Install Windows 10 on external SSD

Since the end of Win to Go, there has officially been no way to install Windows 10 on an external storage medium such as an SSD or USB stick. But there is a simple trick to get around this hurdle.

The only official way Windows 10 To install on an external storage medium is called Windows To Go. But this possibility is from Microsoft no longer supported. This option was not particularly popular anyway due to the numerous restrictions. Only Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 10 Education officially supported Windows To Go. In addition, only certain USB sticks were released for the feature. There are some tools like Rufus that also enable Windows to Go based on Windows 10 Home, but in practice there are often problems with them.

An installation of Windows 10 on an external storage medium is still possible with a trick with little effort. All you need is a bootable USB stick with a cloning tool (in the test: Macrium Reflect), an existing Windows 10 installation and an external storage medium. The main advantage of this variant is that you can clone an existing Windows installation and you can start a new PC with your usual work environment in no time at all.

Clone Windows 10 installation to USB SSD: preparation

First you create a bootable USB stick with a cloning tool. For this article ZDNet.de uses Macrium Reflect. Then you completely delete the external storage medium. The storage medium used in this test is a Samsung-NVMe SSD type PM961 with 256 GB. It is connected to the PC via the USB-C housing with NVMe controller from Ugreen.

The easiest way to delete this storage medium is with “diskpart”. With “list disk” you can first display the storage media. With “sel disk x” you select the storage medium to be deleted and then enter “clean”. Now the storage medium is deleted. In the test PC, “list disk” now shows the following initial configuration.

Windows 10 on USB SSD: initial situation (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

Start the PC from the USB stick with the cloning tool

Now you start the PC with the previously created USB stick. To do this, select the corresponding USB stick in the boot menu, which you can call up with a function key such as F12, F7 or F8, depending on the BIOS version. The Macrium Reflect surface appears after a few seconds.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

By default, Macrium Reflect starts with the “Restore” view. At the top left you click on “Backup” to get to the backup menu.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium REflect: Clone this disk (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

In the next step, click on “Clone this disk” and select the target medium.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium Reflect: Select target medium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

Now the basic configuration is done: The source medium is displayed at the top and the target medium below. Note: The partitioning scheme of a standard Windows installation differs from the medium used in the test scenario because it contains a Linux installation in addition to Windows.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

With a click on “Next” a summary of the clone configuration appears.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

The cloning process begins with a click on “Finish”.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

In the test, this was completed after 7:20 min.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

Clicking “Close” closes the cloning window, which at the end also contains information about the I / O performance.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

Macrium now shows the partition scheme of the external storage medium (GPT Disk 2). Since the target medium is larger than the source medium, a certain area remains unpartitioned.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

Now you turn off the PC. The creation of the Windows installation on an external storage medium is now complete.

Clone Windows 10 to USB SSD: Macrium (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

Commissioning of the Windows installation from the external storage medium

Now connect the external storage medium to a computer of your choice and start from there. Since it is an exact image of an existing Windows installation, the external storage medium is bootable.

Start Windows 10 from USB medium (Image: ZDNet.de)

The first start from the external storage medium takes a little bit, because Windows of course only carries out a hardware detection on the new computer. Logging in with a PIN is naturally not successful, so you have to update it.

Start from external storage medium: Login with PIN does not work (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

Anyone who uses a work account on the computer in addition to the personal account must also update it. After entering the password, this account is also available.

Start from external storage medium: update work account (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

With a look at the device manager, you should also check whether Windows has completely recognized the hardware. In the test, manual help was required for a device. The configuration for the system recovery should also be adjusted.

Windows 10 on USB SSD: After the first start a few adjustments are necessary (screenshot: ZDNet.de)

Conclusion

With a cloning tool like Macrium Reflect, Windows installations can be easily transferred to an external storage medium. This is startable and after a few manual configuration steps it is also fully operational. The update with a cumulative update worked perfectly. However, a feature update is not possible on an external storage medium.

In addition to the Samsung SSD already described, the test was also carried out with the Crucial X8. In contrast to the Samsung in the Ugreen case, a USB 3.2 (Gen2) PCIe card with an ASMedia chipset with correspondingly high transfer rates was also possible.

Crucial-X8-NVMe-USB-3-1-Gen2-ASMedia (Image: ZDNet.de)

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