Run Windows 10 from a flash drive without installing

Is it possible to run Windows 10 from USB — stick or external hard disk without installing it on your computer? You can: for example, in Enterprise version in the control panel, you can find the option to create a Windows To Go drive, which makes that memory stick. But you can do regular Home or Professional version of Windows 10, as will be discussed in this tutorial. If you are interested in a simple installer drive, something about it here: boot USB Windows 10.

In order to install Windows 10 on a flash drive and run from it, you will need the drive itself (at least 16 GB in some of these ways that was not enough and needed a flash card on 32 GB) and it is very desirable that it was a drive that supports USB 3.0 that is connected to the correct port (I experimented with USB 2 and, frankly, worn out expectations in the first record, and then run). To create a suitable image, downloaded from the official site: How to download Windows 10 ISO from the Microsoft website (however, most other problems should not be).

Installing Windows 10 on a flash drive in WinToUSB Free

I tried out all ways to make a flash drive, which you can run Windows 10 without installing, proved to be the fastest method using the free version of the program WinToUSB. Created as a result of the drive was efficient and checked on two different computers (though only in Legacy mode, but the folder structure should work with UEFI booting).

After the program starts, the main window (left) you can choose from what source it will create the drive: this can be an ISO image, WIM or ESD, CD or already installed system on the hard disk.

In my case I used an ISO image downloaded from Microsoft website. To select the image click the «Browse» button and specify the location. In the next window, WinToUSB will show that contains the image (make sure he was okay). Click «Next».

The next step is to choose the drive. If it’s the USB drive, it will be automatically formatted (external hard drive).

The last stage is to specify the system partition and the partition with the boot loader on the USB stick. For flash drives it will be the same partition (on an external hard disk you can prepare a separate). The app also selects the installation type: on the virtual hard disk vhd or vhdx (which is placed on the drive) or Legacy (for flash drives). I used VHDX. Click «Next». If you see the error message «not Enough space», increase the size of the virtual hard disk in the «Virtual hard disk drive».

The last stage is to wait until after you install Windows 10 onto a flash drive (might be long). At the end, you can boot from it, putting boot from the stick or using the Boot Menu of your computer or laptop.

When you first start, the configuration of the system, the selection of the same parameters as with the clean installation of the system, create a local user. Further, if you connect a flash drive to run Windows 10 on another computer, only the device initialization.

Overall, the system worked tolerably result: the Internet wifi worked, activation worked (I used trial Enterprise 90 days), the speed on USB 2.0 left much to be desired (especially in the «My computer» when initializing the connected drives).

Important note: by default, when running Windows 10 from a flash drive, local hard drives and SSD are not visible, they need to connect using the «disk Management». Press Win+R, type diskmgmt.msc in disk management, right click the mouse on the drives disconnected and connect them, if there is a need to use them.

Download WinToUSB Free from the official page:

Flash drive Windows To Go in Rufus

Another simple and free program that allows you to easily make a bootable USB flash drive to run Windows 10 with it (also you can do the installation drive) — Rufus, which I have already written, see Best software to create bootable flash drives.

To make such a USB drive in Rufus even easier:

  • Choose the drive.
  • Select the partitioning scheme and the interface type (MBR or GPT, UEFI or BIOS).
  • File system flash drives (NTFS in this case).
  • Stamp the «Create startup disk», select an ISO image with Windows
  • Note the point «Windows To Go» instead of «Standard Windows installation».
  • Click «Start» and wait. In my test there was a message that the disk is unsupported, but in the end everything worked fine.

The result is the same as in the previous case the drive, except that Windows 10 just installed on a flash drive, and not in a virtual disk file on it.

It works the same way: in my test run on the two laptops was a success, though had to wait at the stages of device installation and configuration. Read more about how to create a bootable stick with Rufus.

Use the command line to record a Live USB with Windows 10

There is also a way to make a flash drive, which you can run without the OS and programs using only the command line tools and built-in utilities of Windows 10.

I note that in my experiments, USB, made so, not earned by hanging at startup. From what I have found — the reason could be the fact that I have a «removable drive», at that time, for his health requires that the flash drive was defined as a fixed drive.

This method consists of preparation: load the image with Windows 10 and to extract the install file.wim or install.esd (Install.wim present in the images that are downloaded with Microsoft Techbench) and next steps (to be used method with wim file):

  • diskpart
  • list disk (find the disk number that corresponds to the USB flash drive)
  • select disk N (where N is the disk number from the previous step)
  • clean (disk wipe, all data from the stick will be deleted)
  • create partition primary
  • format fs=ntfs quick
  • active
  • exit
  • dism /Apply-Image /imagefile:путь_к_файлу_install.wim /index:1 /ApplyDir:E: (in this command, the last E is the drive letter of the stick. In the process of executing the command it may seem that it is stuck, it is not).
  • bcdboot.exe E:Windows /s E: /f all (here E is the drive letter of the stick. The command installs the bootloader on it).

You can then close command prompt and try to boot from a drive created with Windows 10. Instead of the DISM command you can use the command imagex.exe /apply install.wim 1 E: (where E is the drive letter of the stick, and Imagex.exe initially you need to download Microsoft Windows AIK). Thus, according to the observations, the option of Imagex requires more time than using a Dism.exe.

Additional ways

And several ways to record a flash drive, which you can run Windows 10 without installation on your computer, perhaps someone from readers useful.

  • You can install the trial Enterprise version of Windows 10 in a virtual machine, e.g. VirtualBox. To configure the connection to USB0 drives in it, and then run from the control panel creating Windows To Go official way. Limitation: the function works for a limited number of «certified» flash drives.
  • In Aomei Partition Assistant Standard is a function of Windows To Go Creator, creating a bootable USB flash drive with Windows just as it was described for previous programs. Tested — works without problems in the free version. Read more about the program and where to download I wrote the article about How to increase drive C through disk D.
  • There is a paid program FlashBoot, which, in addition to creating bootable flash drives, and knows how to just install Windows on a flash drive (To do this, after selecting the image, you will need to choose «Install fully-functional Windows to USB Thumbdrive». Thus there are separate such an item specifically for UEFI boot). The demo version has a limitation: it is written, the drive will only work for 30 days.

I hope this article will be useful for some readers. Although, in my opinion the practical use of this stick not so much. If you want to run the operating system without installation on your computer, it is better to use something less bulky than Windows 10.

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