Installing Windows 7 off a USB drive on an HP Mini 2140

So the time came to move my netbook’s operating system to Windows 7, easily Microsoft’s finest release on every count including speed, reliability, usability and security.

Being technically inclined, and having installed various versions of Windows (back to tardy Windows 3.1) on machines of all shapes and sizes, I wasn’t expecting much drama. However, it took several missteps and two days of trial and error to conquer this one. If you own an HP Mini 2140 and want to install Windows 7 via a USB key, save yourself time and anguish, and refer to my guide below.

Note: You may wish to consult your local IT superstar if things get too techie for you. Alternatively, leave a comment to this post if you’re really stuck. I’ve tried to keep things as low-tech as possible given writing time constraints.

The Objective

Install Windows 7 on an HP Mini 2140 netbook using a USB key/pen drive/hard drive/other.

Several websites insist it is easy to install Windows 7 using a USB key, which is necessary since most netbooks do not have an inbuilt CD/DVD drive (the media of choice for consumer Windows installations). I consulted several of these sites, but they didn’t have specific instructions for the HP Mini 2140, which flatly refused to comply with any notions of simplicity. So…

The Problem

The HP Mini 2140 ignores the attempt to boot using the USB key, and makes it impossible to change the boot order after the first attempt.

The Solution (Short)

  • Ensure the boot order of the “USB Hard Drive” is set to “Second”, NOT “First”.
  • The size of the USB key should be set to 3072 MB. More information below.

The Solution (Long)

There are different steps to be taken depending on which operating system you have installed. This solution works when preparing/installing from a Windows 7 beta or ‘release candidate’ version. It should also work from Windows Vista, though I have not tested it.

Special care needs to be taken when preparing to upgrade from Windows XP or older operating systems, so check out this guide before continuing (skip the USB key preparation section below and replace it with the instructions from the site mentioned).

i. Prepare the USB key

Check out and follow all steps in this great tutorial at Into Windows. If you want to be ultra-cautious (and follow exactly what I did to achieve a successful installation), change the following:

CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY –> CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY SIZE=3072

I got the above partition size tip from from the AbstractCode website – thanks! It is possible that you will have installation success without making the above change to the partition size. However, since I did not have time to test it myself, I won’t assume that it works. If any of you try it, let me know it goes.

By this stage, you should have a ‘bootable’ USB key with all the Windows 7 installation files copied over. If not, please re-read all the instructions carefully at IntoWindows and repeat the steps in order.

ii. Double-check the contents of your USB key to make sure all the Windows 7 installation files have been copied over.

Check the total file size and number of files (highlight all folders/files, right-click, and select “Properties”) on your USB key. Check these figures against the total file size and number of files from where you copied the original Windows 7 installation files. If they match, proceed…

iii. Change the boot order of the HP Mini 2140.

  1. Restart the PC.
  2. Press the F10 key before Windows loads again. This will load your BIOS management/”Computer Setup” program. If you don’t know what the BIOS is, don’t worry. If you  really want to know, consult Google. Suffice to say, do not change anything except what is indicated below.
  3. Use your arrow keys to move to the “System Configuration” menu, and arrow down to select “Boot Options”
  4. Arrow down to the entry called “USB Hard Disk”. By default, this is set to “Fifth”. Use the left/right arrow keys to change this to “Second”. DO NOT change it to “First”. If you do so, for some reason the PC refuses to boot from the USB key, and then prevents any further change to the “USB Hard Drive” setting on future attempts (the USB Hard Drive option will thereafter say “USB Legacy Support” rather than “First”, and you will not be able to modify it. This can be undone by selecting “Restore Defaults” from the File menu, saving the settings, and restarting). After you’ve changed the order to “Second”, press F10 to accept the changes.
  5. Arrow back across to the File menu, then select “Save Changes And Exit”

That’s it. The PC will automatically restart. The sanity-saving tip was found via the NotebookReview forums.

iv. If the above instructions have been followed correctly, the Windows 7 installer will start automatically upon restart.

Let the installer do its thing. You will be prompted for various details as per the usual Windows 7 installation procedure.

v. Ensure to remove the USB key before the installer restarts the PC the first time, or else the installation procedure will go back to the start.

If you forget, and wonder why the installer’s back at the start again, don’t fear/hyperventilate. Just remove the USB key and manually restart the PC by sliding the power switch and holding it for about 10 seconds (this will force the PC to switch off). Switch it on again and the installer will resume from the correct position.

vi. Follow the rest of the on-screen instructions, and enjoy using Windows 7!

Written by

Suren Gunatillake

4 thoughts on “Installing Windows 7 off a USB drive on an HP Mini 2140

  1. Cool stuff, now if you feel inclined , put Ubuntu Linux on a 8gig SD card, and set that up as a backup/alternative system for usage comparison/testing.

    Or just install VMware and use that if you have >2gig ram. 🙂

  2. This was helpful. I found that i needed to format the USB partition to fat32. I had read elsewhere to use NTFS; which caused the machine to lock and not get past the F10 – Setup dialog.

    That’s on an HP 2140.

  3. The information about the boot from USB getting disabled by setting the priority of “USB Hard Disk” to “First” was a real gem. That’s exactly what happened to mine, and I read quite a few googled articles about the failure of an HP Mini 2140 to boot from a USB key, none of which mentioned this vital information about such a fundamental flaw in the BIOS. I am so glad I found your tip.

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