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How to install your Operating System when you don't have a CD or DVD drive in your Dell Computer.

Summary: The following article has information and links on the various ways you can install, restore, reset, and reinstall your Operating System on a Dell Computer.

This article may have been automatically translated. If you have any feedback regarding its quality, please let us know using the form at the bottom of this page.

Article Content


Table of Contents:

  1. Do you need to install an Operating System on a Dell Computer?
  2. Various Hardware Methods to get an Operating System installed
  3. Various Software Operating System Recovery Methods
  4. Various Software Operating System Restore Methods

Do you need to install an Operating System on a Dell Computer?

There are several different ways and means of installing, resetting, restoring, and reinstalling a Windows operating system (OS).

More and more Desktops, Notebooks, and Netbooks are designed without space for a CD/DVD Optical Drive. Others are being purchased as basic work terminals without them. Many come without any kind of installation media for the installed OS.

They do however all come with various ports that allow for expansion beyond your system chassis.

Some systems also come with built-in recovery partitions or factory installed images.

The following guides show the most common types of equipment and software methods that are used to work around these issues. It will be helpful when installing an operating system (OS) on a computer.

You can identify the piece of equipment you need to continue. You can find more specific information about how to restore your version of the OS on our Windows Support page.

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Various Hardware Methods to get an Operating System installed


(Fig.2.1 External Hard Disk Drive Caddy)

An external Caddy is a Hard Drive enclosure that attaches to a system with a USB or Firewire cable. Some are enclosures used for external storage and some are desk docks for temporary use. Most internal IT departments use them to access faulty Hard Drives and sometimes to install a Hard Drive using a different computer.

Note: They have the caddy plugged into a working system and remove your Hard Drive. They install your drive in the Caddy and then install the OS on to your Hard Drive in the caddy using the working system.

SLN151760_en_US__31375092975985.Extended dock

(Fig.2.2 Extended Dock)

(Fig.2.3 External USB Dock) wireless dock

(Fig.2.4 External Wireless Dock)

Some external docks come with integral Optical Drives and a multitude of different ports. They can connect to your system either through a docking port connector on most Notebooks or through a USB connection. These Docks can work as attached Optical Drives or as USB hubs during an install process. slice

(Fig.2.5 External Media Slice)

Some Dell Notebooks have a media slice available for sale. The Slice is a minimal dock. It fits to the base of the d-series laptop and has a slim line Optical drive and minimal ports. Sometimes it has a secondary battery as well. It is specifically designed to fit a particular system chassis base.

SLN151760_en_US__71375093279446.external usb dvd

(Fig.2.6 External USB DVD)

You can obtain a low-cost USB powered CD/DVD drive. It is the simplest option but involves the cost of getting the drive.


(Fig.2.7 External Media Bay)

Some Dell Notebooks support external Media Bays. These are modules that attach to the computer with a double headed cable that has both a USB connector and a propriety power connector. You must have the correct connections on your system to use this bay. The bay is a standard module that takes all of Dell's media bay options, from Optical drives, through to batteries and secondary Hard Drives.

(Fig.2.8 USB Flash Drive)

Every system comes with multiple USB ports now. (From USB Type-A which is shown in the picture, to USB Type-C which is the latest connector format.) You can now purchase Install media on Bootable USB drives or download ISOs that you can load to a bootable USB. There are also several methods possible to make an ordinary USB drive bootable and then to load install media to it. You would use it in place of a CD or DVD. There are a number of different methods for this, but the most common is called slipstreaming.

Note: The minimum size of USB drive that you need will depend on the version of the OS you want to install.
Note: As with any USB device, if used with a Windows Operating System (from XP through to 10) the device will not require any setup. A USB device is a Plug and Play device. If being used outside of windows, then it can be used through the F12 startup menu, by selecting Boot from USB Device.


(Fig.2.9 Donor Chassis)

This last option is to use another system that has an optical drive as a donor. This means installing your Hard Drive into the donor system and performing the install on that machine. Once that is complete, transfer your Hard Drive back into your own machine to complete installing the drivers and software.

I hope this has given you some idea's on how to work around any systems limitations. If not, contact your Technical Support for further help.

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Various Software Operating System Recovery Methods

How to make Recovery media in Dell Backup and Recovery

Duration: 01:46
Closed captions: Available in multiple languages. Use the CC icon to change the closed caption language.

How to create a Windows 10 installation Disc

Duration: 02:18
Closed captions: Available in multiple languages. Use the CC icon to change the closed caption language.

How to create a Windows 10 installation USB Key Drive

Duration: 03:05
Closed captions: Available in multiple languages. Use the CC icon to change the closed caption language.

The following article describes How to Create Backup discs of your Microsoft Windows Operating System installation, and where to find Media Recovery information:

Download the Windows recovery image file. Follow the instructions in the following guide to create a bootable USB drive or DVD. Copy the recovery image onto your bootable media. Use the media to reinstall Windows on your Dell device:

Warning: These advanced steps are intended primarily for system administrators. Or for those who are familiar with command line and/or comfortable following technical tutorials.

SLN151760_en_US__141375092902347.Dell backup and recovery manager

(Fig.3.1 DBAR)

This software was free, and it let you create both a restore image and recovery media as well as backup your data in case of any issues with your system. We recommended running this once you confirmed that you had the machine fully set up and working as you liked it, but before you added all of your data and software. Dell no longer supplies or distributes this application. Windows 10 made it unnecessary:

Note: The more on the machine, the larger the recovery files and the more storage you would need.

SLN151760_en_US__161375092758569.nortonghostSLN151760_en_US__171375092776522.backup and recovery 2SLN151760_en_US__181375092802162.disk image

(Fig.3.2 Third-Party Backup Media)

Most companies have their own approved version of each operating system and the software they tested for your System type. This is sometimes done as a DVD such as a Ghost Disc from Norton. It is most often installed from an image server or central storage. It is used on your system when its connected to your company network through a PXE NIC (Network Adapter) boot. It boots before the OS loads. I would advise having a word with your Internal IT department to see if this is an option you can take advantage of.

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Various Software Operating System Restore Methods

Perform a Reset in Windows 10

Duration: 01:36
Closed captions: Available in multiple languages. Use the CC icon to change the closed caption language.

Reinstall or Restore Windows 8

Duration: 01:48
Closed captions: Available in multiple languages. Use the CC icon to change the closed caption language.

How to Reinstall Windows 7 without losing your Data

Duration: 01:46
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The following article provides links to basic solutions.

SLN151760_en_US__191375092863238.factory image

(Fig.4.1 Factory Image)

Most systems shipped without an optical drive now have a factory image built into them. If it's included on your computer, I'd recommend this. It returns the system to the state it shipped from Dell with the least amount of work required:

System Restore is a built-in Windows tool that is designed to protect and repair the operating system. When something goes wrong with your computer, System Restore should be used before restoring to factory condition:

This article provides a step-by-step guide for refreshing or resetting Windows 10 on a Dell computer. It includes how to refresh the operating system to the Dell factory image. Which is located on the recovery partition:

Dell Backup and Recovery allows you to restore your computer to its original configuration. You can view information about this service on the Dell Back-up and Recovery site. You can also make a backup of your computer system. You can use that backup to restore your operating system to that point or to recover your personal date including photos, videos, documents, and music:

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Additional Information

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Article Properties

Affected Product

Chromebox, Chromebook, Inspiron, Latitude, Vostro, XPS, Legacy Laptop Models, Thin Clients, Fixed Workstations

Last Published Date

30 Jan 2024



Article Type

How To