Create a Portable Windows System on a USB Drive with Windows To Go

Five years ago, after much anticipation, Windows 8 was released. Reactions were mixed on the drastically overhauled look and feel of Windows. Regardless of your personal opinions, everyone can agree that the new OS dominated Microsoft-related talk for years to come. Windows 8 stole so much of the spotlight, that other features cooked up during that time were pushed to the wayside. One of those developments was something called Windows to Go (WTG).

Windows To Go allows you to install a fully-functional Windows 10/8.1/8 operating system onto an external hard drive or a USB flash drive. This makes your USB a portable Windows environment, similar to a Linux distro that is designed to run from a USB. With Windows To Go you can carry the live Windows system anywhere and use it on any computer.

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This feature is targeted primarily towards enterprise customers with the idea that the corporate environment could be taken anywhere. WTG provides a secured environment complete with software when an employee is working remotely or from a shared computer. Since Windows To Go was developed with this very specific use in mind, Microsoft doesn’t officially support using non-enterprise versions of Windows in a WTG environment. That being said, just because something isn’t supported doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

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There are various ways to install Windows To Go using any version of Windows 8.x and 10 and any bootable USB device. Just be aware that there are reported restrictions with these non-official builds. Some of these restrictions include the unavailability of Bitlocker protection, no access to the Windows Store, and the inability to boot on both BIOS and UEFI machines.

Windows to Go is designed to operate just like any other version of Windows. That being said, Microsoft has disabled a number of features including:

  • Internal disks are offline to ensure data isn’t accidentally disclosed.
  • Trusted Platform Module (TPM) is not used. This is because TPM is tied to a specific computer, and Windows To Go drives are designed to move between computers.
  • Hibernate is disabled by default to make it easier to move between computers.
  • Windows Recovery Environment is not available. If you need to recover your Windows to Go drive, Microsoft suggests you re-image it with a fresh image of Windows.
  • Refreshing or resetting a Windows to Go workspace is not supported. Resetting to the manufacturer’s settings for a computer doesn’t apply when running WTG.
  • Upgrading a Windows to Go workspace is not supported. Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 WTG drives cannot be upgraded to Windows 10, nor can Windows 10 WTG drives be upgraded to future versions of Windows 10. Consequently, for new versions, the drive needs to be re-imaged.

Furthermore, Windows to Go drives can be booted on multiple computers. So when a WTG drive is first booted, it will detect all hardware on the host computer. It will then install any needed drivers which may require multiple reboots. Subsequently, when the Windows to Go USB is booted on that host computer, it will be able to identify that PC and load the correct drivers automatically.

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Generally speaking, Windows to Go will work on hardware that has been certified for use with Windows 7 or later. If you want to make sure before you start, here’s what you want to consider before running Windows to Go on a PC.

  • Must be capable of booting from a USB.
  • Minimum 1 GHz processor.
  • Minimum 2 GB of RAM.
  • Ensure that the Windows Image Architecture is compatible with the processor. This means you won’t be able to run a 64-bit version of Windows to Go on a 32-bit processor.
  • Windows to Go from a computer running Windows RT is not supported.
  • Windows To Go on a Mac is not supported.

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In theory, any USB 2.0 or 3.0 drive with 16GB of storage space will work with Windows to Go. That being said, users will want to stick with USB 3.0 drives to ensure speedy performance. In addition, you will want to spring for at least 32GB, as it will give you room for file storage. Lastly, avoid cheap USB drives due to the high number of read/write cycles during normal Windows operation. Microsoft has identified some USB drives that are WTG “certified” in case you were curious.

There are a number of different ways to configure a Windows to Go environment. We will take a look at some of the methods that have been reported to work. Ready to get started? Grab your USB, your computer and a Windows 8.x or 10 disc image. For those looking to build a Windows to Go environment with an enterprise edition of Windows, you can follow the official instructions from Microsoft.

Alternatively, you can use one of the tools mentioned below.

AOMEI Partition Assistant – this free disk management utility also includes a tool called “Windows to Go Creator.” It is compatible with Windows 8.x – 10. Just follow the prompts, and you’ll be ready to roll.

aomei-windows-to-go

WinToUSB – another free utility that features a simple GUI. WinToUSB can create a Windows to Go environment from any Windows 8.x – 10 iso. In addition, WinToUSB can clone your computer’s existing Windows installation for the WTG drive.

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Rufus (v. 2.0 and above) –  can create a Windows to Go drive from any edition of Windows 10. Preparing a Windows to Go drive with Rufus is almost exactly the same as creating a bootable USB. Just remember that you need to select the “Windows to Go” option instead of the default “Bootable USB.”

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Do you run Windows to Go? How did you image your Windows to Go USB drive? Did you use any of the utilities mentioned above? Let us know in the comments!

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