Windows To Go: This is going to be a game changer!

Image representing Windows as depicted in Crun...

I have said before that I am not sure that Windows 8 is going to have the adoption rates that Windows 7 has had, and that it is more likely that Windows 7 will remain the dominant operating system in the enterprise.  If companies are going to be convinced to switch, it will be by new features such as Windows To Go (WTG), which allows us to install Windows 8 on a USB key, configure that key with our applications and security requirements (including domain join, group policy, Direct Access, and more), and then boot from that USB key on any computer in the world.

Cool!

So imagine you are visiting your in-laws in Podunk, and they have their trusty old Windows XP Home machine, and you can pop in your USB key, boot from it, do all of your work with all of your applications while connected to your corporate network, all the while without affecting their XP Home setup with their own games and stuff.

Requirements:

  • You have to build this USB key from a system running Windows 8.
  • You have to have a USB 3.0 port on that system (which is a requirement to build, but not to use Windows to Go).
  • You have to have the source media for Windows 8, which can be either an ISO or a DVD (or any media with the original install.wim file on it.
  • You have to have a USB stick that is compatible with Windows to Go.  Sorry folks, just any USB key that you get from a trade show giveaway will not work.  I use the Kingston DT Ultimate G2 16GB, which cost me a little under $70 on Amazon.com.  I hope that Microsoft will make a comprehensive list available soon, but nothing so far.

Step by Step: Create your Windows to Go key!

  1. Open a command prompt with Administrative credentials.  You are going to use the single most destructive tool within Windows, and you need to Run As Administrator to use it.
  2. Open the Disk Partition Tool (diskpart.exe).
  3. Type list disk (expert tip: you can save time by typing the first three letters of any command in diskpart, so lis dis would work just as well).
  4. Once you see the list of disks in your system, insert your new USB 3.0 key into an appropriate port.  Wait a few seconds, then type lis dis again.  Note the number of the new drive.
  5. Type select disk # .  Make sure that # is the number of the new drive or bad things will happen!
  6. Type Clean.  This command will destroy everything on the drive – files, partitions, all gone.  See why I call it destructive?  There is no Undo command.
  7. Type create partition primary (cre par pri).  This creates a new partition on the key.
  8. Format the new partition by typing format fs=ntfs quick.  It will only take a few seconds (hence the QUICK command switch).
  9. To make it a bootable disk type Active.
  10. Assign a drive letter to it by typing assign.
  11. Exit the Disk Partition Tool by typing exit.
  12. Mount the Windows 8 media (if you have an ISO) or insert the disk into the drive.
  13. At this point you have to check the drive letter for both the USB key and the Windows 8 media.  These will be different for each machine, but for my example we will say that the USB key is F: and the Windows 8 media is G:.
  14. Now we have to apply the Windows 8 image to the key.  Navigate to the Windows 8 media and type:

dism /apply-image /imagefile=g:\sources\install.wim /index:1 /applydir:f:\ 

You should receive output that looks like this:

Applying image

[===============40.0% ]

The above line is your progress bar, and when it reaches 100% the image will be completed.  You then have to type the following command to create the Boot Configuration Data file which allows your computer to select an operating system:

bcdboot.exe f:\Windows /s f: /f ALL

That should do it… try booting from the key (many systems need for you to press F9 or F12 to select the boot menu when turning on the system, and will not see the USB key unless it was booted plugged in.  Select the key, and if it boots from the key then you are now the proud owner of a Windows to Go key!

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16 thoughts on “Windows To Go: This is going to be a game changer!

  1. Also, the /s argument of the bcdboot command should have a drive letter. The /f argument should not have a : It should be:

    bcdboot.exe f:\windows /s f: /f ALL

  2. One last comment, I promise! Just FYI, we have successfully built and used Windows to Go USB drives on older Dell hardware that only has USB 2.0 ports. We haven’t tried anything smaller than 16Gb, but there was nothing special about the USB drives we used. Thanks for the article, it is a really cool feature!

