© Maksym Mzhavanadze, 123RF.com

© Maksym Mzhavanadze, 123RF.com

Creating a non-certified Windows To Go USB drive

On the Go

Article from ADMIN 13/2013
You don't have to buy Windows 8 Enterprise Edition to create a Windows To Go USB drive, nor do you have to buy an expensive, certified USB disk to make it work.

Windows To Go (W2G) is one of those topics that leaves everyone a little puzzled at first mention. The first question that comes to mind is, "Why would I want or need such a thing as W2G?" The second is, "How do I create a W2G USB drive?" Once you have the USB drive in hand – or in pocket – many other questions arise about licensing, portability, and security. In this article, I'll answer all of your questions about Windows To Go on Windows 8.

Certified USB Drives

The list of Microsoft-certified USB drives for Windows 8 W2G is very short:

  • Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate – US$ 50+
  • Super Talent Express RCB – US$ 70
  • Western Digital My Passport Enterprise – US$ 110

Compared with the SanDisk Cruzer 32GB I used for this article – US$ 20 at a local discount store – they're all very expensive.

Not using a Microsoft-certified USB disk comes with a few, potentially deal-breaking shortcomings: It's not an official Windows To Go image, and you don't get your personal (purchased) apps or other personalizations on installation. Although you can install applications on the disk, you have to sync your purchased apps manually. What you get is a fully functional Windows 8 system that's bootable from the USB drive. If you're using it as a portable desktop system, you have achieved your goal. If, however, you need a full, official W2G image with all of the features promised by a certified drive, then use the built-in Windows To Go Control Panel applet to create your masterpiece. Here, I describe how to create Windows To Go on a budget.

Setting Up the USB Drive

Whether you already own a 32GB USB (or larger) drive or you purchase one new for this project matters little because you have to wipe it clean before use, so be sure Windows To Go is what you want on this drive before you start.

To begin, insert the USB drive into a USB slot on your computer and open a Windows command prompt in Admin mode. To set up the USB drive, follow the DiskPart commands in Listing 1. The preparative work on the USB drive is complete.

Listing 1

Setting Up the USB Drive

  Disk ### Status  Size   Free     Dyn  Gpt
  -------- ------- ------ ------  ---  ---
  Disk 0   Online  298 GB    0 B
  Disk 1   Online   29 GB    0 B
Disk 1 is now the selected disk.
DiskPart succeeded in cleaning the disk.
DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.
  100 percent completed
DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.
DiskPart marked the current partition as active.
Leaving DiskPart...

Gathering the Utilities

Now you need to download the Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7 [1], named KB3AIK_EN.ISO. At 1.7GB, it's a significant download, and you'll have to use your Microsoft Account to download the file. You'll also need this account to log in to your Windows To Go system, so if you don't have a Microsoft Account [2], sign up now.

After mounting the ISO, use 7Zip [3] or a similar tool to open the NEUTRAL.CAB file and extract the F1_image file. Once extracted, rename F1_image to IMAGEX.EXE. This is the ImageX Tool for Windows. (For more information on the ImageX Tool for Windows, use IMAGEX.EXE /? at a command prompt.)

From your Windows 8 ISO or DVD, copy the \SOURCES\INSTALL.WIM file to the same location you copied IMAGEX.EXE. I suggest creating a folder such as C:\WIN2GO and placing those files and these instructions into it for future reference. If you find W2G useful, you'll want to repeat the process.

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