the one seen above. From here simply use the arrow keys to select either USB Storage Device or CD/DVD Drive depending on whether you used USB or DVD as your installation device.

If everything worked correctly, then you should see a Windows start up screen corresponding to the version of Windows that you are installing. Next you should see a window asking for which language and keyboard type you want to install. Follow the on screen prompts until you reach a screen asking what installation type you would like:

Note: For Windows 8 installations you will be asked to enter your product key before this screen. If you did not write it down, then load the Dreamspark webstore on another computer or a smart phone and look in ‘Your Account’.

Installation Type

When you see the above screen you should select ‘Custom: Install Windows only (advanced)’ this will install a clean copy of Windows.

Next you will see a screen displaying your current internal drives and partitions:

Windows Installation Partition Tool


If you click the ‘Drive Options (Advanced)’ link it will display all of the options that you see above. Unless you manually created some of the partitions you see, and would like to keep them, you should delete each partitions you see in the list. Most operating systems will create a Recovery partition (as seen above) which should be deleted since when Windows installs itself, it will create a new recovery partition. Once each partition is deleted, you should see only one entry:

Disk 0: Unallocated Space


At this point, you are ready to click ‘Next’ which will launch Windows installation. This process involves unpacking and installing the Windows system files on your machine. It is completely automatic and will take around 30 minutes.

Once Windows is finished installing, it will launch Windows first use configuration which will walk you through creating a user account and choosing your Windows color and theme. If you made it this far, then you have succeeded at installing Windows!

As a member of the UMass Amherst community, you have access to a variety of free and discounted software. Visit the OIT website for more information!