Making A Bootable Windows To Go USB Device with Windows 8.1

Windows To Go is a feature only in Windows 8 that enhances the mobility of Windows. Like its name says, it puts the whole Windows 8 system with data onto a single USB storage device to make it as a complete mobile operating system that you can boot it up on any of Windows-ready computers, regardless of the running operating system.

windows-to-go

In Windows 8.1, Microsoft enhances this cool feature to make it even better by enabling Windows Store access, allowing to download and install apps onto the Windows To Go drive right from the network. It truly makes Windows To Go a workable solution for mobile use.

Building a Windows To Go USB device for Windows 8.1 is also not so difficult. It’s done in the steps exactly like what we explained in Windows 8. In case you missed, let’s take look again.

Things we need

There are a few things we need to prepare before starting building Windows To Go drive.

  1. A 16GB or up USB devices, either flash drive or external hard drive. The larger storage the drive has, the better. It’s also worth mentioning that the performance on an external HD is much better than on a flash drive.
  2. A Windows 8.1 ISO image file. What we really need here is to access to a file named install.wim located in \sources folder. You can mount the 8.1 Image file in Windows 8, browse through \sources folder in Windows Explorer, and copy install.wim file to a convenient location, for example, c:\temp folder.
  3. The ImageX.exe file from Windows 7 Automated Installation Kit. For your convenient, you can download from this link directly to save your time. Just right-click the link and choose Save As… to the same folder you have saved install.wim file earlier.
  4. Last, you will need a PC that runs Windows.

That’s all we need. And let’s start building your very first Windows To Go drive.

3 Steps to go

Step 1: prepare the USB drive to make it bootable

Open Command Prompt Window in Admin (press Win+X and select Command Prompt (admin) on Windows 8), type diskpart, and press enter.

diskpart>list disk

diskpart>select disk n  (make sure replacing n with the number shown from the last step)

diskpart>clean

diskpart>create partition primary

diskpart>format fs=ntfs quick

diskpart>active

diskpart>assign

diskpart>exit

That’s it. You now have a device that’s ready to put Windows 8 image on.

Step 2: use ImageX to apply the image

In the same Command Prompt window that has the Admin rights, navigate to the location that stores both ImageX.exe and Install.wim files, and type the following command (Figure 1):

ImageX /apply install.wim 1 h:\

Assume that H: drive is the drive for the USB device.

Figure 1 - use ImageX to apply image file to USB

Figure 1 – use ImageX to apply image file to USB

This step may take at least 30 minutes to finish, depending on what kind of USB device you are using.

Step 3: apply the boot record

In the same Command Prompt window, type the following command to apply the Windows 8 boot record to the device (Figure 2):

bcdboot.exe h:\windows /s h: /f all

Again, H: drive is the drive for the USB device.

Figure 2 - apply boot record

Figure 2 – apply boot record

That’s it.

Now, reboot your computer and select Boot to USB from the boot option and complete the final setup to get your Windows To Go ready.

/header photo credit: Technodify/

  • JoeJoe

    Hello. Thankfully, I have tried this method. But, my flash drive sadly keeps getting stuck on the Windows 8.1 boot screen. When I use this method with Windows 8, it works perfectly fine. What are your thoughts on this situation?

    • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

      hmm…no idea. I’ve tried the same method on both USB flash drive and external HD, and they all work fine. Have you tried on different flash drive or external HD?

      • JoeJoe

        Yes, and I sadly got the same result. Just out of curiosity, what brand or type of system did you test the USB flash drive and external HD?

        • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

          Maybe, I am thinking give it try booting the drive on a different computer?

          • JoeJoe

            Ok. Thank you Kent for helping me figure out the situation that I’m having. The situation really is odd, but strange. Please let me know how everything went when booting the drive on a different computer. Thanks.

          • JoeJoe

            Sadly, I had the same result when booting the drive on a different computer. What brand or type of system did you test the USB flash drive and external HD? This might help us find the solution. Thanks.

      • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

        It was an old WD Passport external HD and 16GB of Patriot Memory stick. I now use that WD external HD as my mobile Win 8 machine on a few different desktops. Works pretty good, though booting time is much longer.

        • JoeJoe

          What brand were the “few different desktops”?

          • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

            HP desktop, laptop, and another ThinkPad laptop.

          • JoeJoe

            Sorry for asking a lot of questions. If I may, on which of those computers do you use in order to create a Windows To Go USB drive? Thanks.

          • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

            I did it on HP Laptop.

          • JoeJoe

            Interestingly, I used a 16gb Sandisk Cruzer Glide flash drive as my Windows to go usb drive. I also used an HP desktop running Windows 7 to make it. What operating system did you use to make yours?

          • JoeJoe

            Hello Mr. Chen. Are you there?

          • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

            I am building it on a Windows 8 computer but I do think it shouldn’t matter.

    • eightdollarbeer

      i also get stuck on the spinning wheel

  • Eugene

    I wonder why external HDD could be faster then USB flash stick, because as for the good stick it seem like the opposite.
    Uploaded CrystalDiskMark results, first 85Mb/s is Seagate GoFlex 1 Tb external HDD, second is Kingston DataTraveller Ultimate G2 32 Gb (one of a faster USB flash sticks).
    USB 3.0 of cource.

    • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

      I think you made a really good point here. While most of the flash drive are sluggish, some of the good ones do perform even better than most of the external HDs. Besides, the USB 3.0 connection is definitely a performance boost.

      • Eugene

        The best thing I’ve tested for now is SATA SSD (Plextor M5S) on USB3 to SATA Adaper (took that one from Seagate GoFlex drive). Applying image was 5 and a half minutes on USB 3.0. And Windows boots in less then a minute on USB 2.0 with it. USB 3.0 is not integrated into chipset but rather separate Etron chip on my motherboard – that’s likely the reason for Windows to go not booting from it.

  • Eugene

    Also noted, that “diskpart>format fs=ntfs quick” step fails on SiliconPower blaze B10 USB flash drive (almost new or absolutely new!). The idea of problem with some SP flash and Windows boot from it seems familiar tho.

    • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

      Wondering if you run Clean before formatting the disk. It seems to me that a clean operation is a must have to make sure that the drive comes off clean before applying the images onto it.

      • Eugene

        Yep, i did clean. Was doing all that step-by step. And the problem might be not the SP flash stick, but USB ports. Although width Linux live sticks an with Windows install flash there were no problems, with Windows to go they are. Still examiing, but at least I’ve got Windows to go booting successfully from external drive.

  • eightdollarbeer

    i followed the directions . created on a windows 7 box . you may want to note you can get the bcdedit from usbdrive:windowssystem32 copy it to c:someplace and use it . the windows 7 version does not use the “/f all” option . anyway . it starts to boot the windows 8.1 then just spins on the start up screen with the circle of floating balls. i have a 32 gig teamgroup usb 3.0 stick , and a samsung series 7 laptop . tested on both usb 2 and 3 ports . also have created working win 8 and 7 version “2go drives” on this and worked flawless somthing fishy witn 8.1?
    any ideas whats making it hang?
    thanks

    • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

      Note that Windows 7 doesn’t support Windows To Go so you can’t install Windows 7 on to USB drive using as Windows To Go drive.

      For the drive I built using this instruction, it works on most of the computers, including both desktops and laptops. However, I did encounter problem booting it up on very few desktop machines. It’s more like a hardware compatibility issue, but I guess it’s hard to troubleshoot the problem why it couldn’t, so I just moved on to pick another machine to go.

      • eightdollarbeer

        you actually you can make a win7 to go drive but that’s not the point i was installing windows 8 from a windows 7 machine . i tried the whole thing over on a usb hard drive and it did boot . but after i did the windows updates it did not boot again. shame.
        thanks for the reply .

        • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

          Well, Windows 8.1 final release is now available in Technet and MSDN, you may want to give that a try if you have access to them. I loaded it to my another Windows To Go, and it works great.

  • vaselina

    I followed your instructions and it works like a charm! imagex to my usb3 external disk less than 3 minutes. usb3 is a must!
    thank you!

