Windows 8: How to Set Up Windows To Go - Page 2

By Joseph Moran | Posted September 24, 2012

Creating the Windows To Go drive

To create your Windows To Go USB drive, insert it into your Windows 8 Enterprise PC and make sure you have the Windows 8 Enterprise DVD in the drive. Press the Windows key + W to search the system Settings, then type "Windows to Go," and press Enter to launch the Create a Windows To Go workspace wizard. Highlight the drive you want to use and click Next.

Note: if the Next button is grayed out, the drive you’re using isn’t compatible with Windows To Go. Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear how Microsoft determines drive compatibility. Two of the four USB 3.0 devices we tried didn’t work, but the wizard unfortunately doesn’t specify what makes a drive incompatible.

The wizard will locate a Windows 8 image file, which is called install.wim and located in the \sources folder of the Windows 8 Enterprise DVD. (Note that this image file contains a standard out-of-the-box copy of Windows 8 Enterprise. If you want to create an image file with customized settings and applications, there are several ways to do so. Here’s one way to do that.)  

Windows8; Windows To Go

Figure 2: You will find a generic Windows 8 image file on your OS disc. With some extra effort, you can make image files with customized settings and software.

You’ll have the option to use BitLocker to encrypt the Windows To Go workspace (you can skip this and activate BitLocker later), and then, the Windows 8 image will be created on the USB device -- a process that will take a while and destroy any existing data on the USB drive.

The last choice the wizard presents you with, Choose a boot option, pertains to the computer you’re using and not the Windows To Go device itself. Since you’re presumably going to use the Windows To Go device in a system other than the one you used to create it, choose No, then click Save and Close.

Using the Windows To Go Drive

Insert the Windows To Go USB device into a host system while it’s turned off. You’ll either need to configure the system BIOS to automatically boot from a USB port, or else invoke the boot menu when you turn on the computer and choose the boot from USB option.

The first time you boot from a Windows To Go device, it will take several minutes to configure itself for the hardware in that particular computer and then reboot. Afterward, you’ll be prompted to accept the license terms, personalize the copy of Windows, connect to a network and then be off and running. Windows 8 will behave as if it was installed on the system’s hard drive, but it will be running entirely off the USB drive.

To get the most out Windows To Go, keep the following caveats in mind:

  • You must boot from a Windows To Go device in order to use it. If you insert it into a PC while Windows is already running, the operating system won’t recognize it.
  • Windows To Go devices must be plugged directly into USB ports located on a computer, not into a USB hub.
  • Never remove a Windows To Go device while the workspace is running. If you do, the system will freeze and wait 60 seconds for the device to be reinserted. If the drive isn’t reinserted or inserted into a different USB port, the system will shut down at the end of the 60 seconds. And even if you do reinsert the drive into the same port within the 60 seconds, there is still the possibility of corrupting your Windows To Go workspace.
  • To maintain the security of the Windows To Go workspace, the USB Windows To Go USB device can’t see the hard drive(s) of the host system it’s running on. Therefore, you can’t use a Windows To Go device to repair a computer or recover files from it.
  • Although Windows To Go devices must be USB 3.0 compatible, you can still create one on computers that only have USB 2.0 ports.

Windows 8’s Windows To Go feature can be a useful tool to help businesses deal with the BYOD phenomenon. You can get more details on Windows to Go at Microsoft TechNet.

Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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