Is it possible to install Windows OS to plug and play storage devices such as external hard drives, HDD enclosures (with SATA hard drives), USB flashdrives and the likes? What OS's? And if it's possible, can I boot on it after the installation/formatting?

I've read someone has tried this already using Windows XP but failed since XP reinitializes all attached USB devices before loading OS, thus disabling the External HDD that is attached via USB port.

What about other Windows OS: on Windows 7 or 8.... or Windows 10?

I'm asking this because I'm planning to create a portable OS. When I'm at my house, when I go to my grandmother's, or to a friend's place: I just simple plug that portable storage device, change the boot priority, and turn on the system and ta-da! I will only see one environment every time.

8 Answers 8


Is it possible to install Windows OS to plug and play storage devices?

You can use Windows To Go.

Windows To Go is a feature in Windows 8 Enterprise, Windows 10 Enterprise, and Windows 10 Education that allows them to boot and run from USB mass storage devices such as USB flash drives and external hard disk drives. It is a fully manageable corporate Windows 8 environment.

Source Windows To Go

Windows To Go: Feature Overview

Windows To Go is an enterprise feature of Windows® 8and Windows 8.1 that enables the creation of a Windows To Go workspace that can be booted from a USB-connected external drive on PCs that meet the Windows 7 or later certification requirements, regardless of the operating system running on the PC. Windows To Go workspaces can use the same image enterprises use for their desktops and laptops and can be managed the same way. Windows To Go is not intended to replace desktops, laptops or supplant other mobility offerings.

Source Windows To Go: Feature Overview

Windows To Go: Frequently Asked Questions

What is Windows To Go?

Windows To Go is a new feature for enterprise users of Windows® 8 that enables users to boot a full version of Windows from external USB drives on host PCs.

Does Windows To Go rely on virtualization?

No. Windows To Go is a native instance of Windows 8 that runs from a USB device. It is just like a laptop hard drive with Windows 8 that has been put into a USB enclosure.


Is Windows To Go supported on both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 drives?

No. Windows To Go is supported on USB 3.0 drives that are certified for Windows To Go.

Is Windows To Go supported on USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports?

Yes. Windows To Go is fully supported on either USB 2.0 ports or USB 3.0 ports on PC’s certified for Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Source Windows To Go: Frequently Asked Questions

How about those "true" hard disk drives that are connected via HDD enclosures?

Are they eligible for this?

It would appear not.

As of the date of publication, the following are the USB drives currently certified for use as Windows To Go drives; as more drives are certified for use with Windows To Go this list will be updated: WarningWarning Using a USB drive that has not been certified is not supported

Source Hardware considerations for Windows To Go

  • But how about those "true" hard disk drives that are connected via HDD enclosures? Are they legible for this? My current plan is uses a laptop hard disk with preexisting Windows 8 OS installed.
    – Gideon
    Aug 21, 2015 at 7:31
  • 2
    It would appear not. The list of compatible drives is in the FAQ referenced above Hardware considerations for Windows To Go. Answer updated.
    – DavidPostill
    Aug 21, 2015 at 7:33
  • 1
    True hardrives work perfectly... if you use eSATA. I even got an old copy of XP around on an eSATA based pendrive. Sadly USB is much more common and this might defeat your goal if one of the computer you want to use lacks this port.
    – Hennes
    Aug 21, 2015 at 11:00
  • @Hennes Yes, but do they work with Windows To Go?
    – DavidPostill
    Aug 21, 2015 at 11:01

You could install GRUB (the Linux boot manager) to the hard drive and simply configure it to load the second partition, which would contain the actual windows files. GRUB can do this (proven by the fact that you can dual boot Linux and Windows through GRUB) and this method is viable if you don't have access to windows to go.

  • 1
    You don't need to be. I'll post step by step soon. Aug 21, 2015 at 10:55
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. Why do you mention Linux, the author of the question, is only interested in installing Windows on an external HDD and then running that installation on any machine.
    – Ramhound
    Aug 21, 2015 at 19:46

I recently helped a friend whose laptop internal drive completely crashed : as a temporary solution, I was able to install a Windows 10 Home on his 500Go external USB drive using WinToUsb software. This tool can setup a Windows To Go environment on a uncertified usb drive using a non-enterprise nor education Windows edition.