      • ### PHYSICAL ### One terabyte that fits in your jeans’ pokcet. I don’t want to go all when we were young we walked 10 miles to school, etc. on you, but my first hard drive was such that I would have needed 50’000 of em to match the capacity, occupying a solid cube 9 feet on each side and setting me back 30 million dollars. That’s mind- blowing progress indeed, and while the original advances were made by firms like Seagate and IBM, those have mostly sold off/sourced out in the meantime, leaving Western Digital as the Bleeding Edge hard drive brand. This device looks like a cigarette holder with a glossy finish. The edges are rounded, and the usb connector is the only opening in the case, so for my occasional transport I just carry the drive in my jacket as-is. It would have been super- neat to have a rubber flap over the usb and perhaps a more scratch- resistant matte finish, but there is no issue here, especially since WD offers inexpensive and cases. ### USB3 ### Finally, ten times the speed of USB2! The USB consortium calls it Super Speed, to distinguish it (not) from the Hi-Speed of USB2 and the Full Speed of USB1. It’s beyond me why they don’t just name it 5Gbit USB , a moniker which would pit it favorably against eSATA, Ethernet, Firewire, etc but at least there’s a hilarious joke in there for Sci-Fi comedy fans (Google They’ve gone into plaid for the reference, first video link). But not so fast, Dark Helmet. First, just because the interface is ten times speedier doesn’t mean the drive is, and second, it’s likely that even your 2010 PC needs an adapter in the form of a PCIx card. And if it does, the USB ports will be on the back of the computer, which may be a problem as the cable that comes in this package is only 16 long. If you need more, you’ll have to purchase a Micro USB 3.0 cable, the connector on the drive end is different from USB2. Currently, these cables are rare (none on Amazon!) and expensive, so be careful not to misplace the one you got. ### SPEED ### This external drive works with both USB2 and USB3, so the question is, is it worth the extra cost of the USB3 adapter, and what exactly is the speed gain one can expect? To figure that out, I’ve run two tests, one a simple hard drive test via HD Tune, and one a filecopy test. – HD Tune: (see screenshots for details): with USB2, the interface is the limiting factor, with a transfer rate of 33 MB/sec over the entire range. With USB3, you get the pure drive performance and up to 87MB/sec can be achieved in the outer regions and still a decent 45 MB/sec in the inner regions (the outer regions of the spinning disk have higher velocity and more sectors, hence the higher rate). – File copy: I copied a batch of 7000 files back and forth a couple times and measured read and write performance separately. Averaged over 5 runs, I found that the read performance gain of USB3 was 19% and the write performance gain was 25%. It needs to be noted that in this scenario there was a lot of overhead the copy program (robocopy), the file seeks, the destination drive, etc. So what to make of this? The raw read performance as measured by HD Tune is 2 to 3 times faster with usb3 nice to see that WD’s marketing blurb up to 3 times faster is actually true! However, this advantage quickly comes down as you use more complex operations such as copying small files. Given the choice again, I probably wouldn’t bother with an USB3 PCI card and just wait for my next PC to have it onboard. If you mainly copy large files (such as movies), you may benefit more from USB3 than I do. ### SOFTWARE ### The drive comes with some software on it (in lieu of an installation CD) which does two things: enable a hardware encryption and do backups. I’ve fiddled with it for a while but it left me unsatisfied. Under my (admittedly elderly) WinXP the GUI had rendering problems (holes in the windows!), it wasn’t half as intuitive as other software, and at least once I activated the encryption but it didn’t take. It also installs a virtual CD, what do I need that for!? The good news here is that WD seems to ship this software with all their external drives now, so it stands to reason/hope that they’ll improve on it and you’ll be able to download an upgrade. Of course, if you happen to be a Mac or Win7 Ultimate user, you don’t need the WD software at all, just use the built- in stuff. ### CONCLUSION ### This is a fantastic little device: a full terabyte, compact and reasonably future-

  3. I can remember when I was imesprsed by a 356 MB hard drive on my new computer. (Remember those days?) Now here’s this back-up external drive that is a terabyte, something that not so many years ago was in the domain only of supercomputers that took up whole rooms. The really impressive thing is that this is such a nice compact little drive, not much bigger than a deck of playing cards. I’ve used other drives for back up and have always avoided the back up software that came with some of them, fearing it would get in the way and slow things down when I’m working or that it would take too much time to figure out what to back up and how often to do so. As a result, I often forget to back things up, which could be a disaster if I ever had a hard drive failure. Now the nice thing about a large external drive such as this one is that it has tons of space and I can just back up everything and keep several copies. The software that comes on the drive installs in minutes and checks for updates for both software and firmware. It gives you a choice of what to back up and the choice of pausing backups when you’re working, so you don’t have to worry about it getting in your way when you’re doing something else. It was simple to enter password protection and comes with a manual on the drive that’s easy to understand, as manuals go. You can also choose how many backups to keep at a time and where you’d like those stored. The settings are simple to set up, even partitioning the drive if you decide to do so. I’ve used it for a few weeks now and hardly notice it being there. It just does its thing in the background and I can check the backups so I know they’re there. Using Windows XP, it puts a little icon down in the menu bar where I can check at any time to see how much space has been used, whether or not it is locked and if the temperature is OK. Unlike some drives I’ve used in the past, this one seems to run pretty cool and I’ve never felt it being warm, even when the summer temperatures in the room were warm. I like that it’s so small, yet has such high capacity. I’m using a 2.0 interface but it’s nice to know it has the 3.0 capability for future use with perhaps a different computer. Two thumbs up for this external hard drive.

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  6. Yeah, the problem is that Mitch is not warning people that Microsoft is marketing how you DO NOT need to backup/restore a WTG drive, because you just create a new one as ALL YOUR DATA should be in roaming profiles, other removable storage, or in the cloud. This is complete BS and why not have a permanent “mobile desktop”?

    The only reason I ended up here is because I am currently trying to find someone who has ACTUALLY backed one of these things up, since I have spent a WEEK configuring a perfect mobile workspace only to find that it can blow up and then SOL.

    I am surprised NO ONE has even discussed this yet, but why can’t we backup and restore a “Windows To Go” drive? So BEWARE, because I LOVE MY WTG but now I am hesitant about cutting the laptop completely…

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