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Before we start, we will need to make sure we have a few things ready:
- USB (2.0) stick >16GB (>32GB USB 3.0 is recommended for seamless performance)
- Windows 8 ISO (or at least the install.wim file from inside the ISO)
- A system with the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) installed
The first thing we will need to do is make sure that the partitions on the disk are set up correctly. For this, we will need to run “diskpart” from a command prompt. When you see the diskpart command prompt, enter the following command:
This will show all the disks currently attached to the system. Identify your USB disk. (Make sure you do this correctly. We don’t want to trash the system disk!) Once identified, enter the following command, substituting X with the disk number of your USB disk:
sel disk X
Now that we have the correct disk selected, we can partition and format it with the following sequence of commands:
create partition pri
format fs=ntfs quick
Windows To Go - Format USB stick
At this stage, you should be able to see your empty USB drive in Windows Explorer. If you can’t, you may need to assign the disk a drive letter. You can do this by running computer management (compmgmt.msc) and then selecting the disk management node, right-clicking your partition on the USB drive, and selecting the “Assign drive letter” option.
Now we need to get our hands on the install.wim image file, which is located inside the Windows 8 ISO. If you are running Windows 8, you can just double-click the ISO file and access the files via Windows Explorer (similar to how ZIP files are handled). If you’re running a previous version of Windows, you may need a third-party tool to open the ISO, such as 7-Zip.
Once you’re able to access the files in the Windows 8 ISO, you will find install.wim in the “sources” folder. Now that we have the WIM file, we can apply it to our USB disk. Start the Deployment Tools command prompt. (This is just a regular command prompt, but it loads extra locations into the path when it starts.) Then, run the following command:
imagex.exe /apply c:\path\to\install.wim 1 X:\
You will need to replace the path to install.wim and also substitute X: with the letter assigned to your USB drive. This stage may take quite a while, but we’re almost there.
Once the image has applied, we just need to set up a boot record on our USB disk. To do this, issue the following command from a regular Windows 8 command prompt:
bcdboot.exe X:\windows /s X: /f ALL
Again, make sure you substitute X: with the letter assigned to your USB disk.
Windows To Go - Startup Options
Our basic Windows To Go workspace is now complete. Reboot your system and press F12 (or whatever key is required to get the boot menu), and then select the USB device. Windows should load from your USB drive!