I recently purchased an SSD and was wondering if there was an Operating System that allows you to swap between two different machines essentially sharing one partition? Perhaps multiple hardware profiles? In this case the machines are my laptop and desktop.

It would be great to take advantage of the performance of my desktop and then when I need to be mobile just put the SSD into my laptop and go. I don't believe Windows plays nice with this concept for reason of licensing, i.e. major hardware changes triggering reactivation, etc.

Denser, faster, more affordable, and smaller storage could make this a viable option for end users without relying on "cloud" technologies for syncing apps and files. I prefer to have literal, physical control over my information.

  • Maybe Win2USB? lifehacker.com/… – tlng05 Jan 4 '15 at 2:43
  • I know it matters in which mode did you installed windows - AHCI or IDE. AHCI is the better choice but you can change the mode after the OS has been loaded but you have to go into the registry to change some settings so you won't get BSOD. You are going to have to change to AHCI on both machines then, then I think the swapping of disk will work. – Davidenko Jan 4 '15 at 2:48
  • @user54791 - I think this may be a viable option! Will check it out, thank you! – JSX Jan 4 '15 at 3:05
  • Didn't want to hijack the answer and I think you need 20 rep for chat. How heavy duty are you computer needs (MS Works/Outlook Express vs. full MS Office Suite)? – fixer1234 Jan 4 '15 at 5:39
  • @fixer1234 I don't need MS Office but use windows for Lightroom / Ableton / some gaming / Sony Vegas & some other Win only apps. I'm on Win 7 right now. – JSX Jan 4 '15 at 7:45

10 Answers 10


Most standard Linux distros will allow you to do this - provided they are the same architecture (eg Both are Intel 32bit or 64bit machines).

Linux typically packs all the common drivers you might need as modules as part of the intitial boot process, and there is no "system lock in" to check if the hardware is the same as previous boots.

I have, on multiple occassions, pulled drives out of 1 system, plugged them into another and everything just worked. In fairness, I do try and keep my hardware fairly standard (intel chipset motherboards with intel CPU) which makes it that much simpler, but certainly this can work on more diverse hardware.

My distro of choice is Ubuntu, but I'm confident Redhat based installs will do the same thing - anything where you don't need to compile a custom kernel should work.

  • 1
    Slackware and Debian work fine as well. There might be some problems with OpenSUSE. .. But yeah - usually Linux distros work fine even when you change the hardware. – tftd Jan 4 '15 at 12:48
  • Does this work on Linux Mint too? Can anyone confirm? – Varaquilex Jan 12 '15 at 5:33

Of the several reasons this cannot work with Windows that come to mind, the most pressing and impossible to work around is Windows Product Activation.

  1. Every time you move your Windows installation to new hardware you will trigger product activation.
  2. Very soon you will run out of grace re-activations and have to call Microsoft to get your product key reactivated.
  3. And very soon after that you'll be told you've reached the end of the road.
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    Someone mentioned Win2USB and this lead me to Windows To Go this looks like Microsoft's own answer to this hassle gasp - Will look into Windows To Go. – JSX Jan 4 '15 at 3:08
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    @JSX I believe Win2USB and Windows To Go are actually the same thing; Win2USB is just a third party program that makes it slightly easier to create Windows To Go installs by letting you avoid the Powershell stuff. easyuefi.com/wintousb/faq/en_US/What-is-Windows-To-Go.html – tlng05 Jan 4 '15 at 3:13
  • @JSX Windows To Go is only for Windows Enterprise edition, which is only available through volume licensing. That's a pretty formidable barrier to entry IMHO. – I say Reinstate Monica Jan 4 '15 at 3:15
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    @Twisty Both Win2USB and the powershell hack the OP linked to allow use of Windows To Go on non-enterprise editions of Windows 8. – tlng05 Jan 4 '15 at 3:16
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    @user54791 No it doesn't. Both the Windows 8 and 8.1 OEM EULAs only permit transfer to another user. Quote: "Can I transfer the software to another user? You may transfer the software directly to another user, only with the licensed computer...." There's no right granted in the EULA to transfer to another computer you own. However, to your point the Full Retail EULA does permit such transfer, with the clear restriction that "You may not transfer the software to share licenses between computers." – I say Reinstate Monica Jan 4 '15 at 3:26

You could run a live Linux iso like Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Debian, or Knoppix (it's more like a live-dvd-only and says "Knoppix is not a Linux distribution like for example Debian, openSUSE, Ubuntu or others", but has many "install" options), there are many others that can run live also, most with persistence to save changes.

Copying one of their iso's onto your SSD drive and using grub to launch it (similar to instructions here) should work, if you have unusual hardware that isn't detected properly in a "regular" Linux install as DrMoishePippik's answer suggests.

  • While this is definitely an option if I need to boot into something that's not Windows, I imagine I'd have to create multiple partitions for OS/files? Dual booting was something I considered but I don't think a "live" OS is a long term solution to what I'm looking for. The option for "persistent memory" seems to me to be like a snapshot of a virtual machine yet retaining the limitations of being live? I'm looking for a more permanent solution rather than "on the fly". Thank you for the suggestions tho! – JSX Jan 4 '15 at 4:29
  • Separate partitions could be optional (but I'd recommend it for any OS, keeps data separate when reinstalling or something goes wrong). Persistence is supposed to save all changes & keep them in a file, so a little more like a VM's virtual hard disk file. A full install of linux would probably be easier (unless you like the idea of a "read-only" OS without persistence, where even installing viruses - if you can find one - would be gone with a reboot). Definitely "alien" compared to Windows though – Xen2050 Jan 4 '15 at 5:20

FreeBSD does this pretty easily, but since you have Windows & Windows-only apps, that's probably moot. I think the first thing to discover is if your OS is really hitting the disk. Mine doesn't--the apps do. So, install them onto an NTFS SSD if you can (depending on how they store stuff). You could even redirect your user folder to it for settings/data.