  • bigbaug

    Trying this with the Win8.1 Enterprise 64-bit .wim and I get:

    C:winToGo-create>imagex /apply install.wim 1 e:

    ImageX Tool for Windows
    Copyright (C) Microsoft Corp. All rights reserved.
    Version: 6.1.7600.16385

    [ 0% ] Applying progress
    [ ERROR ] e:Program FilesWindowsAppsMicrosoft.BingFinance_2013.809.632.3676_n
    eutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwemicrosoft.system.package.metadata (Error = 5)

    Error restoring image.

    Access is denied.

    Any ideas?

    • hawk101

      I have the exact same problem :(

    • Guest

      Same Problem on SiliconPower Marvel M50.
      I try imagex.exe with Win7 x64 (also use install.wim from Win8.1 x64) and 100% without [ERROR].
      After eject flashdrive and insert it again,lots of files lost : (

  • Benjamin Hojnik

    Is there a write cache or something, that would cache small 4k writes ?
    I have usb3 stick, which has decent sequential speeds 100/50MB, but randon 4k writes are garbage (like 0.01MBs), which results in constant stuttering.

    I know there was something for win7 (flashfire i believe), but it doesnt not appper to be working on win 8.x though

  • bDIS

    Thanks for the tutorial. I have a question: Can I install Windows on my external HD and then install my graphic drivers? I’m not sure my laptop has compatible Windows 8.1 graphic drivers, so I want to install Windows on external HD and try to see if the drivers work. Is this method the right method for my needs? Thanks!

    • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

      Yes, of course. Once you boot it to your external HD, and you can manually update the graphic driver through Device Manager.

      • bDIS

        Thank you very much! I’m going to try this now. Just another (last) question- this is not “dual boot”, right? I don’t want the screen that shows me to choose OS, but just boot from the HD once I connect it (and set it in the BIOS of couse).

        • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

          Correct, it’s not a dual boot.

  • omar

    when i press F2 then boot then usbflash what should i do i press Enter and it dosent press what i should do

  • piotrekcrash

    Works with Windows 7 & 8 but on Windows 8.1 system is hang on booting.
    On screen I can see Windows logo and moving circle. I leave booting for few hours
    and always the same.

    I tested Windows 8.1 x86 x64 Pro Enterprise and Embedded on all the same.
    I’m using newest Windows ADK
    Sorry for my English

    • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

      maybe give it a try booting from another computer.

      • piotrekcrash

        I tried on 3 machines:
        HP ST5747 (Thin Client) Intel Atom N280
        Asus S46CM
        HP 6545b

        On all same result…

        • http://about.me/kentchen Kent Chen

          Did you follow the exact steps? All 3 steps are equally important. Maybe, if you have an extra USB device, try on a different one.

          • piotrekcrash

            I used ADATA USB 3.0 32GB. With Win 7 and 8 work perfect,
            but with 8.1 bootin is never ending.

            I tried also on old Kingston 16GB 2.0,
            and ADATA Class 10 SD Card

            I fallowed all steps carrefully but without effects.

          • Giacomo

            Oh no! I think that’s a problem common in Windows 8.1 which, in the first instalation, will try to download and install all the missing drivers and that takes a very long while to complete.
            Search for solutions to that problem, you might get better results! ;)

  • Spangenhelm

    Hello everyone, just wanted to let you know that you don’t have to use imageX to apply image on win8+, you can use DISM this way:

    in cmd (admin):

    dism /apply-image /imagefile:c:pathtoinstall.wim /index:1 /applydir:X:

    where “c:pathtoinstall.wim” should be poiting at your install.wim file and “X” needs to be replaced by your W2G device’s letter !
    Have fun!

    • mikelaughs

      Awesome Spangenhelm! You got me unstuck for Windows 8.1, Thank you!

      I was getting the same error that BigBaug described 4 months ago on this thread.

      [ 0% ] Applying progress
      [ ERROR ] e:Program FilesWindowsAppsMicrosoft.BingFinance_2013.809.632.3676_n
      eutral_~_8wekyb3d8bbwemicrosoft.system.package.metadata (Error = 5)

      Error restoring image.

      Access is denied.

      • Pierre Parker

        I have the same issue! I can’t seem to find the solution anywhere though.

  • Alexbeav

    Perhaps this should be updated to reflect Windows 8.1

    Win 8.1 does include an “install.wim” file, rather an “install.esd” file. This guide will only work for Windows 8, not 8.1