Make External Hard Drive Bootable on Windows 10 (Free)
This post illustrates different methods on how to make external hard drive bootable of Windows 10.
Make external hard drive bootable Windows 10 is what well known create Windows To Go based on Windows 10. Windows To Go is to put Windows, including system files, bootable files, drivers, etc. necessary for booting a computer up, into a USB flash drive and make it a workspace of Windows operating system. Insert such USB drive into a computer and boot the computer up from the USB, then, you can operate the computer under the same system environment as where you created the Windows bootable USB.
Therefore, Windows 10 To Go is a Windows To Go with Win 10 OS. Making external hard drive bootable Windows 10 is to create Windows To Go based on Windows 10.
Windows provides a function for us to create a Windows To Go workspace, however, there are some requirements/limitations:
▪ Only Windows 10 Enterprise/Education/Pro and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise have such a function. That is to say, other Windows users like Windows 7 users (there are still many computer users who are running Win 7) and other Windows 10/8.1/8 editions’ users cannot enjoy such a wonderful function. Personally, I think this is related to the license limitation of different Windows versions.
▪ Only certified USB flash drives (customized for making Windows boot disk starting from at least 32 GB) can be used to create Windows 10 bootable USB using system snap-in feature; not all USB with enough space can.
To make Windows 10 external hard drive (HDD or SSD) bootable, running Windows 10 Enterprise/Education/Pro, if you have the related installation ISO file, you can start right away; if you have not, just get one (download from Microsoft TechNet Evaluation Center).
Step 1. Mount the installation ISO file in your computer and insert the certified USB into the computer.
Step 2. Find Windows To Go function in control panel. To quickly find it out, just search it in control panel.
Step 3. Choose the drive you want to use in Create a Windows To Go workspace window. The certified USB flash drive will be listed in the column. Just click on it to choose it and click “Next” to go on.
Step 4. Click “Add search location” in the next screen to search for the Windows 10 installation ISO file.
Step 5. Select the mounted ISO image.
Step 6. Choose whether to use BitLocker in your Windows 10 flash drive or not. If you choose to use it, you will be guided to set your password to unlock the drive in the future.
Step 7. The USB drive will be reformatted and any data on it will be deleted. Before you continue, back up any data that you don’t want to lose. Then click “Create”.
Step 8. When it finishes, choose “Yes” or “No” to have this computer boot from the newly created Windows 10 bootable USB or not. Usually, you can stop here by selecting “No” – “Save and close”, pull out the windows boot disk, and test it in another computer. If you do want to try it on this computer, you should select “Yes” and “Save and restart”. Then, follow the guidance.
It seems easy, right? However, just as listed above, only Windows 10 Enterprise/Education/Pro and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise editions have such function. If you are Windows 7 or other editions of Win 10/8.1/8, can you create a Windows To Go? Yes, you can, but not with system built-in function, with AOMEI Partition Assistant – a free third-party partition manager.
AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard is a professional and safe disk partition management software. It allows you to create Windows 10 or Windows 11 external hard drive even when you are not Windows 10 Enterprise/Education/Pro or Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise user. And it only demands a USB drive not less than 13GB. Now, free download it and have a closer look at how it works:
Step 1. In its main window, click on “Windows To Go Creator” in the left under Wizards column.
.Step 2. Choose the first one between the two options.
Step 3. Choose the first option. If you want to make bootable external hard drive with the current system, you need to upgrade to Professional version.
Step 4. In the pop-up window, the inserted USB will automatically be selected as the bootable device. What you need to do is to click “Browse” to select Windows 10 ISO.
Step 5. In the pop-up window, the Win 10 ISO file will be listed. If not, continued to click “Browse” to manually select ISO image.
Step 6. Select the installation ISO file to make Windows to go Windows 10 and click “Open”. Then, click “OK” to confirm the selection.
Step 7. Click “Proceed” to start make external hard drive bootable windows 10.
If you are familiar with command orders in Windows operating system, you can make use of CMD to make external hard drive bootable by installing OS to it.
Step 1. Connect target external drive to computer. Search “cmd” in Start search box, right-click the search result app and select “Run as administrator”.
Step 2. In the Command Prompt window, input the following commands one by one and each with pressing Enter to confirm inputting orders.
▪ Diskpart (run Diskpart tool)
▪ List disk (list all disks connected to your computer)
▪ Select disk # (select the target external disk drive number; do not select the wrong one)
▪ Clean (clean up all files on selected disk; if there are important files,
▪ Create partition primary (create a primary partition on external hard drive
▪ Format fs=ntfs quick (quickly format the primary partition file system as
▪ Assign letter=Q (assign the primary partition with drive letter Q)
Step 3. Type “exit” to Diskpart and finish external hard drive format.
Step 4. Open “dism.exe” in CMD and key in “dism/apply-image /imagefile=f:\sources\install.wim /index:1 /applydir:q:\” to extract the install.win file from Drive F and move the file to external Q drive.
Step 5. Input “bcdboot q:windows /s q: /f ALL” to make sure that the external hard drive bootable.
Tips: If you receive message says: “Could not open the BCD template store. Status = [c000000f]” (which means the boot loader is corrupted), try the following commands to repair console to rebuild BCD:
▪ attrib c:\boot\bcd –h –r –s
▪ del c:\boot\bcd
▪ bootrec /rebuildbcd
Boot Windows and go to Command Prompt as administrator. Enable hypervisor by “bcdedit /set hypervisorlaunchtype auto” and restart your computer.
To make use of command orders to make bootable USB, first of all, you need a Windows installation disk (CD/DVD). Also, format the USB using diskpart just as described above. Then, follow the steps below.
Step 1. Connect the Windows disk to the computer.
Step 2. When finish formatting the external USB, type the following orders in the Command Prompt:
▪ R: ("R" is the drive letter of the Windows disk)
▪ cd boot (changes first boot device to the Windows CD)
▪ R:\boot bootsect /nt60 d: ("d" is your external disk drive letter)
▪ R:\xcopy r:\*.* /s/h/f d:\ (using xcopy to copy all Windows files from installation CD to target USB)
Step 3. Type “exit” to close Command Prompt and try to boot from this bootable external USB.
All the above methods will format your target USB drive to create a bootable disk. If you have a hard disk and want to make bootable media with it but there are important data on it that you do not want to lose, also you find it troublesome to back up or move these data out and there is no place to put them at present, what can you do? Is there a way to create a bootable disk with your USB while without formatting it? Let’s see the following guidance.
Step 1. Plug in your USB flash drive into your computer.
Step 2. Rename it like “Windows 10 Boot USB”.
Step 3. Run CMD as administrator. Input the following commands in order:
• List disk
• Select disk # (# is the disk number of target disk. Make sure to select the right disk. If you are not sure, you can use “detail disk” command to view the disk label name and see whether it is the same as the inserted USB.)
• List partition
• Select partition * (* is the target partition number.)
• Active (active the selected partition.)
• Exit (exit diskpart)
• Exit (exit CMD)
Step 4. Mount your Windows 10 installation file. Right-click on it and choose Mount.
Step 5. Finally, copy all the files and folders in the mounted Windows folder to target the USB flash drive.
• When all files been copied to the USB, you can test it by trying to boot from it.
• If the file system of the USB is not FAT32, you cannot run Windows 10 installation in UEFI mode. Then, you have to back up or move your data out of the USB disk and format it into FAT32.