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Windows 8 – Running Windows 8 from USB stick or USB hard disk using Windows To Go (WTG)

24 Jan

Summary of what Windows To Go (WTG) is

In short, Windows To Go is a Windows 8 Enterprise feature that allows you to boot and run Windows 8 from a USB flash drive (USB stick).

Potential reasons and scenarios for using Windows To Go

There are many potential reasons and scenarios for using Windows To Go, but here are some of them from the top of my head:

  • Testing if Windows 8 is compatible with your hardware without modifying your existing installation.
  • Allowing dual boot (testing) scenarios without modifying your existing installation.
  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scenario where you can separate the enterprise environment from the personal environment, also limiting the risk of viruses.
    • Also for (3rd party) contractors working within your corporate network while leveraging their own hardware.
  • Using the enterprise approved and configured environment on other computers by example at home.
    • For IT personnel with standby shifts, this might come in handy since it does not require them to always take their computer with them.
    • Being able to use your own workspace in by example internet cafes where the operation system might be less reliable. Keep in mind that this does not solve all of the potential issues though, so think carefully about what you do and where you do it. Setting up a VPN or even better Direct Access, limits the risks even more.
  • Easily run Windows 8 on your Apple Mac device without having to modify the Mac.
  • In flexible workspace environment with shared desktops you’ll be able to use your own completely personalized desktop. By example enterprises with flex working environments or even schools.
  • You are using multiple devices and only want to install applications and configure settings once.
  • A local hard disk failure has occurred or a local Windows installation has become corrupted. With Windows To Go you can quickly resume work. Consider having a couple of spare Windows To Go USB devices for these kind of scenarios.
  • Users traveling between places where devices are available, but who want to use their own customized workspace without having to carry a laptop/tablet with them.

What you need for Windows To Go

The complete requirements can be found here, but basically it comes down to:

  1. Windows 8 Enterprise
  2. A compatible USB drive (officially even a Windows To Go certified one)
    • Before buying Windows To Go certified USB drives, compare specifications and also test them because the performance may vary greatly. Besides specs and performance (also random read/write IOPS), the certified Windows To Go drives are relatively expensive too.
    • Personally I used a 64GB SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 Flash Drive because it is relatively fast (up to 190 MB/s read and up to 170 MB/s write) and relatively cheap.
      • Even though USB 3.0 is not necessary, I do recommend it for performance reasons. For backwards compatibility it is nice that you can use USB 2.0 though.
  3. Host computer needs to be capable of booting from USB.
    • This also allows booting other operating systems, which might be undesirable depending in your environment.

Creating a Windows 8 – Windows To Go USB drive

There are multiple ways to create Windows 8 – Windows To Go USB drive:

  1. The official way
    • Requires Windows 8 Enterprise system, since other Windows 8 versions don’t contain the Windows To Go application files to “create a Windows To Go workspace”.
    • Requires a drive that is not considered removable (in disk management).
      • USB harddisks can be used.
      • USB flash drives that are fixed can be used.
        • Windows To Go Certified usb flash drives.
        • Non Windows To Go Certified usb flash drives
          • Some USB flash drives that are removable can be set to non-removable using Lexar BootIt.
    • The Windows To Go drive preparation and configuration is done using a GUI.
  2. The unofficial way (can be run from other Windows systems)
  3. For running Hyper-V Server / Server 2012 from USB, take a look here.

Windows To Go and drivers

Even though Windows 8 includes driver support for a lot of hardware, you’ll probably need to add drivers to be able to use your Windows To Go installation on multiple hardware configurations. This works just like a regular Windows installation, but you should be aware of it so you can prepare for it. It is especially important to include (wireless) networking drivers, so at the very least you can access the internet to download any missing drivers.

Closing thoughts

Windows To Go is a great new option for some scenarios and I really enjoy it.

Unfortunately however, there are not that many Windows To Go certified drives yet and the prices are still relatively high. Another thing to consider are the devices you’re going to be using it on and specifically whether they allow boot from USB and if they have USB 3.0 ports.

Another thing that I would worry about in a public/workspace environment, is that locking Windows is not sufficient because people can simply steal your USB flash drive (which is quite expensive hardware). As long as you’re using (bitlocker) encryption the data is safe, but still it’s something you need to think about.

If you haven’t considered or tried Windows To Go yet, be sure to do so and see if it meets your demands. Mix and match available workspace options to best need all the different scenarios of your business.

Additional Windows To Go resources

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4 Comments

Posted by on January 24, 2013 in ICT, Microsoft, Windows, Windows 2012, Windows 8

 

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4 responses to “Windows 8 – Running Windows 8 from USB stick or USB hard disk using Windows To Go (WTG)

  1. Ben Carlin

    December 14, 2014 at 21:30

    Hey,

    I see you used a SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 Flash Drive for your Windows To Go drive. I have this drive but can’t get it to work! My mac recognises it and I can boot from it but then it gets stuck on loading screen with Windows flag and spinning dots… I think the problem might be that it is a removable drive. Did you manage to make yours a fixed drive? If you did then that is definitely the answer to my problem. Ugh so annoying as I bought this usb flash drive for its amazing read/write speeds!

    Like

     

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