You can download Windows 11 as an ISO file, then directly install it, burn it onto a disc, or copy it to a USB drive.
Those of you interested in taking the current Insiders preview edition of Windows 11 for a test drive can easily work with the new operating system via an ISO file. Having such a file gives you the flexibility to install the OS anywhere you like—a dedicated PC, a dual-boot system, or a virtual machine. Now that Microsoft has finally released an ISO file for the Windows 11 Insiders Preview, you can download and store it so it’s readily accessible. Here’s how.
If you run into any trouble trying to install or run Windows 11, be aware that Microsoft’s system requirements have gone up. You now need a TPM chip installed in your computer to run the new operating system, which may or may not require you to dig into your PC’s BIOS to turn on.
Gaining access to the Windows 11 ISO file requires that you be part of Microsoft’s Windows Insider program, so you’ll have to register for this if you haven’t already done so. To join this program, you’ll need to use a Microsoft account. Open the Windows Insider page(Opens in a new window) and sign in with the Microsoft account you wish to use.
At the registration page, check the box to accept the terms of this agreement and click Register now. At the next page, click the Flight now button to learn more about the Insider program.
Your next step is to download the actual ISO file. Browse to the Windows Insider Preview Downloads page(Opens in a new window) and sign in with the Microsoft account you used for the Insider program. Scroll down to the Select edition section. Click the drop-down menu for Select edition.
Here, you can choose either the Windows 11 Insider Preview (Dev Channel) or the Windows 11 Insider Preview (Beta Channel). The Dev channel contains the latest features and updates for Windows 11 but may be more unstable. The Beta channel contains features and updates that have already been polished by Microsoft and is more stable.
If you plan to use Windows 11 in a test environment, want to get the latest features, and don’t mind a few bugs, the Dev channel is the way to go. Otherwise, the Beta channel may be more appropriate. (You can also download two copies of the ISO file, one for the Dev channel and another for the Beta channel if you wish to try out both in different environments.) Either way, select the channel you want and then click Confirm.
Next, select the product language and then click Confirm. Click the Download button for the build and language you chose and save the file to your PC. Once the file has downloaded, you can then work with the ISO file a few different ways.
If you plan to install Windows 11 in a virtual machine, you can use the ISO file directly. I’ve tried two free VM products with Windows 11—VMware Workstation Player(Opens in a new window) and Oracle VM VirtualBox(Opens in a new window). VMware Workstation accepted the Windows 11 Preview edition with no trouble; Oracle VM VirtualBox had some hiccups, though I was able to get it to work with some tweaking. For that reason, you’ll probably have an easier out-of-box experience using VMware Workstation Player.
When you create your virtual machine, VMware Workstation Player asks for the location and name of your installer disc image file. Browse to and select your downloaded Windows 11 ISO file. Click Next and then follow the steps to set up the VM and install Windows 11.
If you want to install Windows 11 directly onto your current PC from the ISO file, you first need to mount the file to access the setup command. Open File Explorer in Windows 10 or 8.1, right-click on the Windows 11 ISO file, and select Mount from the pop-up menu.
Sometimes a third-party program disables the built-in Mount command so it doesn’t show up in the menu. In that event, you’ll have to reset your default program to revive the command. In Windows 10, go to Settings > Apps > Default Apps and scroll to the bottom of the page. Click the Set defaults by app link. From the list of apps, click the one for Windows Disc Image Burner and click Manage.
Go back to File Explorer and right-click the ISO file again. The Mount command should now appear in the menu. Running the Mount command opens a virtual drive visible in the File Explorer sidebar, from which you can install the software. That virtual drive contains the setup.exe file.
Double-click that file to install Windows 11. When you’re done, right-click on the virtual drive and select the Eject command. That removes the virtual drive, though your ISO file remains intact. Click the current default app for .iso and change it to Windows Explorer.
Another option is to burn the ISO file onto a disc to install Windows 11 on any computer. However, the Windows 11 ISO file is more than 5GB in size, which means it won’t fit on a standard DVD. Instead, you’d have to use a double-layer or dual-layer (DL) DVD(Opens in a new window), which can store 8.5GB of data, as long as your drive supports these types of discs. Another option is to use a Blu-ray disc(Opens in a new window), if your PC is equipped with a Blu-ray drive.
Insert a blank DVD or Blu-ray disc in your PC’s disc drive. Open File Explorer and right-click on the ISO file. From the pop-up menu, select the Burn disc image command. The Windows Disc Image Burner tool pops up and should point to your DVD or Blu-ray drive. Click Burn.
Depending on your installation settings, you can then install your program from the disc automatically by placing it in the drive of a PC or by double-clicking the setup file on the disc as displayed in File Explorer.
An effective way to burn the ISO onto a disc or copy it to a USB is through a free Microsoft tool called Windows USB/DVD Download Tool. This program copies the contents of the ISO file to a disc or USB drive, which then becomes bootable. This method is useful if you wish to install Windows 11 on a clean computer or as part of a dual-boot setup. Microsoft no longer offers this utility on its website, but you can still find it at other sites, such as FileHippo(Opens in a new window) and Major Geeks(Opens in a new window).
After you download the Windows7-USB-DVD-Download-Tool-Installer.exe file, right-click on it and choose the Run as Administrator option. Once the installation is complete, launch the tool and then browse to and choose the ISO file you wish to burn or copy. Click Next, then choose either USB device or DVD.
If you opt for USB, the next screen asks you to insert the USB media. If you have more than one USB drive plugged into your PC, be sure to choose the correct one. Click Begin copying to copy the file onto the drive.
If the USB drive still contains data, it will be erased. Click Erase USB Drive to make room for the Windows files. After the files have been copied, the tool will tell you that the Bootable USB device was created successfully. You can then use your USB device to install the program.
If you choose a DVD, insert a blank dual-layer/double-layer DVD or a Blu-ray disc into your drive and click Begin burning. The tool will inform you once the DVD has been successfully burned. You can now use your bootable DVD to install the program.
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Surviving a long and varied career in publishing, advertising, and IT, Lance Whitney now wears a few different technology hats. By day, he’s a journalist, software trainer, and sometime Web developer. By night, he’s asleep. These days, he writes news stories, columns, and reviews for CNET and other technology sites and publications. He’s written two books for Wiley & Sons: Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time in 2012, and Teach Yourself VISUALLY LinkedIn in 2014. Contact Lance via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
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