Many people are moving their PCs to Windows 11 by upgrading an existing install of Windows 10. However, in order to do that, you must have an activated copy of Windows 10 with its own product key on the computer in the first place. But what if you just want to throw Windows 11 onto an old or experimental PC, without having to install an activated copy of the prior operating system first? Or what if you want a fresh start without all of your old programs and settings being carried over?
What you need is a Windows 11 ISO file you can boot from and use for a clean install. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to get one. First, you can download a Windows 11 ISO directly from Microsoft, though it won't necessarily be the latest build. Second, you could use tools from a site called UUP dump to download the files from Microsoft's update servers and build a custom ISO tat's fully up-to-date.
Either way, you will use your Windows 11 ISO file to create a bootable install USB Flash drive or install the OS directly in a virtual machine. You can even get away with skipping the product key so you can run the new operating system completely for free (at least for now). This method may also allow you to install Windows 11 on PCs that don't meet the new operating system's minimum requirements (4GB of RAM, TPM, Secure Boot).
How to Get a Windows 11 ISO: 2 Methods
Before you can begin your install, you need to get a Windows 11 ISO file. If you've installed Windows 10 or even a build of Linux before, you'll know that ISO files are disk images you can use to create a bootable USB Flash drive, write to an optical disc or boot a virtual machine off of.
Downloading a Windows 11 ISO From Microsoft
The easiest way to get a Windows 11 ISO is by downloading one directly from Microsoft. There are two small catches to this method. First, you have to be logged into microsoft.com with an account that's a member of the Windows Insider program. Second, you may not be getting the most recent build of Windows 11, though if you are in the Dev channel, Windows Update should update you to it after you install.
1. Navigate to the Windows 11 ISO page. If you are not logged in to your Microsoft Account, you must do so. And, if you are not already registered as a Windows Insider, you can register for free on the web.
2. Pick an edition from the select edition pulldown, which you'll find by scrolling down the page. If you want the latest build possible, select "Dev Channel." A confirm button will appear after you make your selection.
3. Click Confirm.
4. Select your language and click confirm.
5. Click the download button that appears.
The ISO file will now download to your computer.
Creating a Windows 11 ISO with UUP Dump
In the early days of Windows 11 testing, Microsoft did not provide an official way to get an ISO file for its new OS. So the only way you could get one was to use a site called uupdump.net, which gives you a script you can use to download the necessary files from Microsoft and turn them into a Windows 11 ISO.
Today, this method isn't really necessary, but it does allow you to create the ISO using the very latest build, instead of downloading an older build from Microsoft and having to update it using Windows Update. To use UUP Dump:
1. Navigate to uupdump.net.
2. Click the x64 button next "Latest Dev Channel build." The arm64 version is for non-x86 computers and can be used to install Windows 11 on a Raspberry Pi.
3. Select the latest build. In our tests, there was only one choice on this screen.
4. Click Next.
5. Select the Windows edition you want. and click Next. We chose Windows Home for our Windows 11 ISO.
6. Select "Download and convert to ISO" and check "Include updates" and then click "Create download package." A small zip file will download to your PC. This is not the Windows 11 ISO, but it will be used to download it.
7. Unzip the file and place its contents in a dedicated folder.
8. Double-click uup_download_windows.cmd in the folder with the downloaded files.
9. Click "Run Anyway," if Windows 10 warns you that this is an unrecognized app.
A command prompt window will open, running a batch file that downloads all the necessary files from Microsoft and creates the Windows 11 ISO file for you. This process will take several minutes or perhaps longer, depending on your Internet connection.
10. Press 0 to exit when the script finishes downloading the Windows 11 ISO.
A Windows 11 ISO file will appear in the folder where you placed uup_download_windows.cmd.
Making a Bootable Windows 11 Install Disk
Unless you're just installing Windows 11 onto a virtual machine, in which case you can skip to step 19, you will need to create a bootable Windows 11 install disk from the data in your Windows 11 ISO file. For that, you'll need an empty USB Flash drive that's at least 8GB.
One thing that makes this process tricky is that, if you use a popular Flash drive "burning" program such as Rufus, it will create an NTFS-formatted boot drive, because the main installation file is more than 4GB and therefore cannot live on a FAT32 partition. The problem with an NTFS drive is that you'd have to disable Secure Boot (in your BIOS) in order to boot from it and Windows 11 requires Secure Boot so the installer may tell you that you're not meeting the requirements.
To solve this problem and create a USB Flash drive that can both hold your files and boot on a Secure Boot-enabled PC, follow these steps.
11. Connect your USB Flash drive. Please note that you will be erasing all the data on it.
12. Open the Disk Management app. You can find it by searching for "partitions" and clicking the top result.
13. Delete all partitions on your USB drive by right clicking on each and selecting "Delete Volume.
14. Create a new, 1GB partition and format it as FAT32. You initiate this process by right clicking on the unallocated space and selecting New Simple Volume. You can name it anything you want. This will be the partition that contains the files you need for booting.
15. Create a second partition and format it as NTFS. It should take all the remaining disk space.
16. Mount the ISO file by right clicking it and selecting Mount. This will allow you to browse the Windows 11 ISO as if it were a physical disk and copy files from it.
17. Copy all the files and folders, except the "sources" folder, from the Windows 11 ISO to the FAT32 partition on the USB drive.
18. Create an empty folder called "sources" on the USB drive's FAT32 partition and copy only the boot.wim file into it from the original "sources" folder on the Windows 11 ISO.
19. Copy all the files and folders from the Windows 11 ISO, including those you copied before, onto the NTFS partition of the USB drive.
You should now have a USB Flash drive that can boot on a computer that has Secure Boot enabled.
Installing Windows 11 on the Target PC
20. Boot your target PC off of the USB installation drive. You may need to hit a key or re-arrange the boot order to boot from USB.
21. Select your language (if it's not already selected) and click Next.
22. Enter a valid product key or click "I don't have a product key." Then click Next.
23. Accept the license agreement and click Next.
24. Select Custom Install.
25. Choose the installation drive and click Next.
The installer will copy some files and may reboot at this point.
26. Select your country or region (if it's not selected) and click Yes. Also, select your keyboard layout when prompted.
27. Name your PC and click Next.
28. Sign in with your Microsoft account.
29. Create a PIN for quick logins.
30. Click "Set up as new device" (or you can restore a previous config).
31. Enable or disable privacy settings and click Next.
32. Select your interests to help customize Windows 11's recommendations or, better yet, click Skip.
33. Set up OneDrive or select Only store files on this device.
Windows will now take a few minutes to complete the install process.
When it's done, you should see the Windows 11 desktop. Now you can play around with Windows 11 or tweak some settings. For example, you can make Windows 11 look like Windows 10, move the Windows 11 taskbar to the top or get back the old Windows 10 File Explorer in Windows 11.