One of the easiest and safest ways to try out Windows 8 is to take advantage of its new feature: Windows To Go. You can actually boot into Windows 8 from an external USB drive on almost any modern PC. Even a thumb drive would work if it is fast enough (USB3.0 spec). Windows 8 Consumer Preview has a built-in tool that allows you to create bootable USB drive, but you don’t have access to Windows 8 PC yet. You can still do it. Follow the steps listed in this article: How to create a Windows To Go USB drive in Windows 8 [step-by-step]. The article says that you need to have Windows 8 PC, but that is not the case. You don’t need Windows 8 to perform these steps. Everything will work on Windows 7. There is one modification. Step 12 command when setting up BCD entry on the new media using Windows 7 needs to be changed:
bcdboot.exe h:\windows /s h:
[replace "h:" with your USB drive letter]
UPDATE [3/4/12]: Several people asked this question, so I’m updating the post rather than responding individually. The “/f ALL” command line option supplied in the article referenced above is specific to Windows 8 version of bcdboot command line utility. The “/f” command line option specifies the firmware type: UEFI, BIOS or ALL for both to copy boot-environment required files in the respective directories. If you are working with PCs that have BIOS firmware you will be able to setup your bootable Windows 8 USB media using Windows 7 and try Windows 8 on a variety of other PCs and tablets that have BIOS.
I successfully created Windows 8 To Go on an external usb drive using my 64 bit Windows 7 PC from Windows 8 Consumer Preview mounted iso file following the steps above.
Don’t forget the last step: change your BIOS boot sequence to boot from the USB devices first. Windows 8 will have to restart a couple of times to complete the initial setup. You will be better off with the USB taking over the reboot by default versus you trying to hit F12 at the right time to get into the boot menu. Share your experience if you run into any issues and how you solved them. I had none.
UPDATE [4/8/12]: So far no one reported any issues when setting up Windows 8 To Go on an external USB hard drive. Several people asked what thumb drives work with the setup steps above. Here is confirmed list of drives I personally saw working and performing as expected:
- Kingston DT Ultimate 32GB. These were handed out at the Build conference. Apparently they need to be tweaked to report themselves as “fixed”.
- Super Talent RC8 50GB.
- LaCie USB3.0 FastKey. These come in 30GB, 60GB and 120GB. I got 60GB for my personal use. This is the best flash drive I’ve had experience with so far. It is basically a solid state hard drive with DRAM cache. It reports itself as a local disk, so there is no need to tweak anything. It is a tiny bit larger than typical USB flash drive, but not by a lot. Since it is true SSD it won’t fall apart under heavy use. It will be able to handle multiple continuous reads and writes necessary for running operating system off of it. Most flash drives won’t last very long under heavy use.
Please share what drives worked and failed for you in the commentary section to save other people time and money.
Booting issues: using USB2.0 vs. USB3.0 ports. It turns out that current as of this update Intel chipsets don’t yet truly support USB3.0. They use NEC/Renesas controller: http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/laptop/f/3518/t/19442856.aspx. This means that if you try to boot off of the USB3.0 port you may not succeed. You won’t see your USB drive plugged into the USB3.0 port as a boot option. So, your Windows 8 To Go flash drive has to be USB3.0 spec compliant, but you can’t (yet) use it to boot off of the USB3.0 port. USB2.0 ports work fine. They support minimum of 40MB/s write speed and 60MB/s read speed required to run Windows 8 To Go.