Windows 8 How-To: Create and Use A Windows To Go USB Device

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Windows To Go is a new feature in Windows 8 that puts the entire operating system with user data onto a USB storage device such as USB key or USB powered external hard drive. When users insert that device into any Windows 7 or Windows 8 machine and restart the PC, they get their entire personal environment and operate as a fully managed device. When they sign out and shut off, they can remove the USB device, and use it on another PC.

Building a Windows To Go USB device is also not so difficult. Here are the steps that you can follow to build your very own one that can go with you.

Things we need

1. 16G and up USB storage device. It could be an USB key or an external hard drive. The larger the drive has, the better. Also, it works better with an external hard drive than an USB key.

2. A Windows 8 PC to build the USB Drive.

3. Windows 8 dis image ISO file. What we really need is just a file named install.wim from \sources folder.

Mount the Windows 8 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.

4. The ImageX.exe file from Windows 7 Automated Installation Kit. You will need to download the installation kit and install it on your Windows 7 or 8 computer before you can extract it.

That’s all we need.

3 Steps to create the Windows To Go USB drive

Step 1: Prepare the USB drive.

The bottom line here is to prepare a USB drive formatted in NTFS as Active, Primary Partition.

So if you have one that’s already active and primary, the easiest way is to use Format option from Windows Explorer. Right click the USB drive letter, and choose Format.

windows to go - format disk

You can also use Disk Management mmc console to do the same. Just type “disk management” in Start Screen, and pick it from Settings Search.

If not, or you are preparing a new device, you better use the command line diskpart. And here is how:

Open Command Prompt Window in Admin mode, see steps below, and 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

Open Command Prompt window in Admin mode,

Windows 8 open command line in admin mode

Go to the location where you save both ImageX.exe and Install.wim file, and type the following command.

c:\temp>imagex /apply install.wim 1 h:\

H: drive is the drive letter for your USB device.

Windows To Go - Apply ImageX

Step 3: apply the boot record to the device

In the same Command Prompt window that has the admin right, type in the following command to apply the windows 8 boot record to the device.

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

Again, H: is the drive letter for your USB device

Windows To Go - apply bootsect

That’s it! Time to reboot your machine and see if it boots off from the device you just built. You will need to change your BIOS settings to have the USB device as the 1st device in boot sequence. It may take a bit time for the first time to have your system ready and use.

From my own test, the performance from a 16GB USB key is quite horrible. So I would suggest that to get the most out of this awesome new Windows 8 feature you may want to try this on an external hard drive with USB 3 or eSATA connection. SSD drive would be ideal, if possible.

For those who want to know a bit more, check this video out.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Does this capture an image of your pc because I’m running windows 8 enterprise and I have windows to go I would want to make a wim of my PC to include software. Thanks

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