Windows Vista/XP

How to install Windows on an External Drive

External Drive Install Windows

External Drive Install Windows

Thanks to the speed of USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 connections, it’s now possible for an external hard drive to match the read and write speeds of an internal drive. Combine that with a proliferation of external SSDs, and for the first time, running Windows off an external drive is viable.

There are a few reasons you might want to do that:

  • You have a work laptop that you’re not allowed to make many changes to, but you want to take games or other non-work sanctioned software with you when you travel.
  • You want to run multiple operating system installations on the same machine, but don’t have enough space to split your internal drive into multiple partitions.
  • You’re running an enterprise version of Windows that comes with the Windows To Go feature, and have a certified installation drive, so you can create a portable installation that will work on any computer.

Before we start, let’s get the bad news out of the way: Windows will refuse to install on an external drive if it knows that’s what you’re doing. But there are a few ways around this, including emulation via tools like VMWare. The easiest workaround is an application called WinToUSB.

Download WinToUSB

WinToUSB serves the same function as Windows To Go, an enterprise-only tool from Microsoft that doesn’t work with most consumer versions of Windows. It’s intended for use with USB sticks, but it will work for other external drives too.

Prepare your Windows installation image

If you already have a DVD, an image file, or an installation USB stick for Windows, you’re set on this one. If not, it’s easy to download a Windows 10 installer ISO image file directly from Microsoft.

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