Step by Step Guide to Install Windows 8 Consumer Preview To Go on a USB

Windows To Go

Windows To Go

Note: These instructions apply to the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 and technically isn’t actually Windows To Go, it is just Windows 8 running from a USB stick (which is slightly different).  From my discussions with Microsoft at TechEd Europe 2012 Windows To Go is only available with Windows 8 Enterprise Edition and only on the final release (the Consumer Preview wasn’t an Enterprise Edition).

Also worth noting that when creating a Windows To Go on USB then the USB drive is best to be one that is certified by Microsoft for that usage as that will ensure it is capable of handling the type of read/write access required for this type of usage from both speed and longevity perspectives.  Check out the Hardware Considerations on Wiki for more details.

If you are still wanting to give it a go knowing this then by all means go ahead but still bear in mind the hardware suggestions.

Following the hype surrounding Windows To Go (which allows you to run an instance of Windows 8 from a USB drive on any Windows 7 capable hardware, even on a Mac, without affecting any installation on that machine) I was surprised to see how little information there is on how to go about getting it installed (various descriptions for the Developer Preview) for the newly available Consumer Preview.  Also it was interesting to see a response on TechNet from a Microsoft employee that “The capability to build Windows To Go drive is not available widely in this Consumer Preview release, we are working on options to possibly make this available in the future. Thanks very much for your interest”.

Well, it turns out it is actually fairly easy (albeit time consuming) to do and very similar to the Developer Preview. Instructions on the flip…

UPDATE: some stats on boot time comparisons included at the end.

Prerequisites

  • A Windows 7 machine (or Windows 8 )
  • A 32GB (or larger) USB Flash drive.  I believe you can also use an external HDD instead but I’ve not tried that.

Downloads

  1. Start downloading the Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO image of your choice as at 3.3 GB for the 64-bit download it might take a while.  Note: if you intend to run your Windows To Go on hardware that doesn’t support 64 bit then you’ll need the 32-bit ISO file.
  2. If you don’t already have it then start downloading The Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7 ISO file. You actually only seem to need a single file from this install (imagex.exe) but unfortunately this 1.7 GB download is the only official way to get it.
  3. You’ll also need some software to mount these ISO files unless you want to burn them to DVD (if you can remember what those things are).  I’ve used Virtual CloneDrive.  UPDATE: or you can use winzip or 7-zip (thanks to Gary P in comments)

It doesn’t matter in which order you do the following 3 sections, just do whichever you can based on download times.

Set up your USB

Almost the same as this description from tweaks.com but with a small tweak mentioned by ed810 in the aforementioned TechNet thread. See those links for more detailed explanation if necessary. Hit ENTER key after each typing step.

  1. Plug in USB drive.
  2. Open administrative level command prompt.
  3. Type “diskpart”.
  4. Type “list disk”.
  5. Type “select disk #” replacing # with the number shown for your USB drive.
  6. Type “clean”.
  7. Type “create partition primary”.
  8. Type “format fs=ntfs quick”.
  9. Type “active”.
  10. Type “assign”.
  11. Type “exit”.

Get imagex.exe from Windows AIK

  1. Mount your Windows AIK ISO file (or use your ZIP utility).
  2. If Autorun doesn’t want to work for you (as it didn’t for me) run “StartCD.exe”.
  3. Install the kit.
  4. In Windows Explorer navigate to “C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\amd64″ and copy the file “imagex.exe”.
  5. If you haven’t already done so in the steps for getting the “install.wim” below, create a handy, local folder and paste the “imagex.exe” file into it.

Get install.wim from Windows 8 ISO

  1. Mount your Windows 8 ISO file (or use your ZIP utility).
  2. In windows explorer open the “sources” folder and copy the “install.wim” file (2.9GB).
  3. If you haven’t already done so in the steps for getting the “imagex.exe” above, create a handy local folder and paste the “install.wim” file into it.

Note: If you can’t find the “install.wim” file, just an “install.esd” file then chances are you’ve installed the Consumer Preview from the main “Download Windows 8 Consumer Preview” link on the main Windows 8 Download page rather than just downloading the ISO file (the link to which is in small text below that main link, but just use the one above).  To get the “install.wim” file you won’t have to install Windows 8 anywhere beforehand, just get the ISO file and follow the above instructions.

And Finally – Install Windows 8 Consumer Preview on your USB

So you should now have both the “imagex.exe file and “install.wim” file sitting next to each other in a new directory somewhere.

