While the Windows 8 Release Preview offers an excellent and advisable electronic software distribution (ESD) mechanism that lets you install the product in various ways directly from the web, and do so in a surprisingly efficient manner, your needs may be different. Fortunately, Microsoft also lets you create more traditional install media, using either DVD or a USB device. Here’s how you can do so.

There are two basic methods: The ESD offering, surprisingly, offers a built-in method for creating DVD- or USB-based Setup media, and you may find that this is in fact the quickest way. But you can also manually download the Windows 8 Release Preview ISO and use that to create DVD- or USB-based Setup media.

One other concern: The ESD method will make assumptions based on your PC and the current Windows version. So if you want to manually choose between the 32-bit and 64-bit Setup versions (and thus the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 8 Release Preview) be sure to go with the second, ISO-based method.

Create Setup Media with ESD

To create Setup media using Microsoft electronic software distribution system mechanism, navigate to preview.windows.com, click the Get It Now button, and then click Download Windows 8 Release Preview. If you’re using Internet Explorer, you’ll be prompted to Run or Save the resulting executable. (Other browsers may need to download the file first.) Choose Run and Windows Setup loads. In the first phase of this wizard, you’ll see the Upgrade Assistant, whose results may or may not be of interest since you’ll be creating Setup media anyway.

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Setup will obtain a product key and then begin downloading the rest of the Setup files. Obviously, the time required by this process will vary according to your connection speed.

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When the download is complete, Setup will ask whether you’d like to install now, install by creating media, or install later from your desktop.

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Choose Install by creating media. In the next step, you can choose between USB and ISO.

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The USB option will create a bootable USB device that includes the Setup files. But the ISO option will save an ISO file to your hard disk. You can then right-click it and choose Burn disc image from the pop-up menu that appears. This will launch Windows’ built-in Disc Image Burner application, which will burn the ISO file to disc.

Create Setup Media with an ISO

To create Setup media using an ISO, you’ll need to first manually download the ISO. So navigate to preview.windows.com, click the Get It Now button, and then look for the ISO format link below the far more prominent Download Windows 8 Release Preview button. (It is part of a tiny sentence that reads, “If you would prefer not to use Windows 8 Release Preview Setup, you can download Windows 8 Release Preview in ISO format instead.”)

Pick the ISO image that you want from the list and download it to your PC’s hard drive. Microsoft offers both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the Windows 8 Release Preview, and my general advice is to use the 64-bit version for physical PCs and the 32-bit version for virtual machines (since it has lower system requirements and offers much better performance virtually).

Once the ISO download is complete, make sure you can locate it on your hard drive. Unless you chose Save As (in IE), it will most likely be found in the Downloads folder, which is at C:\Users\[your user name]\Downloads in Windows 7 and Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

To burn the ISO to a DVD disc, right-click it and choose Burn disc image from the pop-up menu that appears. This will launch Windows’ built-in Disc Image Burner application, which will make short work of this process.

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To copy the Setup files to a bootable USB device, you will need Microsoft’s USB/DVD Download Tool. This simple utility will walk you through the process of turning a USB memory stick or hard drive (with 4 GB or more storage) into a bootable Setup device.

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Final Thoughts

Whichever method you choose, you should be able to successfully create Windows 8 Setup media that you can later use to perform clean installs, upgrades, or migrations on any of your PCs. Have fun!