You will have to :

  • Download the free version
  • Follow the "How to use WinToUsb" instructions (in their FAQ link)
  • After install, if you get this Windows Update error : You can’t install Windows on a USB flash drive from Setup. Error code: 0xc1900104, you will need to set the PortableOperatingSystem key value to 1 in the registry database (details here - just use paragraph #2).

So if you have a certified USB device, follow the Windows To Go instructions posted by DavidPostill. If not, you can try WinToUsb.

What about other Windows OS: on Windows 7 or 8.... or Windows 10?

Well, It worked for me with Windows 10 and the WinToUsb documentation says it also works with 8.1, 8 and 7 (can someone confirm?)

I'm asking this because I'm planning to create a portable OS. When I'm at my house, when I go to my grandmother's, or to a friend's place: I just simple plug that portable storage device, change the boot priority, and turn on the system and viola! I will only see one environment every time.

Looks like a good idea, but what about hardware differences between your computer, your grandma's and your friend's? I guess you will have to reinstall different drivers for each environment.

Hope this helps.

  • 1
    I can confirm regarding installing Windows 7 and 8.1 via WinToUsb.
    – Gideon
    Jan 18, 2016 at 1:58

Option 1 :

Once, this was one of my dreams too.

  1. Install Linux Mint. (Believe me, I am a Linux novice too, but it was a breeze).
  2. Install VMware Player.
  3. Install Windows OS as a virtual machine.

That way, you can boot from your external HDD, then start VMware player, and you are onto Windows.

I use this setup sometimes to troubleshoot other Windows machines. I also have a good updated anti-virus program on this, that I can use to clean other not-so-updated Windows machines.

-- As an aside, if you can lay your hands on it, Hiren's Boot CD has an option to boot in "Mini Windows XP". It's cool. You should probably have a way to put that on to an external HDD, some tools for converting an ISO into a bootable external HDD are available. You should probably store your data elsewhere in another partition on the HDD, and not in the same partition as XP.

  • 1
    The "Mini Windows XP" in Hiren's Boot CD isn't exactly legal. Aug 21, 2015 at 18:58
  • Which version(s) of Windows will this work for?
    – H2ONaCl
    Oct 17, 2015 at 20:02
  • @H2ONaCl : If you are asking about the Linux-VMware-Windows option, it should work for any version of Windows. If you are asking about Hiren's Boot CD, you will booting from a CD drive, with a kinda mini Windows XP booting up from the CD.
    – Whirl Mind
    Oct 18, 2015 at 8:52

Bart's Preinstalled Environment (BartPE) bootable live windows CD/DVD is an old, apparently unmantained project, but you can use it to study its implementation or borrow some ideas:

Bart's PE Builder helps you build a "BartPE" (Bart Preinstalled Environment) bootable Windows CD-Rom or DVD from the original Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 installation/setup CD, very suitable for PC maintenance tasks.

It will give you a complete Win32 environment with network support, a graphical user interface (800x600) and FAT/NTFS/CDFS filesystem support. Very handy for burn-in testing systems with no OS, rescuing files to a network share, virus scan and so on.

  • 1
    BartPE is not just unmaintained, it's actually been shut down :(
    – Adam
    Sep 28, 2016 at 20:02

There is an old project called: BART which used Windows XP.. There is also Ultimate Boot CD for Windows that used this as well.. I don't think there has been any work done on this in quite a while.


2 Steps:

  1. Install a Windows OS in a VirtualBox Virtual Machine
  2. Clone the virtual disk to external driver (USB stick or hard drive)

More info:

  1. Enable VM's EFI support if the target PC use UEFI since VirtualBox uses Legacy BIOS as default.
  2. I mounted win10 virtual disk in another linux VM and
dd if=/dev/sdb of=/dev/sdc

Microsoft's Windows To Go is no longer available in Windows 10, version 2004 and later. Now, there are some unofficial software, such as iSumsoft SYSOnUSB. They can help install portable Windows 7/8/10/11 OS on an external hard drive or USB flash drive. Then, you can boot and run the Windows directly from the external drive without having to install it again.

  1. Connect the external hard drive to the software.
  2. Add the Windows ISO file to the software.
  3. Select the Windows version you want to install on the external drive.
  4. Start installing Windows on the external drive.

In this way, you can install a fresh Windows OS on your external hard drive. When you first boot from this drive, it will require you to take a few minutes to complete the Windows initialization setup to get to the Windows desktop, just like when you turn on a brand-new computer for the first time.

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