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How To Run Windows 8 From A USB Flash Drive



I’m a big fan of the ability to run Linux distributions from a flash drive, which allows users to try out Linux before committing to an install or even to keep the entire OS on a USB key to use anywhere. It looks like Windows 8 will also have this ability. Liliputing has a nice step by step guide for installing Windows 8 from a flash drive (perfect for installing on netbooks and ultrabooks without an optical drive), and now Brad Linder’s found a good guide to running the whole OS on one.

Dubbed Windows To Go, the OS will allow users to start up Windows 8 by booting from the USB key instead of the hard drive. This may require a change of a computer’s BIOS settings, but this is usually not hard to do.

windows 8 running from a usb key

The Windows 8 image on the flash drive is persistent, which means you can save data to it and that data will be there once you boot it up again, even if you’re on a different computer. Users will be able to install apps and save files just as they would with a normal setup.

The process requires a flash drive with at least 16GB (but bigger is better), the Windows 8 disc image, and the Windows Automated Installation Kit. Remember that Victorinox Slim Duo flash drive I mentioned last week with the two 64GB sticks? That might be just the thing.

However, if you’re going to run an entire OS off of USB drive, you should opt for something fast. Using a USB 3.0 drive with a computer that has a compatible super speed port will also help. Linux is pretty light on resources, unlike Windows, so it will be interesting to see how Windows To Go does performance-wise.

Born has the full set of instructions plus links to where you can download the software and utilities to make this work. Keep in mind that the Windows 8 image you’ll be working with is an early release for developers, not the final operating system. It’s not clear whether Windows To Go will even make it to the final release.

I hope it does, because having an OS on a stick is very useful. Especially if it has all the programs you like or need and your files. I always keep a copy of Linux Mint on USB with me wherever I go just in case I need to help someone with a computer issue or in case something happens to my own laptop. Traveling always carries the risk that something will go wrong with your computer, and if you’re in a foreign country when that happens you might not be able to get tech support or a replacement.

I also heard from a volunteer at a homeless shelter that they encouraged people trying to get back on their feet to have a USB key with a Linux distro and their important files in case they stayed somewhere with a computer.

Regardless of what Microsoft eventually decides, you can get the Windows 8 image and try this for yourself today.



  1. Artur - flash drive

    05/13/2012 at 10:08 am

    I hope that this flash drive is usb 3.0 cause with 2.0 it would load for ages!

  2. mehedi57

    06/05/2012 at 9:26 am

    nice tips on installing windows 8.

  3. Gizmonext

    07/01/2012 at 12:41 pm

    Nice One dude !!! This tip really helped me and i installed windows 8 on my computer easily thanks!

  4. Roberto Stasi

    10/15/2012 at 2:48 am

    I am looking at these fox at Microsoft and I see how slow they are to make this MS windows a fail-safe OS but it does not happen for years. Someone invented the SD cards that have a safety switch preventing changes in data. Such SD card could have been used to load a Microsoft Operating system even if the system in the Hard Drive had a virus. No, they have focused on the USB plugs. They don’t make it easy for the user to understand how to create a system disk in those latest systems and if there is a system disk utility it keep on pushing for the floppy disk wich is out of date. It is about time that they focus on making a utility that can install the entire Windows over a USB plug without us going to search over the Internet and going nuts to figure it out. Registry parameters for each installation of a new software should be kept with the program that was installed into the OS, thus such keys should be placed automatically into the folders of the directory of a new software or stored where the user opt it to be. Such tricks could allow a tecnician to resore the OS then click over the registry keys for each application and have such application work again without re-installating it. Things not done. Even the startup programs yet do not have a date. While looking at the startup files into the msconfig.sys program, have you ever desired like me to find out in what date and time was a TSR installed? This way you could know easily if you have added up something today or the previous days and figure it out what is causing the issue. For those who do not know what is a TSR, a TSR is a resident program that runs in the background even when you think its been closed. TSR stands for Terminate and Stay Resident.
    Well! I am still waiting for a change. Maybe I should apply for a job at MS as a quality control man.

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