In my last article, I introduced Windows To Go, a new feature in Windows 8. Now, it’s time to get our hands dirty and install Windows To Go on a USB stick in a portable workspace.

Before we start, we will need to make sure we have a few things ready:

  1. USB (2.0) stick >16GB (>32GB USB 3.0 is recommended for seamless performance)
  2. Windows 8 ISO (or at least the install.wim file from inside the ISO)
  3. 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:

list disk

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

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

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!

  1. TeamTerry 10 years ago

    With these commands, you will be unable to make the HDD bootable if using Win7 to create.
    Win 7 command for bcdboot if the USB is drive F
    bcdboot.exe f:\windows /s f:
    As per –

  2. First guide I found on how to set this up. Crazy that there isn’t much of an official one on the Microsoft site. I was using Win7 to create it so I had to use the bcdboot command from the article linked in the above comment. Hopefully they will provide a GUI for this, maybe as one of the setup options on the DVD itself?
    This is such an exciting concept it’s great to see it actually works!

    I used a 16GB (14GB usable) USB2 flash drive. The only pain was having to wait for almost 3 hours for the imagex section. It waited at 0% for at lest 20 mins!

    Now I need to get my hands on some USB3 goodness 🙂

  3. jack 10 years ago

    oh my god.i do not know what happened.
    i just use the softwere Windows to go,i am not use the DOS windows to do the just waitting at 0% and can not move anymore.

  4. Kitet 9 years ago

    So I installed from my Windows 8 DVD, not on a USB stick, but on a USB HDD. I didn’t get that last popup. After starting it up, I’m asked for my product key and it tells me we will activate Windows. Is it normal? If so, will it activate for this drive or will it need to activate on every machine i connect it to? I should add that I own Win7 Ultimate, bought an upgrade to Win8 and rolled back to Win7, so now I only work from Win7. Maybe this is why it asks me to activate? Another question: how do I tell I am working on Windows-To-Go, is it written anywhere? Computer properties maybe?

  5. It sounds like you just installed normal Windows to a USB drive, not Windows To Go.
    AFAIK it’s impossible to install Windows to Go on anything but a removable flash drive

  6. KeenanD 9 years ago

    does this work for window 8.1 also coz i just seems to hang

  7. Michael Pietroforte 9 years ago

    Keenan, Windows 8.1. supports Windows To Go. What error message do you get?

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