Make sure your USB drive is still plugged in and where you see # in the following steps replace it with your drive letter and press ENTER after each typing step.

  1. Open administrative level command prompt or if it’s still open use the one from before.
  2. Navigate to your new folder containing both the “imagex.exe” and “install.wim” files.
  3. Type “imagex.exe /apply install.wim 1 #:\”.
  4. Wait a long time.
  5. If using a Windows 7 machine type “bcdboot.exe #:\windows /s #:”, if Windows 8 then type “bcdboot.exe #:\windows /s #: /f ALL”.

Step 3 can take a fair bit of time so make sure you aren’t planning on shutting your machine down for the next few hours!

The first time you boot from the USB drive you’ll need to go through the initial set up process and each time you boot using different hardware then it may have to download/install any necessary drivers.

Hands on Statistics

Using my old Dell Latitude D630 which has the Windows 8 Consumer Preview installed as its only OS we get the following timings (all taken from pressing the power button which includes 7 seconds of initial BIOS time):

  • Time to login screen: 14 seconds.
  • Time to Desktop (via Metro Start Menu): 31 seconds.
  • Time to shut down: 11 seconds.

On the same machine booting from my USB2 Windows To Go:

  • Time to login screen: 1 minute 20 seconds.
  • Time to Desktop (via Metro Start Menu): 2 minutes 16 seconds.
  • Time to shut down: 2 minutes 10 seconds.

The start up time is a little misleading as despite being able to get into the operating system fairly quickly (relatively speaking), everything feels rather sluggish for a good few more minutes.  More of a worry is that the Metro apps more often than not fail to load: splash screen for app displays and then after between 1 and 15 seconds it flicks back to the start screen with no error.  Maybe this is why Microsoft aren’t wanting many people trying it out at this stage?

Potentially this is down to the read/write speed from/to the USB drive but I can’t confirm that.  If I’m feeling brave I’ll install Visual Studio 2011 on there and debug some test apps and see if they suffer from the same thing.

I will also try and get hold of a USB3 drive and track down a device that can actually support it and see what difference that makes to the timings and the reliability of the Metro Apps.

Photos: Transcend.

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About Ben Lowe

Ben has been involved in designing and implementing systems in the education sector specialising in facilitating complex processes, actions and data visualisations in intuitive and targeted solutions that optimise the users’ productivity and experience. Follow Ben on Twitter.
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  • Gary Plattenburg

    Setting up the USB is really as easy as, Delete All Partitions, make first partition NTFS

    Instead of mounting an ISO, 7-zip or winzip will let you open the .iso in place (no unzip or mount to another folder needed) and copy your specific file out.  This work for the imagex.exe and the .wim file
    On the bcdboot.exe step “/f ALL” was recognized with my version of imagex.exe, but was not required either.

    • http://twitter.com/Ben_Lowe Ben Lowe, UK

      Thanks for the info Gary. Updated the winzip bit. The USB formatting only takes a few seconds to type in anyway but are you saying you can just perform a right click format from Windows Explorer and jobs a good ‘un?

      • sam

        I have tried out install Windows 8 OS to USB external HDD on UEFI system, this way don’t install successful.

  • Dfawatts

    Thanks Ben,works a treat from a USB HDD following your clear instructions.  One thing though, in your “Set up your USB” you need to add a line inbetween steps 2 & 3 which is Type diskpart

    • http://twitter.com/Ben_Lowe Ben Lowe, UK

      Thanks for pointing that out. Updated.

  • novy2k

    Mine works well from USB. However, Windows Update stops with error 80070005 and the Store is not working. Or is Windows To Go intentionally read-only??

    • http://twitter.com/Ben_Lowe Ben Lowe, UK

      The store seems to work fine for me. Can’t get the Mail app to open though and took a number of attempts to get the Calendar app going.  I get the same error with Windows Update. Let me know if you find a fix, I’m looking for one myself as well.

    • Colmob

      I’m having the same problem with Windows Update; error 800700005. Good question by Jim above, has anyone been able to find any official Microsoft instructions for creating Windows 8 To Go?

      • ben_lowe

        I get the same update error.  It is a permissions error but everything seems to be exactly the same (user wise) as a standard Windows 8 install but it doesn’t want to update.  If anyone finds a solution to it that post it here.
        See my reply to Jim above for link to Microsoft’s BUILD talk on Windows To Go, basically it is just a USB bootable version of standards Windows 8 as far as I can tell, it’s just that Windows 8 has a bunch of standard functionality to support the Windows To Go features.

