How to Create a Portable Windows To Go USB Drive

Jessica Coccimiglio 03-06-2016

Do you ever work on computers that aren’t your own? Ever find yourself frustrated at not being permitted to install your own programs, or having to adapt to different settings after you’ve already personalized a computer so it works just right for you?


What if I told you it didn’t have to be that way? What if I told you that you could carry around your own version of Windows in your pocket, ready to run on any computer you may encounter, with all the programs you typically use already installed and set up exactly the way you like?

Well, you can. Don’t worry, I won’t hold you in suspense. Here’s how you can set up your own Windows 2 Go USB Drive (or external drive, if you prefer) that will let you run Windows 8 or 8.1 anywhere you need to. It’s free, it’s portable, and it’s yours.

What Is Windows To Go

Windows To Go is a version of Windows 8.1 Enterprise designed to run on a portable device such as a USB flash drive or external drive. You can install applications, and work with files stored on the drive, but you’ll have to sync any apps you may have purchased from the Windows Store manually.

What You Need

You’ll need a USB Flash Drive with 16 GB or higher (32 GB would be ideal, so you can hold files on it), or an external drive. There are certified USB drives for this project, but you don’t need them with these instructions.

A certified USB drive will ensure your Windows To Go installation will work properly and boot up quickly. While a regular drive will work too, know that it may be slower — anywhere from taking a few extra moments to boot up, to 30 or 40 minutes extra to boot up. USB 3.0 will help, but your mileage may vary. You will also need:


How to Set Up Windows To Go

First, plug your USB into your computer and make it bootable. That means it will be able to hold an operating system, and it will be able to launch it when you start up your computer.

You can make a USB bootable with Rufus or using the command line, which tends to be more reliable.

Command Line Instructions to Make a Bootable USB

Rufus can make a USB bootable How to Make a Bootable CD/DVD/USB to Install Windows Need installation media to reinstall Windows? Our tips show you how to create a bootable CD, USB, or DVD with an ISO from scratch. Read More , but occasionally it is unsuccessful. If you can use your command line, it won’t fail.



Follow these command line instructions.

  1. Input diskpart
  2. Input list disk
  3. Identify the disk number that represents your USB. It will be the one with roughly the number of GB that your USB has. In my case, it’s the one that says it has 14 GB.
  4. Once you know which disk number, input the command select disk [x] without the square brackets, and with your disk number in place of the x.
  5. Input clean to clean the disk.
  6. Input create part pri to create a partition.
  7. Input select part 1 to select the first partition.
  8. Input active to mark the partition as active.
  9. Input exit


You can check that your USB drive became bootable with a drive partition manager Top Tools for Managing and Maintaining Your SSD Did your SSD start out Usain Bolt fast, but now limps along? You can whip your drive back into shape using a handful of toolkits and optimization software, but caveat emptor: Some SSD optimization software... Read More like AOMEI Partition Assistant — it should be flagged under Status as “Active”. You’ll need to format it to NTFS.

Now your USB drive is bootable and ready for your Windows To Go installation.


Imaging the Windows Installation files to your USB

To put Windows on the prepared drive, mount your Windows ISO files, so you can access the install.wim files.

To mount your Windows ISO files, open the context menu by right-clicking on the ISO file for the version of Windows you want installed on the USB. There should be a menu option that will let you Mount the drive.

Now that your Windows ISO files are mounted, open GImageX. This program provides you with a graphical user interface to complete this install, without a certified USB stick.



Under the Apply section of GImageX, click the Browse button and navigate to the sources folder on your mounted ISO file and select the install.wim file.


Click Apply and settle in for what could be a long wait, especially if your drive isn’t very fast.


Mine estimated a five hour wait, and finished in a little over four and a half hours.


After it’s done installing, you’ll be able to use Windows To Go in a computer set up to let you boot from things other than the main operating system.

How to Boot from Your Windows To Go USB

One thing you need to know about this project is you can’t just plug the USB into your computer, turn it on, and expect it to run. First, make sure that the computer’s BIOS is set to boot from an external USB (flash) drive, before proceeding with booting from the system drive.

As Joel explains in this article all about the BIOS Discover Your BIOS & Learn How to Make the Most of It What the heck is the BIOS, anyway? Is it really that important to know? We think so and fortunately it's pretty easy. Let us introduce you. Read More , it’s the very first piece of software that runs on your computer. It stands for Basic Input/Output System, and if you take the time to set it up properly, you can host multiple operating systems on your computer, and change which one it boots into first.

If this is the first time you’ve tried to run an alternative operating system than the one that came with it, don’t fret. Chris explains a variety of BIOS issues including how to change the boot order The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults Need to change your PC's boot order or set a password? Here's how to access and use the BIOS, and some commonly modified settings. Read More on your PC here at MakeUseOf.

