Windows To Go: Taking Windows 8 with you on the road

Windows To Go is one of those new feature of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 that most people have never head of. It enables the creation of a Windows To Go workspace that can be booted from a USB-connected external drive on PCs. It is intended to allow enterprise administrators to provide users with an imaged version of Windows 8 that reflects the corporate desktop. Creation of Windows To Go drives is not officially supported by other Windows 8 editions, but WindowsInstructed wouldn’t be windows instructed if we didn’t had a tutorial on how to create the Windows To Go stick from your own home pc.

[alert-warning]Microsoft does not officially provide this function in Windows, so they will not give support on this. You’ll also have to make sure you have a legitimate copy of Windows 8[/alert-warning]

Things you will need:

  • A USB 3.0 or external HDD with 16GB of space, with high read and write speeds. However we would recommend to use a 32GB one.
  • A copy of a Windows 8 disc or ISO (Any version is fine including upgrade ones) you can grab a free 90 trial here
  • A computer with a native 3.0 port, some native USB2.0 ports may work. USB ports via add-on cards is not supported

Let’s get started by installing the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit

[alert-note]Note that these are large download files, and may take a while to download, so be patient.[/alert-note]
  1. Download Windows 8.1 Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit
  2. Save adksetup.exe to a your computer
  3. Go to the location of where that file is and run it
  4. A wizard will open up giving 2 choices, install or download. Select the download option, then select a download location and click Next. For joining CEIP, just select NO and continue on by clicking Next. Then click I accept in the EULA and begin downloading.
  5. After downloading, go to the location of where it is, and install it.

Selecting the USB drive

  1. Start by connecting the USB to your computer
  2. Open up command prompt and run as Administrator
  3. Type in Diskpart and hit Enter
  4. Type ‘list disk’ and hit enter
  5. Look carefully at what disk you will be using for the Windows to Go drive.
    If there are multiple disk and your are not sure what one you need to select, I would advice you to turn off your computer, unplug the unimportant drives except OS drive. And try again.
  6. 6. Once you know which disk to use, type ‘select disk #’ Then press Enter
    Where # represents the number associated with that drive. 
  7. Type clean
  8. Next we will need to create a primary partition on the drive so, type create partition primary and Enter
  9. After it’s done, select the partition and then type format fs=ntfs quick and Enter
  10. Then assign a letter, any letter that’s not in use
  11. Finally type in active
  12. Exit diskpart and close command prompt
[alert-warning]Note this will wipe out the entire drive, including all partitions! If there is data, backup now before continuing. [/alert-warning]

Getting it ready

  1. Go to your C:\ and create a new folder. Label that folder as wim
  2. Copy Install.wim from your Windows 8/8.1 disc or USB drive to the wim folder,that was created in C:\
  3. Open up WAIK or ADK’s command prompt, run as administrator and type in imagex /apply c:\wim\install.wim 1 X: and Enter
    X= letter you assigned to your flash drive.
  4. After it’s completed, go to C:\windows\system32, type bcdboot x:\windows /f all /s x:, Enter
    Where X is letter of your flash drive.

First Boot and Setup

Now you’re ready to remove the USB drive and insert it into any other Windows 8-capable and USB-bootable computer to boot into Windows To Go. The first setup process is lengthy, so be very patient. Windows to Go requires two boots. The first is to detect hardware, which takes you through a series of colorful screens that display messages such as Getting devices ready X% and Getting ready . The system will reboot itself, so be ready to boot from the USB drive on that second boot.

The second boot steps you through the following Windows 8 setup screens:

  • Accepting the License Agreement
  • Personalize Color Scheme and Name the Computer
  • Select a Wireless Network
  • Enter the Wireless Network Password
  • Set Express or Custom Settings
  • Sign In to Your PC (Enter a Microsoft Account Name )
  • Enter Your Microsoft Account Password
  • Mouse Setup

After you enter your information and personalize your computer, you have to wait through another series of fascinating screens, such as We’re getting your PC ready , Installing apps , Taking care of a few things , Almost ready ; finally, you’re sent to the Start (Metro) screen, where you can now interact with the operating system.

Using Windows To Go

You’ll notice that Windows To Go behaves almost exactly like Windows 8 in every respect, and it should, because it is a full Windows 8 installation. The two major exceptions that prevent me from saying it behaves exactly like Windows 8 are: Windows Store is disabled and you’ll soon get a “nag” notification about Windows activation.

You might see a notification when you first log in telling you to: Keep the USB drive plugged in. Only remove it after your PC has shut down completely. Otherwise, your Windows To Go workspace might crash and you could lose data. The Windows To Go workspace is not loaded into memory and used from there; it remains on disk and is accessed as you use it. Windows 8 also creates a pagefile, if needed, on the USB drive.

Activating the Windows Store

Installing traditional applications, such as Microsoft Office, on Windows To Go works just as you’d expect, but you need to open an Administrative command prompt and use The Group Policy Editor (gpedit ) to enable Windows Store.

C:> gpedit

You should now be able to open the Windows Store and install apps.

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About The Author
Pepijn van Gastel
Pepijn has always been passionate about technology, but found his vocation in medicine. As of today he has focused it's experience on his new startup company and is therefore not an active participator of WindowsInstructed anymore.

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