      • Seantherobonaut

        I have the same error and have been looking for a solution for over a month! Gahahhahahaahhahah!!! I want’ to know the solution!

  • Jim Clark

    Apologies if I sound like a nitpicker but is this strictly Windows 2 Go or rather just a normal Windows install on USB?  I’m pretty sure  this trick would have worked with both Vista and Windows 7 since they can both USB boot or did I miss something?

    • http://twitter.com/Ben_Lowe Ben Lowe, UK

      From what I can pick up (its along way from my area of expertise), Windows To Go is just a standard install of Windows 8 but Windows 8 itself now incorporates functionality to be bootable from USB along with very robust roaming capabilities (and many other things).
      Watch http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/BUILD/BUILD2011/HW-245T for more info on Windows To Go from Microsoft at BUILD.  23:51 in that video tells you how to create your Windows To Go drive.

  • Alfredo Ramirez Aguirre

    Helloo Hi, I have a question :) , the thing is I’m going to install aik in a windows xp pc, and do everything else in my windows 7 tablet (with not enought space D:)
    So do I have to have installed the AIK for the windows 8 installation part, or is the aik is just needed to get the imagex.exe??
    Thanks :)

    • http://twitter.com/Ben_Lowe Ben Lowe, UK

      You just need to install AIK in order to get the imagex.exe.  Not sure you’ll be able to install “AIK for Windows 7″  on an XP machine.  You can probably just download imagex.exe from somewhere if you can find a source that you trust to save you doing the full install.

  • DarklightningLR

    can’t find install.wim in windows 8 CP just install.ESD

    • ben_lowe

      I had that first time round as I had installed from the main link on this page 
      http://windows.microsoft.com/en-GB/windows-8/download which will not provide you with the install.wim file.  You need to download the iso file (which is linked in very small type on that page) that is linked above in the post and then you will get the install.wim file.

      • DarklightningLR

        thank you

  • Cooldude

    Download just imagex.exe (568k) #

    instead of the entire Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7 (1,782,580k):
    Download and install Bo Brantén’s HttpDisk-7C:>httpdisk.exe /mount 0
    http://download.microsoft.com/download/8/E/9/8E9BBC64-E6F8-457C-9B8D-F6C9A16E6D6A/KB3AIK_EN.iso
    /cd w:C:>expand w:Neutral.cab /f:F3_imagex c:C:>ren F3_imagex imagex.exe
     
    Notes:
    This is a modified and abbreviated version of Icecube’s Extract files out of WAIK without downloading whole WAIK first.F3_imagex is the 64-bit version; use F1_imagex for the 32-bit version.ImageX is swell for restoring Dell factory images, among other things.

  • Libis Bueno

    Nice post Ben…
    @Jim, yes you are right. I setup Window 7 and Windows 08 back in 2010… But Ben did a nice job detailing the steps…

  • http://thommck.wordpress.com Thom McKiernan

    Nice clear guide, thanks.
    This is such an exciting concept it’s great to see it actually works!

    I used a 16GB (14GB usable) flash drive. The only pain was having to wait for almost 3 hours for the imagex section. It waited at 0% for at lest 20 mins!
    Hopefully they will provide a GUI for this, maybe as one of the setup options on the DVD itself?

    Now, like you, I need to get my hands on some USB3 goodness :)

    • Kannan

       to make the process fast, you can first save the file in your local had drive and then move it to USB flash drive (just like moving any other file).

  • http://www.facebook.com/nanda.kethineni Nanda Kishore Kethineni

    you could use DISM.exe instead of imagex incase of using WIN7 or 8 machine to prepare the USB

  • Peter

    I get this error when ever i try to put the install.wim in a file on my desktop. Why do i get this???

  • Ubug

    Poo

  • Hrpatel31

    i have four drive in my external hdd, spare one for windows 8, kindly
    advice if your above process required only one drive from ex.hdd or it
    will be go with multiple drive in ex.hdd….

  • andrew

    Is this a full install of W8 or just a preview?

  • WamWooWam

    If you are on Windows 8 CP you cane mount a ISO image without any additional software 

  • TheSarfaraz

    I Did All The Above Steps But When I Boot From My External HDD It Gives Me Error