After your BIOS is set up properly, you can plug your USB into a port on your computer. It can take a long time to boot, if you’re running it on a non-certified USB — upwards of 30 minutes for me (your mileage may vary significantly depending on the read-write speed of your USB, of course), but a certified one should boot in just a couple minutes, or faster. As it starts up, choose it from the BIOS and it should launch right into the version of Windows on your Windows To Go drive.

Now You Can Carry Windows in Your Pocket

There you have it: Windows, in your pocket. Of course, you’ll have to set it up with your favorite settings, but once you do that, they’ll stay.

What will you use Windows To Go for? What other portable apps will you side-load on any remaining space you have? Do you run any other operating systems on a non-traditional computer or external drive, and if so, what do you run and why? Let us know in the comments below!

Related topics: BIOS, Portable App, Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 8.1.

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  1. BoboModipane
    March 14, 2018 at 11:25 am

    What about the part where you create boot files . Come on , this ended up being useless cause thats actually the important part

  2. Raghavendra
    February 5, 2018 at 2:39 am

    Can this work with Windows 7

  3. none
    January 4, 2018 at 2:41 am

    You can get better performance just install it onto an external hard drive from within a virtual machine.

  4. ES
    September 14, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    I cannot find the install.wim file

  5. Terrance
    July 17, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    If you do not convert the flash drive you are using to be recognized as a fixed disk, you will not be able to update this Windows. Flipping the bit on say a Sandisk Cruzer extreme when last researched is not possible. The tedious process of flipping the bit on a fast usb 3.0 flash drive is to say the least very time consuming. In short, the best way to enjoy Window to Go in it's entirety is to get the fastest usb 3.0 or 3.1 flash drive you can flip the bit on. Make the flash drive a fixed disk and then you can update your Windows to Go.

    • Harris
      January 6, 2017 at 9:05 pm

      How to make a usb flash drive recognized as a fix drive? Any suggestions,fixes ?

    • Harris
      January 6, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      How can i make it recoognize as a fix drive ?

      • Ammon
        June 12, 2018 at 10:53 pm

        Harris, you use the Windows Disk Manager, installed in the windows operating system. If you search disk manager in your computer, it should come up. You can also find it in Control Panel. Once there, you will most likely see a bunch of boxes in the lower section of the program. These are called partitions. They are volumes (or sections of disc space) that are set apart to be used by Windows explorer. (They are used for many other things as well, but all I know is that if they are drives that are openable by Explorer.exe, then they have an active partition.
        You should be able to locate your USB drive in that space. Once you identify it, you may notice that beneath the name, it says FAT32. This is a file system, or a mode of file storage and managing. (please correct me if I am wrong). Your windows drive (usually C:\) uses a different file system called NTFS. No idea what that stands for, Something-something-file-system, I think... the important thing is you want your usb to be formatted as NTFS (because this is the system that Windows uses for its OS). You may still boot from your USB in FAT32, but you won't be able to boot up to the Windows OS.
        So, in disk manager, once you've located the drive. It will have a box that will say "active [or healthy, can't remember] partition". You want to right-click this and select "Delete Volume." WARNING: This will delete ALL the files on your USB! So if you want to keep them, transfer them to another drive somewhere else or you will lose them. Once you delete the volume, You will see a box with a Black bar above it where the previous partition used to be that will say "Unallocated" You will right click this and select create volume. Then it will launch the volume setup wizard, and follow the steps on this, making sure that the file system is NTFS. Select the amount of bytes to allow for windows. When you are finished, you will see the box with the black bar has now become blue. It will first say "Formatting" for about 30 seconds of so, and then will say something like "Active" or "Healthy Partition." And it should also say "NTFS."
        Then, I think you can right click the partition from the list in the top half of the program, and click properties. choose the middle tab (can't remember what it is called). and there should be two options, one of them tells the system that the drive is safely removable (or not). Unselect this one.
        I could be wrong about this, but I don't think I am. Please correct me anybody if you know otherwise.

  6. Cees Timmerman
    June 23, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Some older systems (pre 2007?) don't support partitiions (or even drives) greater than 32 GB due to FAT32 limitations, and there are free alternatives to Windows like Ubuntu.

  7. vandamme
    June 15, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    Sounds pointless to me. If I wanted to run safely on a strange PC or boot a system with a dead hard drive or borked OS, I'd use a Linux ISO, which is safer, smaller, easier to download, and includes a ton of apps. They almost all fit on a 2 GB flash drive or DVD; some fit on a CD.

    • Terrance
      July 17, 2016 at 7:03 pm

      I agree vandamme. I have Ubuntu 16.04 LTS installed to a 32GB Sandisk Cruzer extreme. Very fast, updateable, reliable, and obviously portable. As mentioned before, without flipping the bit on a flash drive intended for Winows to Go, you sacrifice the ability to get any updates.

  8. Chris
    June 13, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Can you do this with windows 7?

  9. DMC
    June 4, 2016 at 1:10 am

    Anything like this for Office settings & options? I have customized most of my Office programs and hate using the on other than my own computer.

    • Anonymous
      June 13, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      You very specifically mention Win 8 and 8.1 - is this not possible on windows 10?