Win32 Disk Imager is an open-source bootable USB maker software made exclusively for Windows 7, both 32 and 64-bit versions, and above. It was released in April 2009 and its latest update, according to its SourceForge directory, was in June 2018. It was awarded Project of the Month in March 2014.
It has a quite interesting and wholesome back story: it’s kind of a family business, developed by a tag team of a father, Tobin, and a son, Justin, with contributions and support from another developer, Jeff aka skydvr68. Its original purpose was to enable users to install Ubuntu Jaunty 9.04, which at the time only came on CDs, onto Netbooks, which didn’t have a CD reader, by writing the image of the Ubuntu OS onto a USB or SD card.
However, as soon as Ubuntu changed the type of the ISO image, this original purpose was lost and the project was almost abandoned until the authors decided to give it some other, more generic, and versatile functions that could serve any everyday user. Interestingly, they refused the offer of Ubuntu to take over the project and make it an Ubuntu-exclusive, because they wanted to keep the flexibility, and such a bold move has resulted in the project going viral at the time, appearing in multiple tech magazines as a recommended software for creating bootable USB drives. Another interesting fact is that its first release name was TruckStop, as one of the contributing developers was working on it from his 9 to 5 workplace in a truck stop.
Win32 Disk Imager is a nifty little piece of software and, while maybe not the best in its niche, it still serves its purpose very well. We’ve curated a small list of cool things it’s capable of doing, backed up with the pros and cons of each process.
While this bootable USB maker software doesn’t have exact hardware requirements specified, it’s a pretty simple and lightweight one-window program weighing only 40-ish megabytes, with the original downloadable installation .exe file being as small as 12MB. As we already mentioned above, it works on all versions of Windows, both 32 and 64-bit, from 7 to 10, with some rumors going around forums that it’s also working on Windows Server operating systems (whose purpose is operating servers, quite literally) versions ranging from 2008 to 2016, but these were never officially confirmed nor tested by the developers themselves. The only currently known issue related to hardware of any kind is that it crashes if it’s working with a RAM disk.
Writing ISO Files Onto Portable Devices
This is its main purpose – being able to write an ISO file onto a USB drive or an SD card, thus making it a bootable piece of removable memory, from which users can then boot the said operating system (it only works with Windows and some Linux-based distros, not macOS) onto their computer. This process is relatively simple, for easier reading we’ll write it down as a step-by-step list-type guide.
- Provided you already have the image of the desired OS downloaded on your PC, insert the USB drive or SD card first (very important, as it only recognizes and reads the devices that were plugged in beforehand), then start the program. Also, please note that the minimum storage size of the device can be 8GB. You can pick which removable hardware exactly you want to write on if there are multiple ones plugged in at the moment. One useful little piece of information is that you might have to right-click it and select the ‘Run as administrator’ option if you aren’t currently logged into the computer as the user that has administrator privileges.
- Select the image you want to burn. Since it only looks for .img files by default, if it’s another format, make sure to change the file type to all files. It will prompt you to format the drive before you write, but writing on it will erase all existing data in the process regardless, so it’s not necessary to perform formatting.
- Press the ‘Write’ button. It will prompt you with the last warning that all data on the drive will be deleted if you proceed. If you’re completely positive you selected the correct drive (not trying to induce paranoia here or anything, but better be safe than sorry!), then just click ‘Yes’ and watch the progress bar fill up.
This process is the same for both Windows and Ubuntu installation, it’s just the image obtaining process that slightly differs between the two. Pick the operating systems depending on your configuration and your OS preferences. If you are more of a fan of the traditional, mainstream Windows environment and are not eager to jump into the unknown, then Microsoft’s OS is your best bet. However, if you’re a fan of free, open-source, highly customizable Linux-based operating systems, Ubuntu might be a better pick.
Making A Backup Of SD Cards
There is quite a lot of software that can make bootable USBs, but not too many of them can also create backup files of SD cards from cellphones, cameras, etc. Win32 Disk Imager is a 2-in-1 utility that does both! The process is similar to the previously described one:
- Insert your SD card first, then start Win32 Disk Imager.
- By clicking on the blue folder icon, a file explorer window will open – where you select the image file you want to make the backup on, and then, next to it, you select the letter of your SD card drive.
- Instead of clicking ‘Write’, this time select the ‘Read’ option and, voila, you have successfully made a backup of your SD card onto your PC’s hard drive!
While it still might be outclassed by bigger names in its niche, such as Rufus, YUMI, Etcher &co., its rather unique ability to both write and read makes it stand out among the rest. It hasn’t been updated in a while, a little over 2 years as of the time this article was written, but there still might be hope that the developers, either the original ones or some others, as its source code is obtainable from its SourceForge directory, might revive it and polish it up a bit. Who knows, maybe this uncut gem is still waiting for its time to shine!