I actually do this quite frequently when travelling using:

  • a Samsung 840 pro 250 GB SSD

swapped between

  • Mac Pro 3.1 (2008) running OSX version 10.9 (Mavericks)
  • Macbook Pro 2010

To accommodate the 2.5" HDD in the 3.5" Mac Pro drive bays I use a Icy Dock EZConvert 2.5-Inch to 3.5-Inch SATA SSD / Hard Drive Converter. It pulls out within seconds (after powering off the Mac Pro of course) and the SSD slides out of the Icy Dock housing without screws or other attachments.

The swap takes ~5 minutes - the slowest part is removing / reinstalling the screws from the back of the Macbook Pro to get at the SSD.

Since the SSD used in the desktop + laptop is the boot drive, it contains the OS - the only inconvenience I've encountered is having to re-enter all my iTunes, messaging/FaceTime and some email passwords each time the drive changes hardware.

The issue you may have to replicate this with more modern machines is that the SSDs in the latest Apple laptops are not removable. On a positive note, the older gear I'm describing is rather cheap these days.

The reason I unfortunately have to do this is because I've set up a local LAMP server on which i've built all my sites, apps, version control and databases. Having a local LAMP on the drive also means I can work without interruption while travelling in places without a reliable (and/or secure) network.

While version control could make it possible to switch between machines without swapping drives, all the uncommitted changes are not present on the cloud - as well as differences in database structure and data. I'm still hoping for a day when hand-off between machines is as painless as checking your email in the cloud.


It sounds like author of the question requires Windows. The only legal solution I know of that allows you to use the same Windows installation on different hardware is Windows to Go.

However, Windows to Go is only available for Windows 8 Enterprise, which isn't available to normal consumers.

  • @Ramhound If you read the comments in the question, the author specifically says he requires Windows because he's using Windows-only applications. He never said that upgrading his version of Windows wasn't an option for him. – Jason Jan 5 '15 at 22:26

I have, several times, moved a hard disk installation of Ubuntu from one computer to another, and it just worked. It even worked when i moved from an Intel processor to AMD, and, just yesterday, i removed my Nvidia card from one computer and enabled the on-board Intel VGA, and the OS including GUI started just like nothing had happened at all. So unless you have some very special hardware requirements, Ubuntu should just work fine for you.

Personally, i prefer XUbuntu, especially on my (6 year old) laptop, since it has lower hardware requirements, but it doesn't really make a difference if both your computers are quite new.

Since you need some windows Software as well, i'd just recommend installing VirtualBox on your Ubuntu installation, and installing Windows as a VM within Virtualbox. This should take care of all "Hardware A is different from Hardware B" issues nicely. (Last month, i moved a Windows Server 2008 Virtual Machine from an AMD Host running Windows 7 to an Intel Host running Ubuntu, again without Windows reconfiguring anything, so you shouldn't have any problems there either). I'm no expert on the Windows EULA and its enforcability in various jurisdictions, but as this leaves you with one installation that can never be run on more than one computer, you'll probably be fine.

You might have some problems if you're planning to run 3d-intense games within your Windows VM, but everything else should run fine there.


It depends on which OS you are using, Linux based OS'es have no trouble whit this, unless the new hardware configuration have a device with no drivers available, specially with the GPU (At least on the already installed OS). I have a USB hard drive with an emergency Ubuntu installed on it and most of the computers I've plugged it booted successfully, the ones who didn't was because of resources limitation (RAM, CPU and so).

With Windows is another story, Vista and earlier versions installs can be moved to another hardware configuration only if the platform is the same (AMD x86, AMD64, Intel x86_64) but sometimes it can trigger the "Pending activation" state (I used to move my HDD from Laptop to another and this happened only once), and you could have trouble reactivating the licence. If Windows can find the drivers it will install them automatically, if not you will have to install them but just one time.

If you're using Mac OS (Say, a Macbook Pro and a Mac Mini) this can be done fairly easy, if both PC's support the installed OS version, you will need to press the alt key when the computer turns on for the first time you move the SSD, but after that it will boot directly.


If the drive isn't the primary boot drive, this works much better. Some laptops can take two hard disks, possibly at the cost of removing the optical drive. You can then use the SSD for only the speed-critical applications and data.

(You can move the entire profile at the cost of more hassle: https://serverfault.com/questions/8187/whats-the-best-way-to-move-c-users-to-d-users-under-vista-w7 )


If you bought a laptop it seems likely it has a windows license attached to it. If your desktop also has one, why not try to install Windows twice on the same ssd in a dual boot configuration? If it works then you will just boot to the appropriate install. You could even make a third partition just for data so you don't have to hunt around as much for files you are working on.

The only problem I see with a virtualbox type solution is you will lose 3d acceleration which is judging from your program needs list, is going to be important.

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